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Being Cruel to an Animal

While it is not the most serious animal cruelty offence in Queensland, being cruel to an animal is the most commonly laid charge and it carries a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment (meaning it is still a serious offence).

The Offence of Being Cruel To An Animal

The offence is created by section 18 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 which says that:

  • A person must not be cruel to an animal. Maximum penalty—2000 penalty units or 3 years imprisonment.

Subsection (2) of that provision provides the following list of prescribed, cruel, conduct:

  • A person is taken to be cruel to an animal if the person does any of the following to the animal—
    • causes it pain that, in the circumstances, is unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable;
    • beats it so as to cause the animal pain;
    • abuses, terrifies, torments or worries it;
    • overdrives, overrides or overworks it;
    • uses on the animal an electrical device prescribed under a regulation;
    • confines or transports it—
      • without appropriate preparation, including, for example, appropriate food, rest, shelter or water; or
      • when it is unfit for the confinement or transport; or
      • in a way that is inappropriate for the animal’s welfare; or
      • Examples for subparagraph (iii)—
      • * placing the animal, during the confinement or transport, with too few or too many other animals or with a species of animal with which it is incompatible
      • * not providing the animal with appropriate spells
      • in an unsuitable container or vehicle;
    • kills it in a way that—
      • is inhumane; or
      • causes it not to die quickly; or
      • causes it to die in unreasonable pain;
    • unjustifiably, unnecessarily or unreasonably—
      • injures or wounds it; or
      • overcrowds or overloads it.

This list is not exhaustive and it is possible for other conduct to be cruel and give rise to the offence.

An offence of serious animal cruelty will normally be prosecuted by a private lawyer paid by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and, in most cases, a person who is guilty of the offence will be required to pay the RSPCA for the cost of hiring that lawyer (in addition to any other penalty imposed).

What the Prosecution Must Prove

In order to convict you of the offence the prosecution must establish that you were cruel to an animal by engaging in conduct as described in subsection (2) toward that animal.

It is important to recognise that this charge does not necessarily require the prosecution to establish a sadistic intent on your behalf. It can be sufficient to prove that the conduct which was cruel was done intentionally, whether or not it was done for the purpose of inflicting pain or being malicious. An example might be a person who uses unreasonable force to discipline an animal – such conduct can be cruelty without necessarily having any sadistic intent.

Additional Penalties for Cruelty Offences

If you are guilty of the offence of being cruel to an animal a court has the power to impose a number of penalties upon you which are additional to those normally levied in criminal cases. For example a court can, in addition to imposing a fine or sending you into jail, order that you forfeit all animals that you own or have care of to the RSCPA and/or that you be prohibited from owning or caring for an animal (at worst, forever).

Such orders can be a significant impost in cases where a family must surrender all pets to the RSPCA, even when a charge might relate to an unrelated animal. An example might be an animal trainer who is guilty of being cruel in that context and who might be required to surrender the family dog and cat to the RSCPA, perhaps even for destruction.

It is also possible for a court to order that a person who is guilty of being cruel to an animal pay for the cost of veterinary treatment, or destruction, which the RSPCA might have incurred in relation to the animal. These costs can be far in excess of even the cost of the RSPCA’s lawyer (which will normally also be met by a defendant to a cruelty charge).

It is not uncommon for the ‘additional’ penalties in animal cruelty cases to be heavier, in a practical sense, that the substantive punishment for the offence. Many of these additional penalties can be negotiated with the RSPCA and it is therefore essential that if you have been charged with cruelty that you obtain legal advice, and representation, at an early stage to best mitigate their severity.

Possible Defences for Being Cruel to an Animal

In addition to the statutory defences provided by the Queensland Criminal Code (for example Extraordinary Emergency, Insanity or Intoxication), and the default entitlement to an acquittal where the prosecution fails to prove its case against you, you will not be guilty of an offence of serious animal cruelty if you have an excuse provided by the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001.

That Act provides excuses in relation to the religious slaughter of animals, using live bait while fishing or using a live animal to feed another animal (among others). If you have been charged with being cruel to an animal it is essential that you speak with a lawyer experienced in the area to know whether or not you have an excuse available.

Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?

Being cruel to an animal is a misdemeanour which will be heard and determined in a Magistrates Court.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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