The Animal Welfare Act 2006

What is the Animal Welfare Act 2006?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is an act of parliament, the purpose of which, as the Act itself states, is “to make provision about animal welfare; and for connected purposes”.

To which animals does the Act apply?

Certain provisions of the Act apply to all “animals”, which the Act defines as “a vertebrate other than man”. Other provisions of the Act apply only to “protected animals”, which the Act defines as being “of a kind which is commonly domesticated in the British Islands, it is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis, or it is not living in a wild state”.

The Act does not apply to animals while they are in their foetal or embryonic form.

Who does the Act apply to?

The Act applies to anyone who is responsible for an animal whether on a permanent or temporary basis including persons who are in charge of an animal. The Act provides that the owner of an animal shall always be regarded as being a person who is responsible for the animal. The Act also provides that where a person has actual care and control of a person under the age of 16 years that person shall be treated as being responsible for the animal.

What provisions does the Act make?

Prevention of harm

The Act makes it a criminal offence to allow a protected animal to suffer unnecessarily. This applies to both specific actions taken by a person and to situations where an animal suffers unnecessarily as a result of a person’s failure to act where that person knew, or ought reasonably to have known that the animal would suffer unnecessarily or that there was a likelihood that it would.

The Act also creates specific criminal offences in relation to acts of mutilation carried out on protected animals (medical treatment is excluded) and relating to the docking of dogs tails (docking for medical purposes and the docking of certain working dogs is excluded by the Act).

The Act also makes it a criminal offence to knowingly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse administer or allow another person to administer poisons, injurious drugs and substances to protected animals.

A number of offences relating to the fighting of protected animals are also created by the Act.

Promotion of welfare

The Act creates a criminal offence where a person responsible for an animal fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of the animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice. The needs of an animal will include the need for a suitable environment and diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, any need it may have to be housed with, or separate from, other animals and its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Where an inspector takes the view that a person is failing to take such reasonable steps, there is provision in the Act for the service of an “improvement notice” on the person responsible for the animal. An improvement notice will set out the steps that the person is required to take by a specified time.

The Act also creates offences where a person sells or, in certain circumstances, gives away an animal as a prize to a person whom he has reason to believe to be under the age of 16 years.

The Act enables the appropriate national authority (the Secretary of State in England’s case) to make regulations for the purpose of promoting the welfare of animals for which a person is responsible, or their offspring.

Licensing and registration of activities involving animals

Certain activities involving animals require a licence or the registration of the activity and the act makes provisions as to licences and registrations. The Act itself does not, however, specify the activities to which a licence or registration is required. These are specified in a number of separate regulations.

Codes of practice

The Act gives the appropriate national authority (The Secretary of State in the case of England) the power to issue and revise codes of practice for the purpose of providing practical guidance in respect of any of the provisions of the Act. The Act also allows a code of practice to be revoked.

Failure to comply with a code of practice is not in itself a criminal offence.

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For more information on:

  • Animals in distress
  • Enforcement powers
  • Prosecutions
  • Post-conviction powers
  • General provisions