Changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986
Amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act 1986 (POCTA) came into effect on 23 December 2015.
The purpose of the amendments is to strengthen the enforceability and administration of the Act and to ensure that sanctions imposed continue to be in line with community expectations.
Animal welfare emergency powers
The amendments enable the Minister to authorise immediate action to alleviate an animal welfare emergency. Emergencies of this nature have occurred in the past; in one case, financial and ownership disputes put the welfare of nearly a million animals at risk. The Minister will have to take a number of factors into consideration when deciding whether to authorise action, but such action will then be able to be taken by enforcement agencies more swiftly than in the past.
Animal fights and live baiting
The amendments add to those already in the Act regarding animal fighting activities (such as dog fighting and cock fighting), and blooding and luring (such as in the greyhound racing industry). The amendments include the introduction of offences for:
- allowing or encouraging an animal to fight with another animal
- attending, without a reasonable excuse, an event or a place where an animal is being used as a lure or kill in greyhound training or racing.
Keeping or having specified animal species - rabbits, possums, piglets, cats (other than the person's registered pet cat), or other prescribed animals at a place used for greyhound training or racing can now be used as evidence, unless there is evidence to the contrary, that these animals are being kept for use as for use as a lure or kill for blooding a greyhound or training or racing any coursing dog.
Maximum financial penalties for people involved in animal fighting, baiting and luring have increased from 240 to 500 penalty units.
New powers of entry and seizure of animals have been introduced for situations where fighting, baiting or luring is reasonably suspected to be occurring. In addition, power to declare fighting dogs and cocks forfeit under certain circumstances has been introduced.
Control orders and monitoring
Control orders are orders that can be made by a court against a person convicted or found guilty (or found not guilty by reason of mental impairment) of an offence under the Act. These orders can disqualify a person from owning an animal, can place conditions on ownership or can place conditions on a person with care or custody of an animal. The Act previously permitted these orders to be made when the offences were considered 'serious'. The amendments remove the reference to 'serious offences', so that orders can be considered for the full range and nature of offending. For example, in cases of lower-level offending, it may be useful impose an order that requires the offender to undertake some education or training to prevent re-offending. The amendments also enable courts to impose orders restricting a person from owning animals, as well as being in charge of animals.
Previously, the maximum period of a control order was 10 years. From now on, if person has previously been subject to a control order in Victoria or interstate, they may be disqualified from owning or being in charge of animals or have conditions placed on ownership or being in charge for a period more than 10 years, including permanently.
Maximum financial penalties for offences against control orders have been increased from 240 to 500 penalty units.
The Act also now contains powers for courts to make monitoring orders, which would permit POCTA inspectors to monitor compliance with control orders. Some people disqualified from being in charge of animals have breached the control order placed on them, and have in fact committed further animal cruelty offences. The Act now enables courts to issue an order authorising POCTA inspectors to monitor compliance of those subject to control orders.
- Spaying of any animal requires veterinary training and use of appropriate pain relief and anaesthetic. The Act has included spaying as a prohibited procedure under the Act, to ensure that it is clear that it is a procedure that must only be done by a registered veterinary practitioner or by a veterinary student under a registered veterinary practitioner's supervision.
- The offence to sell, offer for sale, purchase, drive or convey a calf unfit because of weakness has been broadened to encompass all animals and to include other causes of unfitness, namely emaciation, injury and disease.
- The definition of aggravated cruelty has been amended to clarify that it relates to an act or acts of cruelty that result in the death or serious disablement of an animal.
- A person may be required to muster, yard and secure animals if requested by a POCTA inspector for the purpose of exercising a power under the Act.
- The term "risk to the welfare of the animal" has been clarified.
- Other minor and technical amendments to improve the operation of the Act.
Animals used in research and teaching
- The nomination of a natural person to be responsible for compliance is now required for all licence types. It is an offence for a licence-holder's senior governance nominee to fail to take reasonable steps to ensure employees act in compliance with the licence conditions.
- The definition of 'animal' has been amended to reflect the life stages of fish and amphibia considered by scientific evidence to be sentient. The refined definition refers to fish and amphibia that are capable of self-feeding.
- The amendments add to the remit of a Ministerially-appointed Peer Review Committee to review scientific procedures, on an as-needs basis, under any licence type rather than confining the potential for review to those conducted solely on scientific premises.
- Powers of authorised officers to inspect and investigate licensed and unlicensed animal use have been redrafted to be clearer and to enable them to issue notices requiring a person cease, or take steps to avert, non-compliance. The department may undertake the actions required by the notice if necessary for the welfare of the animals, and recover the cost of doing so from the recipient of the notice. The changes provide authorised officers with the power to apply, with approval of the department head, for a search warrant to investigate illegal animal research.
- An option is provided for magistrates to make an adverse publicity order on conviction of an offence under Part 3 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986. These orders can be used to publicise the nature and details of an offence, and to require corrections to any published work that might have resulted from the offence. The department may take actions to publish the required information and recover the cost of doing so for offenders found in contempt of court.
A copy of the new version of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 can be found at http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au. (Click on the 'Victorian Law Today' tab on that website, and then search 'Acts' starting with the letter P).
If you have any questions, please contact us on 136 186.