Marsden Rawsthorn Wins Animal Welfare Precedent

Wednesday 2nd July 2014

Lancashire-based law firm, Marsden Rawsthorn has been instrumental in achieving a legal precedent that will safeguard the welfare of animals across England and Wales.

The company has worked with the RSPCA in Lancashire for more than 20 years, helping the charity to prosecute pet and animal owners for cruelty and neglect. Following a case brought last year and a subsequent appeal, Marsden Rawsthorn represented the RSPCA at a judicial review that has clarified the Animal Welfare Act 2006, establishing a precedent that will prevent future exceptions to disqualifications relating to the keeping and owning of animals.

Marsden Rawsthorn represented the RSPCA in the sentencing hearing, which took place at Blackpool Magistrates Court in May 2013. At that hearing, the defendant was given a life time disqualification in relation to the care or ownership of any animals, following conviction for numerous offences, including breaches of a previous disqualification order, causing unnecessary suffering to a cat and failure to prevent pain, suffering injury or disease by providing a suitable living environment for nine cats and failure to prevent pain, injury or disease by providing clean drinking water for 66 poultry.

When an appeal was heard at Preston Crown Court in September 2013, two of the five original convictions were overturned and the Recorder kept in place the original disqualification in relation to all animals, but amended it by allowing the defendant to keep one neutered cat.

The RSPCA applied to the Administrative Court of the High Court for the sentence of the court, in relation to the disqualification, to be reviewed.

“Taking a case to judicial review following an appeal is an unusual step,” Jonathan Fail from the Marsden Rawsthorn litigation team explains. “It relies on there being a legal basis on which to challenge the court’s sentencing decision. “

“Our case rested on the understanding that section 34 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 does not empower the court to make an exception to a disqualification and Lord Justice McCombe and Mr Justice Blair at the High Court in Manchester upheld that point of law.”

Following the case, anyone disqualified from owning or caring for animals will not be able to gain an exception as to particular animals when being disqualified through the courts. The courts continue to have the power to disqualify in relation to all animals or in relation to a particular category of animals, but must not exclude a number of or named animals from whichever of these orders is imposed.

Jonathan Fail further continues : “ Under the 1954 legislation which applied up to 2006, the courts had established a similar precedent on the limitation of the court’s powers, but following the updating of the law in 2006, there had been no clarification of this point until the outcome of our case in May. With this new precedent in place, the RSPCA will be able to prevent those subject to a disqualification order, either in relation to all animals, or a particular category of animals, from gaining a legal exception that might put certain animals at risk “

Terry Stroud from the RSPCA comments: “This is an important milestone for animal welfare, which sends out a clear message to those guilty of animal cruelty or neglect that any lifetime ban is absolute, subject to the power of the courts to later give consideration of the matter under section 43 of the Animal Welfare Act, 2006.”

“Marsden Rawsthorn has played a pivotal role in helping us to protect animals in Lancashire over the years and, by establishing this precedent, the firm has now also been instrumental in safeguarding animals on a national basis.”

Author: Sahida Ahmed

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