ALL CREATURES great and small took centre stage at an animal law workshop last weekend for practising lawyers and law students.
In the first national workshop of this type, lawyers, academics and law students from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory registered to take part. Developed for lawyers to help end animal suffering through legislative change, the workshop was organised by Voiceless: The Fund For Animals, and Animals Australia.
At the weekend workshop, Lyn White, communications director at Animals Australia, discussed why change in animal law is needed, looking specifically at inequities in law, enforcement, penalties and community attitudes.
Animals Australia executive director, Glenys Oogjes looked at the past 21 years of Australian animal welfare laws, as well as industry and government alliances, attitudes and government processes. Voiceless corporate counsel Katrina Sharman discussed the emergence of animal law from an international perspective.
Animal law is a growing field in the United States, with more than 35 prestigious law schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, Berkley, UCLA, Duke and Michigan State now offering courses. As well, the University of New South Wales was the first Australian university to offer an animal law course earlier this year.
While the great environmental law debate began a generation ago, said Brian Sherman AM, “now, the world is beginning to wake up to the next great challenge facing humanity — the care and protection of animals”. Sherman is the creator of Voiceless Law Talk, an online service established as a reaction to the lack of specific animal law courses in our universities. Sherman argues that Australian lawyers have, until now, had no capacity to speak collectively to each other online across the country on this subject.
“The law currently allows for more than 200,000 pregnant pigs, or ‘sows’ to be kept in confinement in barren metal and concrete stalls. In many, if not most cases these female pigs cannot take one step forward or backwards, cannot turn around or lie down with comfort,” said Sherman.
Delegates at the workshop discussed animal law as a legal discipline, the role of law societies and bar associations in promoting the development of animal law and inherent problems in legislative powers and allocation of responsibilities.
Voiceless also provides an online think tank for legal professionals, a service that allows Australia’s 45,000 solicitors and barristers, as well as 25,000 law students, to take part in a debate on how federal, state and local politicians should change laws to protect domestic and farm animals such as cats and dogs, birds, sheep, pigs, cows and chickens from cruelty.
Voiceless Law Talk “[provides] a forum to discuss how our elected officials at local, state and national level need to change their respective laws to adapt to evolving community attitudes. We hope Voiceless Law Talk will become the birthplace for how laws across Australia need to change,” said Sherman.
“It is true that we have laws designed to protect animals from cruelty, but those laws set certain limits on how we treat animals. Large numbers of animals, especially farm animals, are exempt from true protections and allowed to suffer provided that their pain is considered ‘necessary’.”