Pursuing animal law: an Australian student’s perspective

Sally Jones Sally joined the Law Society of England and Wales as the administrator for the Corporate Responsibility, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team in October 2014. Shortly before arriving in London, Sally completed her LLB (Hons) and Bachelor of International Relations at Griffith University in Australia. She is a certified interpersonal mediator, and an active member and volunteer for the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare in the UK.

As a teenager the three most influential features of my academic life were the environment, the law, and animal advocacy. Having grown up on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, equal parts of my formative years were spent at the beach and in the mountains. My family home was immersed in bush land, and habitually occupied by carpet pythons and huntsman spiders, with koalas, wallabies and echidnas passing through the surrounding trees and grassland. Law was equally ubiquitous in the family scene. Raised by solicitors, I developed an interest in advocacy at an early age, along with a healthy scepticism of authoritative figures. I was introduced to animal law at 15, when I was handed an animal rights pamphlet. For the first time meat consumption was connected to industry realities – the jarring impact was followed by incessant research and the essential readings. When it came to considering a career, I found the blend of these passions to be intuitive.

I decided to study the double degree of Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Politics at 17 at Griffith University, the first university in Queensland to offer animal law as an elective, and the third nationwide. At the time of selecting my politics programme, human rights law was the closest area of practice to animal law, in terms of policy development and sharing similar impediments – which informed by decision to major in international relations. Studying law with human rights heavily in focus helped me to understand the jurisprudential and substantive obstacles to advocacy and progressive law and politics.

Where course requirements permitted I directed my analyses to animal law, human rights, environmental justice, gender studies and policy development. This included the above-mentioned animal law elective and two independent research papers: Voiceless Diplomacy – how ‘mega-diplomacy’ can be employed to advocate voiceless members of society; and my thesis the Diaphanous Body – a ‘pan-species’ analysis of discrepancies in access to reproductive rights and freedoms. In an international relations elective on terrorism, I looked into the conception of ‘agro-terrorism’ and ‘ag-gag’ laws in the United States, and how this would impact the protection of industry animals; a topic that would later be named as a key issue for Voiceless, Australia’s leading animal law institute.

Throughout my studies I was fortunate enough to spend a day or two each week with Couper Geysen, Australia’s first private law firm to practice animal law. As a law clerk I was asked to assist in handling and attending to animal law matters, such as responding to animal law queries from the students and the general public. Tracy-Lynne and her team were incredibly inspiring in their passion, knowledge and advocacy. In criminal matters, the team worked pro-bono on behalf of the RSPCA, pushing for increased penalties on animal cruelty and duty of care offences. Their civil cases involved companion animals caught in estate disputes, custody battles and property settlements.

During my time with the firm I was asked to write on behalf of Couper Geysen and Michael Byrne QC. This included an article that traced the history of the human-nonhuman relationship from Ancient Egypt to modern day Australia, to provide insight for an informed cultural and legal shift toward recognising animal sentience. I was also asked to write guidance for Australian legal practitioners, on how to integrate animal law into professional practice. A central issue in Australia is that the law legitimises mistreatment, and provides only limited options for establishing standing, with inadequate remedies – a combination that delays, or prevents legal action altogether. In the guidance, I noted how these impediments contribute to what is ultimately a self-perpetuating cycle of obstacles – albeit a cycle that can be broken by proactive and compassionate lawyering and advocacy.

The Animal Care and Protection Act (ACPA) and the Animal Care and Protection Regulation (ACPR) provide the legislative framework for animal welfare in Queensland, Australia. Section 17 of the ACPA imposes a duty of care towards non-human animals, modelled on the Five Freedoms identified by the RSPCA; however exemptions can be found in the vague justification of necessity and reasonableness – a balance that is susceptible to the argument of economic viability. When asked to review a document regarding the sale of a horse, I found the arrangement could be interpreted as agreement to legal guardianship. This opened up an interesting dimension to the nature of the parties’ legal relationship and the duties owed towards the animal under contract law – specifically that if certain conditions of the horse’s welfare were not met, the ownership of the horse could revert to the seller. In conjunction with David Favre’s Living Property, this agreement demonstrates the way law could be employed to further safeguard the aims of the APCA.

In my final semester I volunteered for The Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA), a collective of professionals and students dedicated to shaping and pushing for reform of our current institutions and advocating the practical implementation of Earth centred law, governance and ethics. As a volunteer I provided hands-on assistance with the set-up and operation of events, such as public lectures and workshops. As an AELA member, I attended engaging and in-depth seminars, workshops, and conferences on wild law – an incredible new area of law informed by earth jurisprudence. A topic that is often raised is the apparent tension between environmental law and animal law. As it stands – environmental law does discriminate between native and non-native animals, however it does not discriminate between species in a way that is uncharacteristic to legislation concerning non-human animals.

Where environmental legislation protects native species, animal rights advocates (and some welfarists) would argue that membership to species is irrelevant where an animal’s life is at risk. As such, the tension seems to come down to a competition between priorities and targets. While environmental legal advocates successfully target threats to forests, rivers or ecosystems (or earth as a whole), there are times where the plight of some species are overlooked in the interest of ‘balance’, such as management of pests and feral animals. A harmonious interaction between environmental and animal rights advocacy, is in their target of agricultural practices; while the former targets for the environmental impact of industrialised meat and dairy production, the latter target in the interest of the intrinsic value of a non-human life. Another example is deforestation, where both the ecosystem, and individual animal lives are at risk.

On graduating in July 2014, I moved to London to be with my partner. In lieu of opportunities with animal law specifically, I widened my job search to areas of work that address systematic and institutionalised harm and discrimination. For a little over a year I have been the administrator for the Corporate Responsibility, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team at the Law Society of England and Wales. I assist five policy advisers in their respective projects and initiatives under the Law Society’s equality and diversity framework. My role varies from day to day, depending on the team needs – but most days it includes proof reading and editing practice notes, research reports, draft policies, briefings, and toolkits regarding equality, diversity and inclusion in UK firms.

Recently I was invited to act as an Equality Impact Assessment ‘super user’ for the Law Society, which requires the analysis of the impact of a policy or project with reference to the Equality Act 2010, consideration of stakeholders, and evaluation of potential actions to avoid prejudicial outcomes – a simple process that many of us can do, and perhaps already do, with the interests non-human animals in mind. By working with a body that proactively addresses prejudice and discrimination, I’ve been afforded an opportunity to see advocacy in action and the means through which change can be affected – from the development of policy to its implementation, and the monitoring of impact and reception.

Perhaps the greatest challenge I have encountered in each legal setting is an ostensible need to compromise one’s ethics in order to engage with a system that categorises animals as property. I’ve also found that discussion of ‘animals’ and increasing their protection under the law is often met with antagonism or dismissal – symptomatic of the tension amid mainstream law and animal law, and human/non-human interests. Nonetheless, I am driven to join and learn from the collective of legal professionals advocating both human interests and nonhuman interests, and to contribute to developing a body of law that is inclusive of all beings, our natural environment and shared interests. I feel privileged to be a member and volunteer of the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare, and look forward to engaging with the work on both a personal and professional level.

For more blog posts click here. If you are a law student interested in animal welfare, please join us.