In March 2022 England's House of Commons Library produced a report on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.
You can read the report at https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9423/CBP-942...
The ‘Summary’ within that report is revealing for those who recognise how the animal (and its life experience termed ‘welfare’) is caught in a maze of confusion, contrasting agendas and politics.
To put legal logic, lessons and modern science alongside the sentience debate, here’s your starting point. Sentience generically means ‘the ability to feel or experience’. There are, of course, variations in the definition but let’s keep it all simple for the purpose of assessing the ‘sentient’ animal in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.
For those recognising the importance of having genuinely ‘modern’ animal law, there are five key principles to understanding the critical importance of legislatively defining sentience in a manner that is clearly and unequivocally consistent with 'modern' concepts of animal 'welfare', and the modern science of the Five Domains.
Firstly, existing anti-cruelty law implicitly recognizes animals as sentient.
- This principle derives from the logic that by definition sentience means the ability to ‘feel and experience’, and anti-cruelty law prohibits actions that result in an animal ‘feeling or experiencing’ unnecessary suffering (‘negative states’).
- So, ‘modern’ law is not achieved by asking if animals are sentient given that the answer to that question was decided in the affirmative by lawmakers 200 years ago when the first anti-cruelty law was enacted.
Secondly, the modern science of the Five Domains validates that sentient animals feel and experience negative and positive states.
- Recognition that an animal’s welfare involves more than simply the avoidance of pain and suffering (‘negative states’) has given rise to the modern concept of ‘positive animal welfare’.
Thirdly, the law functions on the principle of responsibility (‘duty of care’) and when using the law as a change management tool targeting nationwide changes in human behaviour within specific/critical time frames ‘nothing changes in people’s behaviours if you do not change the duty of care’.
- Everything about legislation (e.g. offences, penalties and enforcement powers) revolves around the question ‘what are people legally responsible, accountable and liable for’?
- Understanding of the third principle reveals why explicit legislative recognition of animal sentience alone predictably fails to result in changes in people’s behaviours that move beyond just not being cruel to animals.
- Explicit legislative recognition of animal sentience alone, and a failure to implement a legislative definition of sentience that clearly distinguishes negative and positive states: (a) simply restates the 200-year-old implicit recognition of sentience that already exists within anti-cruelty law, and (b)predictably fails to clearly and unequivocally extend the duty of care beyond anti-cruelty. Consequently, nationwide human behaviours, policies and regulatory standards continue to be ‘lawful’ provided they comply with minimum standards referencing just the animal’s 'unnecessary' ‘negative states’. (i.e. pain, distress or suffering assessed by law as unnecessary).
- The ‘predictable failure’ is evidenced by the outcomes of the Treaty of Lisbon and the legislative reforms of countries/jurisdictions that have explicitly recognised animals as sentient but failed to evolve the duty of care, and consequent public behaviours.
- The lesson is that failing to provide a 'modern' legislative definition of sentience results in a failure to evolve the duty of care beyond just cruelty and results in ‘business as usual’ practices that benchmark just the animals suffering.
Fourth, positive animal welfare practices are already being implemented by the top 11% of industries, corporates and other animal-related providers.
- In addition to validating that positive animal welfare is realistic, attained and profitable, this fourth point
- highlights that engaging the well-established process of law reform to extend the current duty of care with ‘positive animal welfare law’ replicates the practices of today’s top performers.
- By retaining a duty of care that prohibits cruelty but also extends that duty with 'positive animal welfare law' the outcome is that ‘today's standards of best practice, become tomorrow's norm’.
Fifth, a three-word reform gives a jurisdiction genuinely ‘modern’ animal law that reflects the breadth of today's concept of animal ‘welfare’ (i.e. doing more than just preventing cruelty) and the contemporary scientific knowledge of the Five Domains.
- Remeber, anti-cruelty law already implicitly recognised that animals can feel and experience (i.e. are sentient) but for 200 years animal law has applied a duty of care for just half of the animal's life experience, specifically its suffering ('negative states').
- Consequently, the three words of the law reform giving ‘modern’ animal law and promoting the modern welfare concept of animals are, specifically, ‘and positive states’.
- It follows that the legislative definition that uses the terminology and knowledge of the Five Domains and modern concepts of welfare states: “sentience means that animals experience negative and positive states”.
If you followed that logic, you’re in a position to critique statements within the report. Your attention is drawn to the section on page 5 of the report which states:
What does the Animal Sentience Bill cover? The Bill as introduced in the House of Commons following consideration in the Houser of Lords, recognises all vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals as sentient beings. Sentience is not defined in the Bill.
So here are 3 questions to assist your critique:
- Can you see how a failure to legislatively define sentience fails to shift the duty of care beyond the law’s 200-year-old model of just not being cruel to animals?
- Can you recognise that, for those genuinely seeking to 'elevate standards of animal welfare beyond just not being cruel', the failure to provide a legislative definition of sentience repeats the same oversight of the Treaty of Lisbon?
- Given the inseparable connection within the human-animal relationship, can you see how a ‘half’ duty of care affects animals and people?
Now, what do you predict is the foreseeable outcome of failing to legislatively define sentience?
For more on the logic, lessons and science of law’s ‘sentient’ animal, visit www.sentientanimallaw.org