The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland otherwise referred to as the UK. It is the oldest semblance of democracy we have in the modern world. Its jurisprudence and institutional values form the core of almost all countries in the world today. The country that formed the British Empire, the empire on which the sun never sets.
The country where we had the first recognition of the rights of the people by a ruler, in the form of the Magna Carta, back in 1215. This is the country that fought at the forefront of both world wars and fought back the tide of fascism.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the UK was the first country in the world to laws for the protection of animals. Parliament passed an Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle in 1882.
The government has on various occasions publicly stated that animals are sentient beings, not merely commodities, and has confirmed its commitment to the highest possible standards of animal welfare.
The first general animal protection law, called the Protection of Animals Act, was introduced in 1911 and has been updated several times since. The Animal Welfare Act, an overhaul of pet abuse laws replacing the Protection of Animals Act, came into force in England and Wales in 2007.
The rationale behind laws for the protection of animals:
The main point of rationale that exists for the existence of laws for the protection of animals against cruelty and even animal rights is the matter of sentience.
Animals are being treated as sentient beings, it is believed that they can feel pain. Animals should be treated ‘humanely’ and without unnecessary suffering. Animals are determined as sentient beings based on the fact that they can feel pain and suffering. This forms the basis of Animal Welfare.
Animal welfare is the quality of life experienced by an animal and includes how well the animal is coping with his or her current circumstances and surroundings.
World Animal Protection believes that animal welfare is affected by the relationships human beings have with animals and that we must ensure that all animals are treated humanely, responsibly, and with respect.
This includes consideration for all aspects of animal well-being, such as the Five Domains.
Five Domains of Animal Welfare:
• Nutrition– Factors that involve the animal’s access to sufficient,
balanced, varied, and clean food and water.
• Environment– Factors that enable comfort through temperature, substrate, space, air, odour, noise, and predictability.
• Health–Factorsthatenablegoodhealththroughtheabsenceofdisease, injury, or impairment with a good fitness level.
- Behaviour– Factors that provide varied, novel, and engaging environmental challenges through sensory inputs, exploration, foraging, bonding, playing, retreating, and others.
- Mental State – By presenting positive situations in the previous four functional domains, the mental state of the animal should benefit from predominantly positive states, such as pleasure, comfort, or vitality while reducing negative states such as fear, frustration, hunger, pain, or boredom.
Animal Welfare Act, 2006:
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (the 2006 Act) is the principal law relating to animal welfare.
Owners and keepers have a duty of care to their animals and must make sure they meet their needs:
- for a suitable environment and place to live
- for a suitable diet
- to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
- to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and diseaseAnyone who does not provide for an animal’s welfare needs may:
- be banned from owning animals
- face an unlimited fine
- be sent to prison for up to 6 months
The 2006 Act also sets out offences relating to cruelty and animal fighting. The maximum sentence for these offences is 5 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Animal cruelty includes:
- causing unnecessary suffering to an animal
- docking the tail of a dog except where permitted
- poisoning an animalThe 2006 Act applies to all vertebrate animals.
Other Domestic Litigation:
The welfare of farmed animals is also protected by The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 (as amended), made under the Animal Welfare Act.
The welfare of all farmed animals is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, making it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
- The Act also contains a duty of care that is owed to animals – anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal’s welfare needs are met.The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 set minimum standards for all farm animals. These regulations replaced the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 on 1 October 2007.
- The new regulations are made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and are very similar to the previous regulations.
- Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007
- Guidance to the 2007 Regulations
The Welfare of Animals at Markets Order 1990 (WAMO) contains rules covering the treatment of animals in markets to ensure that they are not caused injury or unnecessary suffering.
They also set out detailed arrangements with regards to penning, food and water and the care of young animals. Responsibility for enforcing WAMO rests with local councils.
The welfare of farmed animals is also protected by the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 as amended (S.I. 2007 No.2078), made under the Animal Welfare Act.
- Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007
- Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010These regulations continue to implement EU directives on the welfare of calves, pigs, laying hens, conventionally reared meat chickens and a general welfare framework directive, which sets down minimum standards for the protection of all farmed livestock.The regulations cover all farmed animals. Schedule 1 (which does not apply to fish, reptiles or amphibians) contains specific requirements such as inspections, record keeping, freedom of movement, buildings and equipment and the feeding and watering of animals. Some species, however, are subject to additional provisions, which are set out in Schedules 2-9.Welfare codes have been created for most animals that are farmed commercially in the UK. These can be downloaded from the DEFRA website.Guidance has been prepared to accompany the regulations and includes information on the application of the legislation to common land.Similar legislation exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
World Animal Protection Index:
In 2014, the UK was given an A out of 5 possible grades i.e., A, B, C, D, E, F, G on the World Animal Protection’s Animal Protection Index. However, it was lowered to a B rating in their latest published 2020 index.
The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) 2019 has strengthened the capability of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for dealing with offenders causing ‘unnecessary suffering’ to an animal on duty in public service.
The so-called ‘Finn’s Law’ means that anyone injured by an animal on duty cannot use as a defence the fact that they were acting to protect themselves whilst trying to evade the law.
Ivory Act 2018:
The Government needs to be applauded for enacting the Ivory Act 2018, which introduced a near-total ban on dealing in items containing elephant ivory, regardless of their age, within the UK, as well as exporting from or importing to the UK.
OIE Animal Welfare Standards:
The OIE Animal Welfare Standards focus on transport, slaughter, production systems (beef cattle, broiler chickens, dairy cattle, pigs), stray dog population control, the use of animals in research and education, and working equids.
DEFRA and the other relevant devolved governmental departments are acting by the guiding principles of the OIE. It should also be noted that the OIE’s guiding principles are founded on the Five Freedoms, which were developed in 1979 by FAWC.
All eight points of the OIE’s Guiding Principles for Animal Welfare have been incorporated by legislation, including through the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the
Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006 (Scotland) and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
All eleven OIE standards are covered, but some appear in legislation such as the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, and others are covered by the Codes of Practice which have quasi-statutory authority.
The UK Government has assigned responsibility for animal welfare at high levels and provided resources to improve animal welfare and fulfil its commitments concerning the OIE.
Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare:
In 2009, 27 Agriculture Ministers of the European Council unanimously approved a statement on the UDAW encouraging the European Commission to support and initiate further international initiatives to raise awareness and create a greater consensus on animal welfare and inviting the Member States and the Commission to support the UDAW initiative.
Before this endorsement, the UK Government supported the global campaign for the UDAW.
This included participation in the Manila Conference in 2003, where a foundational text for the UDAW was agreed upon. In 2007, a motion of support for the declaration was agreed at a plenary of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE).
Though it is positive that the UK Government has pledged support to the UDAW through a joint declaration with other EU Agriculture Ministers in 2009, as the UK has left the European Union, this support might have been lost. As such, the UK Government has been encouraged to reaffirm its commitment to supporting the UDAW.
The UK government is one of the most proactive and forward in taking steps for the welfare of animals both historically and in the modern context. The government has taken various positive steps in this direction and continues to do so to date.
The existence of the United Kingdom from the European Union or Brexit as it is called has spurred debate with regards to it honouring previously binding EU laws such as the Amsterdam Treaty.
While various positive provisions exist on this subject matter, it does not mean that it is all perfect.
There remain various avenues which can be improved, as is the case with all things in life. Loopholes I the existing legislations need to be plugged and implementation and execution of the laws needs to be improved.
Sentencing and procedural issues relating to the application of the laws in the real world need to be resolved so that the aim and purpose of the laws is met.
Animals are sentient beings by virtue of them being able to feel pain and suffering and they should be treated as such. It is one of the greatest obligations of humans as a species which cohabitates the planet with these fellow sentient animals.
“The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But Can they suffer ?” – Jeremy Bentham