Published by ALIBI, an imprint of VERITAS CHAMBERS.
545 pp.
July 2013
ISBN 978-1-872724-09-6

Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, is the worst of all.
~ Aristotle.

In the preface, the author describes his very comprehensive book as intended for the use of ‘all those people who directly or indirectly are involved with animals as a result of their business or pastime or pleasure’ so there will be much here to interest lay people as well as the legal profession and law students.

This is an excellent book of reference; as an indication of its scope, it covers the Animal Welfare Acts 2006 and 2007, Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations of 2007, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and Amendments of 1997 and 2013, illustrated by many examples and useful tables of Cases, Statutes and Statutory Instruments, together with a good index.

Do we animal advocates (using the word in its wide, non-legal sense) seek to ‘protect’ animals, or ‘prevent cruelty to animals’? This is a question the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 (AWA), which replaced the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (POA), appears to answer. Sweeney explains that the AWA, as its name implies, is concerned with welfare; the words ‘cruel’ and ‘cruelty’ are not used, to be replaced by ‘suffering’. As he clearly states, the AWA seeks to protect animals from their natural predators, from us humans.

Are all animals covered under the AWA?

‘An animal is “a protected animal” for the purposes of this Act if:

a) it is of a kind which is commonly domesticated in the British Islands
b) it is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis, or
c) it is not living in a wild state.’

One can immediately see that some of these stipulations are open to interpretation. ‘Commonly domesticated’ would cover stray dogs and feral cats, and also wild ponies and Canada geese, if people feed them.

Matters that animal rights advocates would consider anomalous will crop up. Wild rats are not generally liked and many would not be sorry to see them exterminated, but ‘pet’ rats are protected under the Act.

The scope of this book is very wide and a large part of it deals with specific cases – the more one reads, the more complex are the laws cited. We shall therefore extract some instances in order to give a flavour of what to expect.

It is interesting to learn how laws are applied in practical cases. To cite one well known and fairly recent case, that of Spindles Farm, in which over 100 mistreated animals were seized by the RSPCA from the Gray family business between 2007 and 2008, the issue is revisited and the principle explained that there were two offences committed here – an act of omission in causing the unnecessary suffering to an animal and secondly that persons responsible for animals, as the Grays were, have a responsibility to ‘assist the animal and try to abate its suffering.’

Mutilation of animals, such as the docking of dogs’ tails, is dealt with in detail. This is not a new concern – we learn that as far back as 1889, in the animal welfare case Ford v Wiley, tail docking for reasons of fashion or whim was deplored.
As for the use of animals for fighting, whether each other – which is now on the increase in Britain – or the baiting of badgers – paradoxically, the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835 (England and Wales) was the first legislation in the world to ban dog fighting – together with badger, bear and bull baiting, and cock fighting.

This section extends to cover publications and films of animal fights, as well as so-called snuff movies, in which animals are killed by women, thus combining pornography with cruelty. However, an unhelpful anomaly of this section is that it does not apply to recordings of fights taking place out of Britain, and many do.

The POA, tending to protect the proprietary rights of the owner of an animal, did not cover abandonment of them. The Abandonment of Animals Act of 1960 sought to remedy this failing and this was repealed and replaced by the AWA. Thus, abandoning an animal will constitute one offence and if, as is likely, the animal suffers because of this, another offence has been committed.

Quaker Concern for Animals in 2011 undertook some campaigning work against the use of whips in horse racing. Sweeney refers to the actions of the jockey riding the winner of the Grand National of that same year. The horse required oxygen after the race and the jockey was banned for five days for excessive use of the whip.
Why, the author pertinently asks, is the jockey punished at all if the use of a whip does not adversely affect the welfare of the horse – something claimed by the racing industry, including, as QCA found out, by some vets employed by it?
It is interesting to learn that the use of the whip per se has never been tested in court.

The public appears to find it easy to justify fishing, usually on the grounds that fishes are cold blooded, as though that alone means they cannot feel pain. The law is also vague: ‘Nothing in this Act applies to anything which occurs in the normal course of fishing.’ One might ask what is normal about hobby fishing anyway.

It is convenient for the many who fish as a leisure activity to ignore, if they are indeed aware, that, as long ago as 1980, a report confirmed that ‘ the evidence for fish feeling pain is similar to and as strong as for other vertebrate animals’.

Again, it is of interest that the practice of catching and releasing fishes – which could be the commonest form practised nowadays– has not been tested in court.

For the non-professional animal advocate, The Legal Role and Status of Animals, Chapter 9, is of particular interest. The first sentence is bleak, though unsurprising:

‘The relationship between animals and law is a cycle of cruelty caused and controlled by and for man.’

Why most human beings have rights and other animals do not leads the writer onto Richard Ryder’s concept of speciesism; much can be laid at the door of Aristotle:
‘since nature makes nothing purposeless or in vain, it is undeniably true that she has made all animals for the sake of man.’
Sweeney states that this assumption of superiority ‘is the base of man’s legal rights over and duty towards animals.’

It is in fact a matter of property and the more one looks into it, the more outrageous it seems. Indeed, as late at 1968, the Theft Act defined ‘property’ as including ‘money and all other property, real or personal… Wild creatures, tamed or untamed, shall be regarded as property…’

Even when an initiative which favours the rights of animals is developed, such as when, in 1895, the National Anti-Vivisection Society was ruled to be a charity, the judge made the point – inherent also in the Catholic Catechism – that ‘Cruelty is degrading to man and its suppression advances morals and education among men.’ Speciesism ruled then and, when this judgment was reversed by the House of Lords in 1948, it ruled again. Lord Wright said: ‘The scientists (sic) who inflicts pain in the course of vivisection is fulfilling a moral duty to mankind which is higher in degree than the moralist or sentimentalist who thinks only of the animals…’
So, protect animals for the sake of your soul – and experiment on animals for the sake of your health.

As in so many areas of life, the human animal is inconsistent in our perception of animals and our relationships with them. It would now be universally accepted that, as Sweeney states ‘The law attempts to protect the weak: including minors, the blind, the mentally ill and those liable to discrimination on the grounds of age or race or sex….In logic and morality such protection should equally apply to animals.’ But extension of this argument is generally resisted.

Let us take some comfort from what Sweeney describes as ‘a small glimmer of a change in judicial thinking that can be gleaned from a decision in the High Court of Israel’ on the force-feeding of geese.
The judge stated: ‘As for myself, there is no doubt in my heart that wild creatures, like pets, have emotions. They were endowed with a soul that experiences the emotions of joy and sorrow, happiness and grief, affection and fear. Some of them nurture special feelings toward their friend-enemy: man. Not all think so; but no one denies that these creatures also feel the pain inflicted upon them through physical harm or a violent intrusion into their bodies…’

The force-feeding of geese was abolished in Israel in 2005.

So back to Aristotle’s quotation: what prevents, or at least limits, the potentially cruel or neglectful exploitation of our fellow animals, is the law.

Sweeney quotes from Anthony Storr’s Human Aggression, who ‘concluded that of all the animals on the face of the Earth man is the cruellest. If this is so then the law should curb this characteristic.’

The author intends his book to be accessible to a lay person and the reviewer considers he has succeeded in his aim in that the language employed is clear and comprehensible; however, legal cases and statutes do require much concentration on the part of the reader, so this book is perhaps most likely to be sought out as an excellent work of reference.

~ Marian Hussenbux. July 2014.

Noël Sweeney is a practising barrister who specialises in criminal law and human rights and animal law. He had lectured widely on all those subjects at Conferences and in Universities. He has also written on all aspects of the legal status of animals and particularly the connexion between racism and sexism and speciesism. He is a member of the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare and the Animal Welfare Science Ethics and Law Veterinary Association.

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Noël offers this afterthought on Abandonment:

“In June 2014, even though it is against the rules, an unknown person managed to smuggle her dog into Glastonbury Festival. When she left the Festival she somehow ‘forgot’ she had left her elderly dog behind. The dog was found alone and hungry and cowering in the corner of a tent; ‘rescued’ by a local sanctuary she was renamed Dolly. Besides being frightened, Dolly was in need of medical treatment. Fortunately, the avalanche of publicity served to remind the owner that she had left her dog somewhere. So she reclaimed Dolly.

I contacted the sanctuary and asked why the owner was (a) not prosecuted and (b) allowed to have Dolly back. I was informed they were ‘unhappy’ doing so, but as Dolly had not been ‘abandoned’ they had to do so by law.