A report in the Dominion Post this week about a particularly nasty case of criminal neglect of sheep in the Manawatu highlights much of what is wrong with the enforcement and prosecution of animal welfare offences on farms in New Zealand:
75 sheep were found dead and another 25 had to be put down [immediately] because of alleged ill-treatment. SPCA officials raided the farm in August after being tipped off about the sheep. The 66-hectare farm is now under strict monitoring by vets and four SPCA inspectors. It is still being run by the farmer and has several hundred sheep.
Although full details have not yet been divulged by prosecutors, pending the laying of charges, it appears that the sheep were emaciated from starvation and severe neglect. The file is about to be sent to Crown Law for prosecution.
For reasons that will become clear, it is important to note that this was a raid carried out by the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, three bodies are statutorily-empowered to investigate and prosecute animal welfare cases; the Police, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and the SPCA. Only the Police and MAF are fully state-funded, the SPCA relies for 98% of its income on private donations. Continue reading
The two men charged with the dog killings in Wellsford have now appeared in court. It was pretty much a standard appearance to enter a plea, and they won’t be back in court for a few more weeks, when a pre-commital hearing will take place. The surprising piece of information coming out from this appearance was that the two defendants have elected a trial by jury. Had anyone asked beforehand, I would have bet heavily that they would have gone for trial by judge alone. Seems to me that their only chance of success in this case is showing that the dogs didn’t suffer sufficiently during the killing spree, and were killed quickly. As hard as that sounds to believe, it would have a better chance of success before a judge, who would have a strong understanding of the prosecution’s burden of proof, and would be less likely to be swayed by the emotions of the situation. I struggle to believe a jury will care about technicalities in light of the number of dead dogs, the “massacre-like” nature of the killings, and the sheer craziness of it all.
The defence’s most likely strategy is to put the dog owner on trial, suggesting that he had too many dogs, that their own dog was killed by his, and that he consented to the killing and is the real person to blame. They may well be able to weaken his credibility as a witness, and perhaps sway a few jury members who worry about dangerous dogs. As I’ve indicated in prior posts, Mr. Hargreaves is no choir boy, and has a lot to answer for himself – but I still don’t see how attacking him buys an acquittal.
This case should be won or lost on the basis of the scientific evidence, and the SPCA’s ability to show that the dogs suffered. Regardless of the reasons for the killing, it was done in a manner that the SPCA should be able to show was detestable, and the owner’s actions will not be enough to legally absolve the defendants of responsibilty for what happened. Still, with a jury involved, it should be a rousing trial, and an interesting one to follow.
Late last year, I posted on the euphemistically-named ‘cubicle’ farming of dairy cows proposed in the South Island’s pristine McKenzie Basin.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has today recommended that Environment Minister, Nick Smith use his call-in powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA) to make a decision on the consents. The Act states:
Section 141B – Minister’s power to call in matters that are or are part of proposals of national significance
In deciding whether a matter is or is part of a proposal of national significance, the Minister may have regard to any relevant factor, including whether the matter—
(a) has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment
Why is this of interest in a blog about animal law?
Well, although about 75% of the large number of submissions received by the Canterbury Regional Council mentioned deleterious effects on the cows, the question has been raised as to whether animal welfare issues can be legitimately considered as an ‘effect’ of dairy farming for the purposes of resource management consents.
The Council has received legal advice that they can not, nor can they provide grounds for a ministerial call-in.
The Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Bryan Jenkins, has said that the animal welfare issue is more appropriately dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA). He also suggested that a stronger argument can be made for damage to New Zealand’s reputation in international dairy markets being an ‘effect’.
This is all the more incredible if we look at the statutory definition of “environment” in the RMA: Continue reading