Animal Cruelty - Charges, Penalties and Sentencing in Victoria

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This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Animal Cruelty


In Victoria, animal cruelty carries a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or 250 penalty units. In the case of a company (body corporate) the maximum penalty is 600 penalty units. More severe penalties apply to aggravated animal cruelty. 

The Offence of Animal Cruelty

The offence of animal cruelty is contained in section 9 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 which states:

A person who:

  • Wounds, mutilates, tortures, overrides, overdrives, overworks, abuses, beats, worries, torments or terrifies an animal; or
  • Loads, crowds or confines an animal where the loading, crowding or confinement of the animal causes, or is likely to cause, unreasonable pain or suffering to the animal; or
  • Does or omits to do an act with the result that unreasonable pain or suffering is caused, or is likely to be caused, to an animal; or
  • Drives, conveys, carries or packs an animal in a manner or position or in circumstances which subjects or subject, or likely to subject, it to unnecessary pain or suffering; or
  • Works, rides, drives or uses an animal when it is unfit for the purpose with the result that unreasonable pain and suffering is caused to the animal; or
  • Is the owner or person in charge of an animal which is confined or otherwise unable to provide for itself and fails to provide the animal with proper and sufficient food, drink or shelter; or
  • Sells, offers for sale, purchases, drives or conveys an animal that appears to be unfit (because of weakness, emaciation, injury or disease) to be sold, purchased, driven or conveyed; or
  • Abandons an animal of a species usually kept in a state of confinement or for a domestic purpose; or
  • Is the owner or the person in charge of a sick or injured animal and unreasonably fails to provide veterinary or other appropriate attention or treatment for the animal; or
  • Except in accordance with other legislation, intentionally administers to an animal or lays a bait for the animal containing –
    • A poison; or
    • Any other substance which, when administered to that type of animal, has a harmful effect on the animal; or
  • Uses spurs with sharpened rowels on an animal; or
  • Carries out a prohibited procedure on an animal –
    • A poison; or
    • Any other substance which, when administered to that type of animal, has a harmful effect on the animal; or
  • Uses spurs with sharpened rowels on an animal; or
  • Carries out a prohibited procedure on an animal –

Commits an act of cruelty upon that animal and is guilty of an offence and is liable of not more than, in the case of a natural person, 250 penalty units or imprisonment for 12 months or, in the case of a body corporate, 600 penalty units.

What Actions Might Constitute Animal Cruelty?

A person may be charged with animal cruelty based on any of the following actions.

  • Abandoning a kitten on the side of the road;
  • Packing a truck with too many cattle, causing the animals to struggle to breathe;
  • Selling a dog which has an untreated infectious disease.

What the Police Must Prove

To convict a person of animal cruelty, the prosecution must prove each of the following matters beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That the accused either wounded, mutilated, tortured, overrode, overdrove, overworked, abused, beat, worried, tormented, terrified, abandoned, poisoned or caused the unreasonable suffering to an animal; and
  • The accsed was the owner of the animal or the person in charge of the animal.

Possible Defences for Animal Cruelty

A person charged with animal cruelty may rely on the following defences.

  • They had entered into an agreement with another person by which the other person had agreed to care for the animal;
  • The accused acted reasonably or reasonably omitted to do an act in defending themselves or any other person against an animal or against any threat of attack by an animal.

Jurisdiction

This is a summary matter and will be heard in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.

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