Frequently Asked Questions

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ALAW is a small charity with big ambitions. At present, the UK is not as advanced as several other countries in terms of the extent to which animal welfare law is recognised as a significant area of legal practice. It is taught in only a small number of law schools, and the opportunities for legal professionals to share expertise with one another are few. In addition, there are only a very small number of public law cases each year that relate to animal welfare, because UK animal welfare organisations have not recognised the legal options available to them in the same way that, for example, environmental organisations have done. ALAW wants to change all this. It is a huge task, our resources are limited, and we are almost wholly dependent on the generosity of individual lawyers in volunteering their time and money.

This means we have to focus our resources in those areas where we can have most impact. We do this by working with animal welfare organisations to identify areas in which legal expertise could be of assistance to them. We also help them access legal assistance to bring cases in the UK and European Union courts which raise important points of principle. In addition, we develop resources – such as factsheets – to increase public knowledge about the law relating to animals. We also work with academics and law students.   If you have a legal question that relates to an important issue of animal welfare policy, you are welcome to email us. Although we may not always have the resources to respond to you individually, please be assured that all emails are read and considered, and we follow up suggestions where we can. However, you may find it best to contact, in the first instance, an animal welfare organisation that has a particular interest in that area. For example, if your enquiry relates to farm animal welfare, you may wish to contact Compassion in World Farming. There are animal welfare organisations with specific expertise in almost every aspect of animal welfare. As noted above, ALAW works with a wide range of these organisations to support them in identifying legal projects we can assist them with.

Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to respond to legal questions about individual animals or intervene in private legal disputes. For details of who to contact about such matters, please see the other FAQs below.

Please note that ALAW is not a law firm. We cannot give legal advice ourselves.

Where should I report my concerns about suspected animal cruelty or another issue affecting an individual animal?

In the UK anyone can bring a prosecution, but most prosecutions for cruelty to animals are brought following investigations by the RSPCA (or, in Scotland, the SSPCA). You can call the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234 999. The SSPCA’s number is 03000 999 999. Lines are often very busy, so please bear in mind that these organisations are charities and receive no government money to help it with their work.

You may also visit the RSPCA’s website which contains useful information, including a cruelty checklist which can be used before reporting suspected cruelty. See below: http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/helpandadvice/reportinganimalsindistress

If you require immediate assistance – for example, if you see animal cruelty in progress, or a dog that is suffering in a hot car – the best option will usually be to contact the police. In most areas of the UK, you can contact the local police by dialling 111 (or, in an emergency, 999). Please do not accept being fobbed off by being told that you should contact the RSPCA instead. As noted above, the RSPCA is a charity, and it is the police that has legal responsibility for investigating offences against animals, though they often do so in co operation with RSPCA inspectors.

The responsibility for enforcement of the laws protecting wildlife lies with the police service and if you suspect a wildlife crime (for example someone collecting rare birds eggs or birds, illegal taxidermy or bringing endangered species into the country) you can report this either to your local police or to the RSPCA, using the 24 hour cruelty line number (above).

Where the issue relates to interference with wild birds, you could also contact the RSPB whose contact details are available here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/contactus/

Please do not touch young birds that appear to have been left alone by their parents. It is likely that their parents will return. For further information about what may wildlife laws and what may constitute a wildlife crime see: http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/wildlife/laws

In London, the Wildlife Crime Unit of the Metropolitan Police can be contacted on telephone number 020 7230-3641; Fax: 0207 230 4020; Web: http://www.met.police.uk/wildlife/index.htm

You can also provide information about suspected serious crimes anonymously to Crime stoppers on 0800 555 111.

Pet shops, dog breeding and boarding establishments, and zoos are all licensed and inspected by local authorities. Accordingly, if you have a complaint about such an establishment, please contact the environmental health department of the district or borough council for the relevant area. Local authorities are also responsible for dealing with stray dogs. They employ animal wardens who can intervene to ensure that animals are being cared for properly. They can also take action where pet animals are being used or allowed to cause a danger or a nuisance to other people or animals. The Born Free Foundation (http://www.bornfree.org.uk) and the Captive Animals Protection Society (www.captiveanimals.org) both welcome information from the public about the animal welfare issues in zoos and circuses, whether in the UK or elsewhere in the world.

Information about humane control of pigeons is available from the Pigeon Control Resource Centre (PCRC) -an online resource for issues relating to pigeon control. The information on the site is geared towards solving pigeon control problems by the use of humane and non-lethal control methods. See http://www.pigeoncontrolresourcecentre.org/html/pigeon-pest-control-and-the-law.html

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) publishes advisory leaflets designed to provide advice to the general public and their specialist wildlife advisors are available to discuss specific problems. DEFRA’s website is at: www.defra.co.uk.

Where your concern relates to an animal welfare issue outside the UK, you may find it helpful to contact an animal welfare organisation in the relevant country. An extensive database of animal welfare organisations overseas can be found on www.worldanimal.net. Cases of cruelty in a particular country may be addressed to the country’s embassy in the UK for forwarding to the relevant local authorities.

Unfortunately ALAW cannot help with individual cases. It is important that legal advice is sought from a specialist in this area of law. Details may be obtained from the Law Society of England and Wales or the Law Society of Scotland. Details for both are below.

Before considering bringing a claim it is worthwhile considering making a complaint to the service provider to see if the complaint can be resolved. If there are professional conduct issues you can bring these to the attention of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). This is the best way of trying to ensure that lessons are learnt for the benefit of animal welfare.

Further information about bringing a complaint or litigation can be obtained from the website of ‘Rights for Pets’ at www.rights4petsatvets.co.uk/complain.html

I am interested in studying animal law at university. Can you let me know if there are any institutions in the United Kingdom offering relevant courses?

See our student section for details of courses, career information and useful links.

I work within an animal welfare organisation. What can ALAW do to help my organisation?

We welcome the opportunity to develop relationships with animal welfare organisations that we have not worked with before.

We offer a programme of seminars on legal issues, including half-day training seminars specifically tailored to be of assistance to people working in animal welfare organisations. Recent topics have included use of the Freedom of Information Act, defamation law, and legal issues relating to campaigning.

We may also be able to meet with you to discuss your priorities and how ALAW can assist you in your work. Please get in touch with us by email.


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