In March 2021, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2021 was passed by NSW parliament. The Bill was proposed largely to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) (‘POCTA’) in order to increase penalties for certain animal welfare offences.
The amendments were pursued due to ongoing criticism that NSW has one of the most lenient animal cruelty laws in Australia.
The new amendments to penalties include the following:
Failure to provide food and shelter: increase from $5,500 to $16,500 for individuals and/or six months’ imprisonment, with corporate penalties increasing from $27,500 to $82,500 for each offence.
Cruelty: Increase from $5,500 and/or six months’ imprisonment for individuals to $44,000 and/or 12 months’ imprisonment for individuals per offence. The corporate penalty will increase from $27,500 to $220,000 for each offence; and
Aggravated cruelty: the maximum penalty per offence will increase from $22,000 to $110,000 for an individual and/or two years’ imprisonment and from $110,000 to $550,000 for a corporation for each offence.
In November 2020, the NSW Parliament passed The Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (Domestic Violence) Act 2020, which amends the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 to explicitly recognize animal abuse in the context of domestic violence.
The reforms will change the definition of ‘intimidation’ to recognize that harm to, or harm threatened to, animals belonging to or in the possession of a victim-survivor (or a person with whom the victim-survivor has a domestic relationship) is a form of intimidation.
This means that if animal cruelty offences are committed in the context of a domestic relationship, with intent to cause intimidation or fear, the animal abuser may also be charged with domestic violence offences. Intimidation with intent to cause physical or mental harm is a crime with a maximum penalty of a $5,500 fine and/or up to five years’ imprisonment.
In other positive news for companion animals and their owners, in October 2020, the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of NSW declared invalid a strata by-law that enforced a blanket ban on keeping companion animals.
Subsequently, in February this year, the NSW Government passed the Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Act 2021 (‘Sustainability Act’), consistent with the Cooper case. The Sustainability Act prohibits owners corporations from enacting by-laws that unreasonably ban tenants from keeping an animal, particularly if the animal doesn’t interfere with another occupant’s use or enjoyment of their property or common property.
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