NSW imposes lifetime ban on owning animals for serious animal cruelty criminals

NSW is set to become the first state in Australia to impose automatic lifetime bans on criminals convicted of serious animal cruelty from ever owning, working with, or breeding animals under proposed section 31AA of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021 (NSW). As at 10 June 2021, the Bill is awaiting royal assent.

The new law comes after two years of campaigning by Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst. When the legislation commences, criminals convicted of serious animal cruelty under section 530 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) will automatically be subject to a lifetime ban on owning, working with, or breeding animals.  Hurst has stated before that her campaign to increase penalties for animal cruelty offences is fueled by her belief that “there have been far too many cases where the punishments simply do not match the crimes.”  Adam Marshall, NSW Agriculture Minister, similarly recognised that before the passing of the Bill, NSW’s animal cruelty penalties “lagged behind where they need to be” and that the Bill more accurately reflects community expectations.

The new legislation is welcomed by the animal law community who have long been calling for the criminal law to better reflect the community’s attitudes towards serious animal cruelty offences. For example, the 2019 conviction and sentencing of Daniel Brighton made news after the man received the longest sentence for animal abuse crimes in NSW’s history – a term of 40 months – after torturing and killing a dog that had entered his property. At the time of the offence, Brighton was an owner of a mobile petting zoo and had previously taught Animal Studies subjects at TAFE. In 2020, however, the Supreme Court quashed Brighton’s conviction, ruling that while his acts were “particularly abhorrent and, ultimately, cruel” they were not illegal under the Crimes Act because Brighton’s actions fell within the defence of exterminating a pest animal. Brighton’s case highlights the need for law reform in this area so that violent acts of cruelty against other living beings are subject to appropriate sanctions that reflect community values.

The Bill also includes significant increases to maximum penalties for animal cruelty offences, with an eightfold increase to $44,000 and/or a term of imprisonment of one year for an individual convicted of animal cruelty to animals under section 5 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) (POCTAA), and a maximum penalty of $220,00 for corporations. For aggravated animal cruelty offences, the increase is five-fold to a $110,000 fine and/or a term of imprisonment of two years for an individual convicted of aggravated animal cruelty. For corporations convicted under section 6 for aggravated animal cruelty, the new maximum fine is $550,000. Offences under section 8 of POCTAA relating to animals being provided with food, drinks or shelter have tripled to $16,500 and/or 6 months imprisonment for an individual, and $82,500 for corporations.

To learn more about animal law generally in Australia, check out Episode 35 of Hearsay with Tess Vickery and Rishika Pai.