Robert Seabrook QC and Iain O’Donnell won an appeal in the Administrative Court that has established how the key sections of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 must be interpreted. Sections 4 and 9 of the Act are deployed by the RSPCA and public authorities to prosecute cruelty and duty of care offences in relation to animals protected under the Act. The appeal confirmed unequivocally that these sections are to be interpreted as imparting an objective test against which owners or custodians of protected animals who are charged with animal welfare offences are to be compared.

All of the arguments advanced by the appellants to assert prosecutions brought pursuant to these sections of the Act can only succeed where subjective knowledge on the part of the owner or keeper of an animal is established were defeated. Additionally, this appeal clarified the judgment in James v RSPCA [2011] EWHC 1642 (Admin) on what is required of veterinary surgeons who certify that protected animals must be seized on welfare grounds, and also considered the issues of duplicity and particularity in the context of cruelty and duty of care charges laid under the Act.

This is a landmark ruling for the RSPCA. It included a full consideration of the root and branch changes to animal welfare legislation that were caused by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 coming into force, and it has altered fundamentally the extent to which complex legal argument must be heard in the numerous section 4 and section 9 prosecutions brought for animal welfare offending in the criminal courts throughout the jurisdiction.