Lawyers can make a difference in fight for animal welfare

Opposition to the badger cull has united many animal campaign groups and lawyers who believe the cull is unnecessary, as well as inhumane, writes Paula Sparks.

Badger

Lawyers played their part in challenging the cull in (R (On the application of the Badger Trust) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs et al [2012] EWHC 1904 (Admin)), arguing that government plans for two pilot badger culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset would contravene the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which allows culling to “prevent the spread of disease” but they argued, was not intended to provide licences for a mass cull. 

Although unsuccessful, the challenge highlighted the arguments against culling and raised awareness of the plight of badgers involved in the pilot culls.

Lawyers are becoming involved in animal protection issues in other ways too. The Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare (ALAW) brings together solicitors, barristers and academics who are interested in animal protection.

Many of our supporters freely give their time to support ALAW’s work. Recent examples include a solicitor helping a campaign group with a draft legislative code, a member helping to draft a briefing paper on so-called ‘puppy farming’ and another drafting a research paper on the legal issues surrounding CAP subsidies for bull fighting.

An example of pro bono legal advice with arguably the most far-reaching consequences came in 2012, when the campaign group Animal Aid turned to ALAW’s Legal Policy Director and barrister Alan Bates for help after DEFRA decided that it would not prosecute two factory workers for offences of cruelty to animals because evidence supporting the conviction had been obtained from footage taken during a covert CCTV device, which DEFRA claimed had been obtained by trespass and (allegedly) breached the slaughterhouse workers’ human rights.

The footage had shown one worker stubbing out cigarettes on pigs’ snouts. Another worker was filmed beating pigs, with one pig being beaten 30 times in a minute, forcing the animal to sit down and pant heavily during the tirade of blows.

As a result of Alan Bates’ advice Animal Aid instructed solicitors who wrote to DEFRA threatening judicial review proceedings and highlighting case-law showing there was no legal barrier to using the filmed footage as evidence in a prosecution. Only then was a full criminal investigation started, which eventually led to charges being brought against the men who subsequently pleaded guilty to animal cruelty offences.

Had it not been for the group’s challenge of the legal status quo that had been assumed, such prosecutions may never have been brought.

Lawyers and legal academics help ALAW – and therefore the wider legal community – in other ways too. Many draft articles for ALAW’s journal ‘The Journal of Animal Welfare Law’ which highlights issues of topical and legal relevance to animal protection. Edwina Bowles, a trainee solicitor at Withy King, runs ALAW’s student group along with Dominika Flindt, a legal officer at BUAV (the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection).

Law students also give their time writing articles, providing research assistance and volunteering with campaign groups, which also broadens their range of experience and skill base.

At ALAW we are often asked by lawyers working in other specialist areas ‘How are my skills relevant – what can I do to help?’

In fact, whatever area of practice lawyers find themselves in, their skills can be harnessed for the benefit of the animal protection community resulting in direct welfare improvements for animals.

Paula Sparks is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. She is the chair and founding member of the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare. Further information about ALAW can be found at www.alaw.org.uk.