Case summary: R (on the application of Patterson) v. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [2013] EWHC 4531 (Admin)

guinea pigs

What were the facts?

In March 2011, the first appellant, Mr Patterson, was convicted of participating in a blood sport, an offence under s.8A Animal Welfare Act 2006 (“AWA”). He was disqualified from keeping animals pursuant to s.34(2) AWA and transferred the ownership of all his animals to his wife, Mrs Patterson (the second appellant), with whom he co-habited.

In May 2011, an RSPCA inspector visited the Pattersons’ home and found a number of animals, including dogs, birds, rabbits and guinea pigs, suffering or being kept in an environment that would cause suffering. After a second visit in December 2011, animals were still found to be in the same conditions and charges were brought against the appellants. Mr Patterson was convicted under s.34(9) AWA for breaching the disqualification order made against him, finding that he had been able to participate, control or had been able to influence the way in which animals were kept. Additionally, Mrs Patterson was convicted of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the breach. They were also jointly convicted on four counts of animal cruelty under s.4 AWA.

Both Mr and Mrs Patterson appealed against their convictions.

What was the applicable law?

Section 4 AWA provides:

“A person commits an offence if —

(a)     he is responsible for an animal,

(b)     an act or failure to act of another person causes the animal to suffer,

(c)     he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening; and

(d)     the suffering is unnecessary.”

Section 9(2) AWA provides that an animal’s needs include the need for a suitable environment and diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with or separate to other animals, and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury or disease.

s.34(2)(d) AWA prevents the disqualified person “from being party to an arrangement under which he is entitled to control or influence the way in which animals are kept”. Under s.34(9) AWA, a person who breaches a disqualification order commits an offence.

What were the arguments for the appellants?

The appellants argued the magistrates had incorrectly applied the law under s.34(2)(d). They argued it is not sufficient to show a disqualified person would be able to control or influence the keeping of animals, but instead that person has to be entitled to control or influence the keeping of animals. Since ownership of the animals had passed to Mrs Patterson, Mr Patterson was no longer entitled to control or influence their keeping. Whilst any extended absence of Mrs Patterson might have led to the necessary inference that Mr Patterson was entitled to control of the animals, there was no evidence to suggest such an absence, nor of Mr Patterson taking the opportunity to care for the animals.

What were the arguments for the respondent?

The RSPCA argued that, since there were animals living both inside and outside the Pattersons’ house and Mrs Patterson was not present at all times, in practice Mr Patterson was either participating in the care of these animals or was entitled to do so within the meaning of s.34(2)(d) AWA. He, therefore, was in breach of the disqualification order and committed an offence under s.34(9) AWA. Since Mrs Patterson knew of the disqualification order against her husband she could be said to be aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the breach.

What did the court decide?

The court allowed the appellants’ appeal to the extent that Mr Patterson did not breach the disqualification order against him. Being a criminal prosecution, Blake J held “the inference must not only be one that can be drawn from the evidence but [it must be] the only sensible inference”. Mrs Patterson might have left the house on occasions, but it:

“does not necessarily follow that [Mr Patterson] has used the opportunity to [control the animals] and if he has not done so, it is difficult to see what evidence there was that he was entitled to do so.

[…] The justices did not direct their minds to the question of whether there was an entitlement to care for or control the animals, and secondly, do not set out with any particularity why the facts in this case were so strong as to exclude any other inference but that Mr Patterson had…done things that he knew he was prohibited from doing.”

Since Mr Patterson was not responsible for the animals, he was also acquitted of the four counts of animal cruelty against him.

Inevitably, this also meant allowing Mrs Patterson’s appeal against her conviction for aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the breach. However, the four counts of animal cruelty were upheld against her as, unlike Mr Patterson, she was found to be responsible for the animals under s.4 AWA.

Written by Abigail Scott.