Lawyers are famed for upholding the rule of law and the status quo. What then happens when the law itself is seriously unjust? Lawyers must be at the forefront of efforts to reform the law, so that the law can be a beacon of truth and justice rather than a tool of oppression and cruelty. This is precisely what “animal lawyers” in Australia are seeking to achieve.
State and Territory governments, rather than the Federal government, have control of animal welfare in Australia. The various local Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts prohibit “cruelty” to animals, but exclude institutional cruelty such as in food or science from their protective reach. Instead, institutional cruelty is governed by unenforceable guidelines known as “Codes of Practice”, which set welfare standards significantly lower than the cruelty statutes.
Because the legal regime in Australia, much like other industrialised Western countries, classifies animals as “property” and allows horrific cruelty in contexts such as intensive farming, lawyers are challenging our governments to implement urgent reform.
Lawyers for Animals is the organisation with which I am most familiar. We are a volunteer-based organisation that aims to alleviate animal suffering through law reform and education. Our law reform arm lobbies governments to change the law in areas ranging from cosmetic testing to great apes to fur to farming. Our education arm seeks to inform other lawyers and the general public of the serious inadequacies in Australian animal law, and challenge them to take action.
Other organisations include the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel (BAWP) and Voiceless. BAWP is a collection of approximately 90 barristers that are available to act on a pro bono basis in public interest matters affecting animal welfare. BAWP also advises various stakeholders on animal welfare laws and lobbies governments for change.
Voiceless is a not-for-profit animal advocacy organisation. Through their legal arm, they speak at conferences and seminars, run an annual “animal law lecture series” and write submissions on Codes of Practice and laws that affect animals.
Each of the above organisations (and there are more) is slowly chipping away at the legal edifice that shelters animal abuse from public scrutiny. Animal industry is starting to get scared, and rightly so. A new generation of bright and passionate lawyers, schooled in “animal law” at University, is going into battle for the sake of improving the lot of animals. Who knows what fundamental change we can achieve with our collective efforts?
President of Lawyers for Animals and parishioner at Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne.
~ We are grateful to David for permission to reproduce his article. We covered this important subject in the Spring 09 issue of our newsletter, available on request from the clerk.