Animal Welfare Case - Its me or the dog

In Patterson v RSPCA [2013] EWHC 4531 Trinity criminal barrister,Tony Cornberg, was involved in the issue of whether a disqualification order under the Animal Welfare Act meant an individual could no longer live in a property that contained animals? Or, in order for him to continue to live there, did the animals all have to be rehomed?

At the hearing before Mr Justice Blake it was held that the mere fact that the Appellant lived with his family in a house where animals were kept did not, of itself, amount to a breach of a disqualification order under section 34 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

A disqualified person breaches a section 34 order if they own or keep an animal, participate in the keeping of an animal or are party to an arrangement whereby they are entitled to influence the way in which an animal is kept. Here, there was no direct evidence of any of these having taken place and the Appellant, Mr Patterson, was acquitted following appeal by way of case stated. His wife’s conviction for aiding and abetting the breach was also quashed as a consequence.

Mr Patterson had been convicted by Magistrates on the basis that, by simply living in the house, “it would have been impossible for [him] not to have participated in the keeping of animals”. This conclusion was deemed erroneous and was overturned by Mr Justice Blake. Direct evidence would be required.

Mr Patterson was, consequently, also effectively rendered immune from conviction in relation to animal welfare offences – he wasn’t allowed to participate in the keeping of animals so could not therefore be held accountable for any deficiencies in the standard of their care. His 4 convictions in relation to animal welfare offences were also quashed. He couldn’t be criminalised for failing to do something he was not allowed to do in the first place.

The Magistrates were entitled, however, to conclude that there had been animal welfare offences committed by Mr Patterson’s wife, whose 4 convictions were upheld. This included the need to provide “a constant source of fresh drinking water” to animals – failure to do so was held to amount to an offence in this case.

Tony Cornberg, who was recommended in the latest edition of the Legal 500 is a member of Trinity Chambers' Judicial ReviewCosts,Criminal and Regulatory practice groups.

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