There is a tendency to automatically accept media reports regarding court reported matters involving animals. But how well are you critiquing the report itself?
Take a look at this article involving a farmer whose penalty involved being banned from handling animals, and an 18 month prison sentence suspended for four years.
Did you notice that the penalty involved a prison sentence? It wasn’t so long ago that people were surprised that animal welfare offending attracted a prison sentence. That’s changed significantly in the last 15 to 20 years with many countries including England, Australia, New Zealand and many others sending animal welfare offenders to jail as part of the sentence.
Many investigators of animal welfare offending consistently describe a case they’ve attended as “the worst they have ever seen”. But it’s the comments by the Judge that frequently attract significant attention given that the judge has the responsibility to fairly listen to both the prosecution and the defence as part of determining if the individual is actually guilty, and the appropriate penalty to be applied. So the comments of the judge in this matter are particularly notable in the comments that the pig farmer "should be kept miles away from every living creature" and that "Any animal seeing this man coming over the horizon would have a heart attack".
And while the media report obviously cannot set out all the relevant facts heard in the courtroom, the “159 previous criminal convictions, 19 of which were for animal welfare offences” certainly seems relevant.
Remember that “balance” requires that you look just as carefully at the counterarguments.
In this case, for example, you might start with the description by the prosecution of two sows as “particularly thin”. One assumes/hopes that there are photographs and video evidence to add actual verifiable and measured data to the highly subjective and vague term “thin” that was used to describe the animals.
And what do you read into the reported line that "The defendant was invited to be interviewed on two occasions but failed to give an account”? When you read that, are you among those who think that the fact he declined to be interviewed made him a little more guilty? Does it shift your perspective to know that answering an investigators questions only in the presence of your solicitor or by your solicitor, is a common piece of advice given to those being interviewed by compliance and enforcement personnel? That’s because experienced lawyers know that what is said in an interview may well be used by the prosecution.
What do you think of the defence barristers comment that "This was not a case of widespread neglect, it involved two sows. His record in terms of animal welfare is atrocious but this offending did not involve flocks nor herds"? In your mind, does it make a difference that in this instance, the offending involved two, rather than two hundred, animals?
The purpose of setting out the considerations (above) is not to question the Court’s judgement - but it’s a useful exercise to critique what has been reported, consider what hasn’t been reported, and take a balanced view in order to identify what factors the law currently considers relevant to criminal offending involving animals.