The afternoon started with a panel on Global Animal Law Issues, coordinated by Jean-Marc Neumann (www.animaletdroit.com), with three speakers from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the USA.
The first speaker, Paul Littlefair, International Director of the RSPCA, talked about "Animal Law Enforcement in Practice":
The RSPCA, founded in 1824, is the oldest animal welfare organisation. It is a charity and does not receive any governmental money. It enforces animal protection law in England and Wales, does lobbying, campaigns, educates, advises the UK government, and EU bodies. They cover cases of farm animals (China has half the world´s pigs), stray animals (80% of dogs population globally is free roaming), lab animals (100 mill animals used every year), and wildlife. It is therefore very important that RSPCA inspectors have strong interpersonal skills, are able to cope with pressure, and to work alone, as it is not an easy job. At the moment RSPCA is composed of 30 scientific staff, 4 departments, 330 inspectors, 130 AWOs, and 50 ACOs. They receive about 1,3 million calls and have in the past year investigated on 153,700 cruelty complaints. Its policy is to influence the development of policy at multilateral levels and to support the development and revision of animal welfare legislation in various countries it collaborates with.
Here are some more recent statistics for England and Wales:
Defendants convicted: 1,421
Prosecution success rate: 98%
Prison sentences imposed: 83
Suspended prison sentences: 179
Disqualification orders: 1,175
Now some information focusing on the situation in East Asia:
China: has no legislation for domestic animals;
Hong Kong: RSPCA inspectors and police prosecute;
Taiwan: law since 1998 and local govenment inspectros;
Japan: legislation since 1970s and local gov. inspectors;
Korea: similar system to Japan, supported by NGOs.
In all these countries RSPCA gives support with law enforcement training preparation. Here the task is to carry out research and preliminary field visits to understand the animal protection legislation in the country, the actual conditions for animals, the historical/cultural attitudes towards animals, the significance of law to the ordinary citizen, the attitudes towards authority, officials, uniforms, etc. The areas for training comprise transferable knowledge and skills such as tools and procedures, animal welfare assessment (investigation standards), advice, health and safety, evidence gathering, case file preparation, team working, multi-agency working.
Proceeding with the panel was Dr. Geri Bolinger, who focused on the "Protection of Dignity: Switzerland Sets a New Standard in Animal Law":
Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, therefore EU animal protection regulations do not apply to Swiss animals. Nevertheless since 1973 animal welfare is an issue in the Swiss Constitution. In 1981 the first Swiss Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Animal Welfare Ordinance (AWO) have been promulgated. In 2008 both the AWA and the AWO has been totally revised and it applies to ALL vertebrates, with no exceptions whatsoever for farm, lab animals, etc. The purpose of the AWA is to protect the dignity and welfare of animals, as this is a fundamental principle of all Swiss animal welfare law.
Let´s define dignity. Dignity is "inherent worth of the animal that has to be respected when dealing with it". But the protection of animal dignity is not absolute: we have to weigh the interests of the animal and the ones of men, do a so called balance test. The violation of this dignity includes various categories of stress. The first one is represented by the physical elements of stress such as pain, suffering, harm, anxiety. The second one is of ethical nature and is related to humiliation, major interference with the animal´s appearance and abilities, excessive instrumentalisation of it.
What are the legal consequences?
Art. 26 AWA establishes a custodial sentence up to 3 years or a monetary penalty for who mistreats, neglects, overexerts or disregards the dignity of an animal. Also more in general we can see some changes: animals are no longer things, but they still remain property, they have their own legal status between persons and object (since 2003). Furthermore socially living animals cannot be kept alone (since 2008), rather in companionship (e.g. sheep, hamsters). There are also some statutory bans, meaning some acts which are completely forbidden, with no balancing test and no justification such as zoophilia, doping of animals, their postal delivery, live animal feeding, the cropping of dogs, and the importation of cetaceans.
What about enforcement? Is Switzerland a paradise for the animals?
Well in theory the balancing test should work this way: the more significant an intervention to an animal´s dignity is, the greater the justification required by the user. But in practice this balancing test is often in favour of human interests and not of the animals and their dignity. There are also some legitimate user interests determined by society, such as the use of animals for food or experimentation. So the use of animals is justified in front of economic interests, but actually this should never be enough for justification. Regarding Swiss court decisions, there have been many cases in the "clear facts" regarding for example absolute bans, but only few cases on animal dignity in any other way, one of the most important of which, is the decision from 2009 of the Swiss Supreme Court on experimentation animals.
So the question is when is the humiliation or instrumentalisation really justified? When do we draw the line? Breeding, tattooing, colouring of animals, their use for advertisement? This is a question we will leave open.
Master in Animal Law and Society
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona