“…The GREATNESS of a nation and its MORAL PROGRESS can be judged by the way its animals are treated...”
- Mahatma Gandhi
The recent wholesale attempted murder of over 30 small animals in Hong Kong by two individuals has rocked the city after the Department of Justice (“DoJ”) decides not to press charges against the perpetrators. In a heavily criticized move, many have noted that life sentences would have been handed out had the victims in the case been human beings.
The recent incident has shine a light on the city’s aging animal protection laws as being antiquated. At present, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap.169) has remained one of the few legislations concerning animal welfare.
Global Animal Rights Compare
“If humans killed each other at the same rate that we kill animals, we’d be extinct in 17 days.”
- The Humane League
In order for us to discover whether existing animal protection laws are adequate, one should compare Hong Kong’s regime with the rest of the globe, major jurisdictional highlights as follows:
- The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (“HKSAR”)
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Ordinance, description of the cruel acts against animals under section 3 has largely remained unchanged. The maximum penalty under section 3 was raised considerably to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000.
That said, as noted herein above, one of the greatest shortcomings recently cited in Hong Kong is her lack of laws that focus specifically on animal welfare. The Secretary for Justice v. Fung Chi Hoi remains the leading judgment with the Court of Appeal declining to lay down any sentencing tariff or scale of sentence for offence against small animals.
Government has held a public consultation on its proposals to enhance animal welfare in Hong Kong between 26th April and 31st July 2019 with the plan to amend the legislation.
- People’s Republic of China (“PRC”)
On 24 February 2020, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (“NPCSC”) promulgated the “Decision on Completely Prohibiting the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Eliminating the Bad Habit of Indiscriminately Eating Wild Animals, and Truly Ensuring the Health and Safety of the People”.
The law strictly prohibit the hunting, trading, captive-bred and transportation of terrestrial wild animals for consumption after China came under scrutiny for consumption of exotic / endangered species.
The amendments also prohibit the consumption of captive-bred wild animals. Illegal wildlife trade enforcement and punishment are also escalated to the highest level.
Further, Shenzhen became the first PRC city to ban the consumption of dogs and cats meat. According to the Humane Society International (“HIS”), no less than 30 million dogs being slaughtered in Asia annually. The HIS stated:
“This ban also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization.”
It remains to be seen whether surrounding regions such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam will follow China’s example.
- The United Kingdom (“UK” or “England”)
The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) 2019 has strengthened the capability of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to deal with offenders causing ‘unnecessary suffering’ to an animal on duty in public service. The ‘Finn’s Law’ means that anyone injured by an animal on duty cannot rely as a defence. As for wildlife, the Ivory Act 2018 introduced a near-total ban on dealing in items containing ivory.
With regards to wild animals within the UK, various pieces of legislation at national and European Union (“EU”) levels provide a “patchwork” style protective framework which is overly ripe for revision.
- The United States of America (“USA”)
The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (“PACT”), unanimously passed by Congress in November 2019, makes it a federal crime to engage in animal crushing. At the state level, the following developments are of note:
4.1 State of California
The state of California passed Proposition 12 back in November 2018. It sets specific minimum space requirements for animals raised for food, thus effectively banning cages for laying hens, sow stalls, and crates for calves. California passed the Circus Cruelty Prevention Act in May 2019 outlawing the use of wild animals in circuses. In October 2019, California became the first state to prohibit the sale of fur products which will come into force on 1 January 2023. California and Maryland also passed legislation prohibiting pet stores from sourcing animals from commercial breeders.
4.2 State of Massachusetts
Massachusetts also passed two Protect Animal Welfare and Safety (“PAWS”) Acts: the first in 2014 established an animal welfare task force, while PAWS II aims to improve cross-reporting of animal cruelty to law enforcement agencies, prevents the automatic euthanasia of animals confiscated from the animal fighting industry; and modernizes the state’s prohibitions against animal sexual abuse.
4.3 State of Michigan
In November 2019, Michigan passed Senate Bill 0174, which mandates cage-free conditions for egg-laying hens and prohibits the sale of non-cage-free eggs by December 2024.
- The Commonwealth of Australia (“Australia”)
At the national level, the Government introduced a ban on testing cosmetic products on animals. The ban was implemented in July 2020. Furthermore, new measures and penalties have been announced in May 2018 through amendments to the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997 and the Export Control Act 1982, which introduce penalties for live exporters who breach animal welfare standards.
“Do you know why most survivors of the Holocaust are vegan? It’s because they know what it’s like to be treated like an animal.”
- Chuck Palahniuk
All in all, we can see that there is still significant room for improvement of animal rights related laws in Hong Kong. Hong Kong should therefore consider:
- Making animal rights laws more proactive and duty oriented.
- Address animal welfare.
- Need for Special Law Enforcement Taskforce.