A group of lawyers has stepped up to ensure the rule of law prevails in two cases of animal cruelty that are both legal firsts in Aotearoa.
New Zealand's first rodeo prosecution
The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) successfully took a private prosecution against Northland farmer Derek Robinson in the country’s first rodeo prosecution.
The Whangarei District Court found him guilty of using an electric prodder on two distressed cattle and he has been remanded for sentencing.
The offences took place at the Mid-Northern Rodeo near Whangarei in two separate events, one in 2016 and the other in 2017.
The two events where Mr Robinson was found guilty involved steers who were used for a team roping competition.
While waiting in the chute, the animals became too distressed to take part in the rodeo, and knelt down on the ground in anxiety. Both animals had no room to move away and did not react to the actions of rodeo cowboys who tried to get them up, using manual methods.
The Rodeo Code of Welfare requires that animals in this situation must be released by opening the gate. Instead of doing so, Mr Robinson shocked the animals with a charged electric prodder, which jolted the animals and caused them to stand up in pain. They were then sent into the arena and chased by two cowboys on horses.
The Court also found that Mr Robinson used his prodder unnecessarily on 22 other rodeo animals, including calves, although in those cases the court could not be certain whether the prodder was turned on, and gave Mr Robinson the benefit of the doubt.
The offences were reported at the time to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) after a story on Radio New Zealand. An MPI inspector investigated the incidents and recommended Mr Robinson be prosecuted. However MPI officials decided against the recommendation and issued a warning letter to Mr Robinson.
NZALA says it wanted to make the prosecution to counter a “false sense of immunity” among rodeo cowboys.
The Association says the prosecution and the guidance provided by the court on the use of prodders in rodeos opens the way for MPI to enforce the Rodeo Code through the courts, and their members will continue to work with MPI to ensure that its statutory obligations are upheld.
Second case - farrowing crates for mother pigs
In a second case, the High Court has ruled that the Minister of Agriculture and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) acted illegally when they failed to phase out the farming practice of farrowing crates for mother pigs.
NZALA and SAFE filed judicial review proceedings, and both organisations have welcomed the judgment made earlier this month.
In New Zealand Animal Law Association v The Attorney-General –  NZHC 3009 – Justice Cull noted that the practices of using farrowing crates and dry sow stalls, which were accepted as being non-compliant with the Animal Welfare Act 1999, were previously permitted under an “exceptional circumstances” exemption.
In 2015, Parliament signalled its intention to phase out non-compliant practices by repealing the “exceptional circumstances” exemption and enacting regulation-making powers that prescribe time frames for transitioning from non-compliant practices to practices that fully meet the obligations of the act.
Following decisions and recommendations of the welfare committee, the Minister of Agriculture recommended to the Governor-General two regulations and amendments to minimum standards that did not require a transition time frame. It allowed the practices to continue indefinitely.
Justice Cull ruled that the two regulations and amendments to the minimum standards “circumvent Parliament’s intention in enacting the 2015 amendment, are contrary to the purposes of the act, and are thereby invalid”.
“The rule of law has prevailed”, says NZALA President Saar Cohen-Ronen.
“The judgment raises serious concerns about the welfare committee’s conduct. At best, they lacked proper understanding of their legal duties and were let down by MPI’s legal advisors.
“At worst, they acted in bad faith by letting economic factors and industry pressure outweigh their duty as scientists and independent advisors.”
SAFE CEO Debra Ashton acknowledged the significance of the judgment.
“This is an historic day for animals.
“After exhausting all other avenues to free mother pigs from cages, we had no other option but to take this landmark case to court.”
Just as the Robinson case was New Zealand’s first rodeo prosecution, the farrowing crates case was also a first. It was the first time a Code of Welfare was challenged in court.