First Ever Review of Sentencing for Animal Cruelty Offences in Victoria Released

Media Release

Embargoed until 6:00 a.m. (AEDT) Tuesday 19 February 2019

The Sentencing Advisory Council has today released a comprehensive review of sentencing for animal cruelty offences in Victoria.

The Council analysed data for 1,115 cases that involved 2,960 charges of animal cruelty* over the 10 years to 31 December 2017, investigating how many offences were sentenced, who committed them and what sentences offenders received.

The analysis reveals that animal cruelty offences are far more likely to involve neglect than deliberate cruelty. The most common offences were aggravated cruelty (25%), failing to provide veterinary treatment to a sick or injured animal (24%) and failing to provide sufficient food, drink or shelter to an animal (19%).

Most animal cruelty offences were sentenced to a fine (60%), the average value of which was $1,355, while 4% received a prison sentence, with an average prison term of 3 months. A third of animal cruelty offenders who received a prison sentence appealed that sentence (28 out of 86 cases), and half of the appeals were successful (14 cases).

The analysis further found that:

  • 15% of animal cruelty cases in 2016 and 2017 occurred in the context of family violence. Those offenders were 4 times more likely to be sentenced to prison than other animal cruelty offenders.
  • Animal cruelty offenders were more likely to be male (75%), which is a slightly lower rate than all male offenders sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court (79%), and the average age of animal cruelty offenders was 38 years, which is notably higher than the average age of all offenders sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court (29 years).
  • Male offenders were 4 times more likely than female offenders to be sentenced for deliberate cruelty behaviours (10% of males compared with 3% of females).
  • Less than 1% of offenders sentenced for animal cruelty were corporations.
  • 95% of animal cruelty offenders were sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court. 5% were sentenced in the Children’s Court, and less than 1% were sentenced in the higher courts (the County and Supreme Courts).

A small number of animal cruelty offenders (4%) were high-volume offenders (sentenced for 10 or more charges of animal cruelty in a single case). They tended to be either farmers with large numbers of livestock or puppy farmers.

Within 4 years of being sentenced for animal cruelty, 32% of offenders were sentenced for further offending, which is slightly lower than the reoffending rate for all offenders sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court (34%). However, a subgroup of animal cruelty offenders, those sentenced for deliberate cruelty, were notably more likely to reoffend within 4 years (46%).

During consultation with the Council, the agencies responsible for prosecuting animal cruelty in Victoria raised two key issues: the importance of control orders** and the need for some form of sentencing guidance on how courts should sentence animal cruelty offences.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Professor Arie Freiberg

‘This report provides the first ever insight into how animal cruelty is sentenced in Victoria. There is clear community interest in animal welfare, and in how the criminal justice system responds to animal cruelty committed by individuals or corporations.

‘One of the most important findings in this research is that most animal cruelty in Victoria is not the kind of sensational cruelty that generates much news, but rather involves people who have, for whatever reason, not provided adequate food, drink or veterinary treatment for their animals.

‘We hope this report will provide policy makers, courts, prosecuting agencies, animal welfare organisations and the wider community with new and useful information to help inform public debate about when and how it is appropriate for the criminal justice system to respond to animal cruelty.’

Animal Cruelty Offences in Victoria and a two-page factsheet will be published on the Council’s website.

*What Is an Animal Cruelty Offence?

The Council defines an animal cruelty offence as ‘any criminal act or omission that contributes to an animal experiencing, or being likely to experience, unreasonable or unnecessary pain or suffering’. For its review, the Council examined 35 different animal cruelty offences under Victorian law, defined in five different Acts and regulations. These offences can be prosecuted by RSPCA Victoria, Victoria Police, two government departments (the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the recently split Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources) and local government (councils).

**What Are Control Orders?

Control orders are court orders that prohibit or restrict an animal cruelty offender from owning or being in charge of an animal in the future.