Former Australian High Court Judge Kirby Speaks Out For Tougher Sentencing for Animal Cruelty
An Animal Rights Article from

June 2009

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has called for tougher sentencing for cruelty to animals and greater public awareness of intensive farming practices.

Mr. Kirby said Australians needed to be made aware of the conditions animals were kept in and to understand that animal welfare legislation did not offer any protection to agricultural stock.

"I don't believe the people of Australia know the facts that are revealed in this book, and they should know them," Mr. Kirby said at the launch of a book on animal law this week.

"If only the people knew the pain the animals go through, the cruelty that is inflicted on sentient animals, they would take action."

Mr. Kirby said many would be shocked to learn that intensively farmed chickens are kept in a space equivalent to the size of a piece of A4 paper and that most sows spend their lives in metal stalls that are so small they can't take a step forward or backwards.

He said the book, Animal Law in Australasia, highlighted the need for tougher sentencing for animal cruelty, and that the examples used were astonishing.

The maximum penalty for animal cruelty in Victoria is 12 months in jail or a $13,600 fine.

In aggravated cruelty incidents, leading to the death or serious disablement of an animal, the penalties are doubled to $27,200 or 24 months in jail.

But the acting inspectorate services manager for RSPCA Victoria, Allie Jalbert, said those penalties were not being reflected in sentencing. "In the five years I've been here, I haven't seen the maximum penalties applied to any case, even the most serious cases of beating and killing animals," she said. "Even when we do end up with a good penalty, in most cases it is appealed and they often end up with a lesser sentence.

"Going through the court process can also be very expensive for the agencies that are prosecuting it, which are charities."

Mr. Kirby's comments came as debate raged over the future of jumps racing in Australia, after the death of five horses in Victoria this racing season, including three last week. Animal rights advocates condemn the sport as cruel.

Mr. Kirby said that while some believed cruelty to animals should not be compared to the suffering of human beings, the parallels between animal rights and important social justice movements of the past could not be denied.

"We should all be upset, because it was when we got upset about slaves that something happened about slaves. It was when we got upset about Aboriginal rights that something happened about Aboriginal rights. Being upset is the beginning of the journey to solutions, " he said.

"Advocates of change should address the fact that our species seems to have developed in part because of our dependence on meat. We need to address what we need to change and the challenge is to work out where to go from here."

Mr Kirby said agricultural stock had been excluded from animal welfare legislation because of a choice made under the law to treat them differently.

The launch of the book, edited by Peter Sankoff and Steven White, was part of the Voiceless Animal Law lecture series, which will be held at the University of Melbourne on Thursday.

The guest lecturer at the series of free public talks is lawyer Bruce Wagman, who is at the forefront of animal law in the US.

While animal law is still emerging as a discipline in Australia, Mr. Wagman said Australia was set to follow in America's footsteps. In the US, more than 100 universities including Harvard and Columbia, have offered animal law courses since 1977.

The first animal law course in Australia was taught in 2005, and this year the subject will be taught at six law schools throughout the country. Four of these universities will offer the course for the first time.

With cases of animals being mistreated in agriculture, entertainment, biomedical research and domestic situations, Mr. Wagman said lawyers focusing on animal law had tough decisions to make on which battles to fight.

Return to Animal Rights Articles