Lawyers, Veterinarians, Human Violence & Animal Abuse

While legal issues concerning animals have traditionally been dealt with under various headings, Animal Law is a rapidly developing separate discipline within law which brings legal issues regarding animals into one coherent whole.

Because the law classifies animals as property, many lawyers believe they can deal with animal legal issues like any other property, but the existence of Animal Welfare Acts in New Zealand, England, and Scotland, for example, make it a criminal offence not just for blatant acts of cruelty to animals, but also to fail to provide animals with legislatively specified standards of care, makes it clear that the law distinguishes between animate and inanimate property. For traditionalists, says Dr Robertson, Animal Law could be seen as "specialist property law" because of the unique nature of the property (the animal) itself. Dr Robertson, who has the unusual distinction of being both a veterinarian and enrolled Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand, specialises in the area of Animal Law, and has taught the subject at the School of Law at Canterbury University in New Zealand, and the School of Law at Leeds University in England. He says that Animal Law may be defined as issues of law that have three elements: they are legal issues that deal with an animal; that take into account the unique nature of animals, and affect the relationship between humans and animals.

The subject of Human Violence and Animal Abuse is an area that is clearly of significance to the animal AND the human caregiver. The issue illustrates that in addition to the fact that animal issues have enormous impact on issues of economy, trade, and food safety, there are significant additional human interests in the human-animal relationship that extend into society as a whole, and peoples daily lives. To the lawyer, the area of human violence and animal abuse infers much more than simply asking about the pets in the family if there is a case of suspected human violence. The role of animals, and what they represent, which is much more than simply their physical presence in the family and societal structure, is significantly relevant in circumstances where there is human violence and/or animal abuse. Furthermore, it is an interaction which lawyers will need to understand in order to continue to effectively fulfill their role in protecting animals and humans alike.

Dr Robertson is speaking at Oxford University, England at the International Conference on the Relationship between Animal Abuse and Human Violence in September 2007. The Conference will explore the empirical evidence of a link between animal abuse and violence to humans or anti-social behaviour, consider how the evidence should be interpreted, and examine the ethical implications including the implications for social and legal policy. Dr Robertson�s presentation is entitled �A Legal Duty to Report suspected Animal Abuse - Are veterinarians ready? Animals are obviously an intricate part of our society, and lawyers may naturally turn to veterinarians for their expert opinion as the relevant professional where there is an animal related legal issue. However, in cases where there may be animal abuse, or human violence, then lawyers also need to be aware of the potential limits, conflicts and issues for the veterinarians themselves - particularly if jurisdictions like the UK or New Zealand follow overseas legal trends that extend the current ethical duty on veterinarians to report animal abuse, to a legal one. While veterinarians are uniquely placed to identify and report suspected cases of animal abuse, Dr Robertson illustrates that fulfilling the obligation to report suspected cases to relevant authorities may be problematic for veterinarians. He suggests practical changes for consideration before legislators can responsibly impose a mandatory legal duty on veterinarians to report cases of suspected abuse.

Article added: 06/2007