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Increasing Maximum Penalties for Animal Welfare Offences in South Australia—Has It Caused Penal Change?

School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Roseworthy Campus, Roseworthy 5371, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2018, 8(12), 236;
Received: 23 November 2018 / Revised: 5 December 2018 / Accepted: 6 December 2018 / Published: 8 December 2018
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
PDF [1419 KB, uploaded 8 December 2018]

Simple Summary

Evidence suggests that the South Australian public regard the penalties handed down in court for animal abuse as too lenient. Parliament responded to this concern when amending the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA), and increased the maximum penalties for animal welfare offences. However, since sentencing information is not readily accessible, it is unknown whether the increases to the maximum penalties in the legislation have caused any changes to the penalties handed down in court. This study investigated this issue by analyzing closed case files gathered from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SA), to determine the average prison sentence and fine given for animal welfare offences. Fines and prison sentences handed down have doubled in magnitude since Parliament increased the maximum penalties. However, it remains unknown whether these increases to the average penalties are enough to effectively punish animal abusers, and if the general public is content with this outcome.


Animal welfare legislation in South Australia underwent amendments in 2008, where all the maximum penalties for animal welfare offences were doubled. This commitment to increased penalties arguably provides evidence of the legislature’s intent with respect to penalties. Studies have speculated that the legislative intent behind the increased penalties is not being reflected in the courts. This interdisciplinary research sought to gain evidence to confirm or disprove these speculations, by quantifying the average custodial sentence and monetary fine handed down in court before and after the 2008 amendments. Furthermore, trends relating to the species of animal affected and the demographics of the offender were identified. A total of 314 RSPCA (SA) closed case files from 2006 to 2018 were converted into an electronic form. Since the amendments, the average penalties have doubled in magnitude; fines have increased from $700 to $1535, while prison sentences have increased from 37 days to 77 days. Cases of companion animal abuse were most common (75% of all cases) and the location of the offence was found to influence offending. These findings suggest that the 2008 amendments have caused the average penalties to increase. However, it is debatable whether these increases are enough to effectively punish animal abusers. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare legislation; penalties; animal cruelty; fines; imprisonment; South Australia animal welfare legislation; penalties; animal cruelty; fines; imprisonment; South Australia

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Morton, R.; Hebart, M.L.; Whittaker, A.L. Increasing Maximum Penalties for Animal Welfare Offences in South Australia—Has It Caused Penal Change? Animals 2018, 8, 236.

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