Friday June 22, 2012
Tighten laws on animals
THE recent announcement that a new Animal Welfare Bill will be passed represents a milestone in efforts to protect animals from cruelty and to improve concern for animal welfare.
While we wait expectantly for the Bill to be finalised, here are five basic points for the lawmakers to take into consideration.
> Offences of sufficient scope and clarity. The law must cover the entire range of abusive conduct – from outright cruelty to careless neglect. At the same time it must also be simple and clear. Instead of the present list of vague, often overlapping cruelty offences, criminal liability should be based solely on the perpetrator’s reasonable knowledge that his act or omission would (or is likely to) cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, with “unnecessary suffering” being given a liberal interpretation.
> Adequate penalties. If judges simply refuse to impose harsher penalties, merely increasing the maximum penalty will not achieve anything. There must be mandatory minimum penalties, such as “a fine not less than RM2,000” and/or “imprisonment for a term not less than one month”. The minimum penalties should reflect public opinion of what is necessary for punishment and deterrence, increasing with the severity of the offences and for repeated offenders. The law should also disqualify an offender from owning and dealing in any way with animals.
> Private prosecution. Given that animal cruelty cases are low on the priority list of public prosecutors, the power to prosecute should be delegated to sufficiently interested bodies like the Department of Veterinary Services and animal welfare organisations. Even the best law is redundant without effective prosecution.
> Pet shops and commercial breeders. The law must regulate such businesses by requiring them to be registered and licensed, and be subjected to specific duties in relation to the welfare of animals. Non-compliance should attract harsher penalties since we are dealing with the inhumane exploitation of animals for profit.
> Guidelines on stray control. All local councils must be subjected to the same clear guidelines on the humane management of stray dogs. Otherwise, in light of the numerous reports of cruelty perpetrated by council workers, the law will be perceived as a front for institutionalised cruelty.
Assistant Professor of Law
Singapore Management University