Last week, Jamie Peter Smart, 32, walked free from the Hobart Magistrates’ Court after being convicted on charges of aggravated cruelty for ripping the heads off two kittens with his bare hands at a neighbouring property to a party in Glenorchy two years ago (Mercury report here).
Magistrate Olivia McTaggart sentenced Smart to a three month wholly suspended prison term, a probation order for 9 months and 49 hours community service. (Mercury report here)
Following outrage from animal advocates, this travesty went ‘viral’ on the Southern Cross national radio talkback program on July 4 for more than two hours.
Stop Tasmanian Animal Cruelty’s Suzanne Cass, in an interview, said:
‘Sadly, animal advocates were not shocked by this sentencing, because it is what we expect from Tasmanian magistrates in cases of the most appalling cruelty … there is a complete incongruence between the Tasmanian judiciary and the community about sentencing (people) like Smart, our expectations, and indeed, standards of basic common decency. ‘
Aggravated Cruelty convictions under the Animal Welfare Act can attract a fine of 200 penalty points, imprisonment for 18 months, or both.
Last week, Christine Maree Long was in the Magistrates’ Court for failing to take her seriously injured Kelpie Cross dog ‘Socks’ to a veterinarian after he was kicked by a horse. Magistrate Chris Webster, while imposing a ban on Long acquiring MORE animals, stated that ‘the government could not force her to ‘get rid of the animals she had’, completely disregarding s43 of the Act, which provides specifically for the forfeiture of animals in cases of cruelty convictions. (Mercury report here)
‘The question in the Long case is – how is that she is unfit to have animals for 5 years, but is fine to keep the animals she already has?’ continued Ms Cass.
Mr Webster also fined Long $300 “in recognition of her financial circumstances”, and Socks was destroyed.
In Launceston on July 2, David James Bramich of Ravenswood was fined $400, plus $50 in costs, by magistrate Tim Hill, for failing to seek veterinary treatment for his cat. (Examiner report here)
Bramich, 41, pleaded not guilty to one count of animal cruelty for allegedly failing to seek veterinary care for the injured white short-haired cat on January 17 this year.
Ms Cass noted that it was announced that there was to be a review of the Animal Welfare Act 1993 (amended) last October, with particular reference to mandatory sentencing in such cases as these.
‘But we have heard nothing since’, she said. ‘There have been so many other cases, such as the case of Wags the border collie who was starved by Peter Alexander Thomas (Mercury report here). Thomas was fined a miserable $432, then, when the case went to appeal, even that was overturned by magistrate Catherine Rheinberger’ (Mercury report here)
Ms Rheinberger alleged that Wags was an old dog who ‘may have had cancer’, but there were no media reports suggesting that. Wags had been so severely starved that he could not stand, his spine and ribs were clearly visible, his kidneys were failing, and the state of dirt around him suggested that he had been trying to rise to his feet for some time.
Other cases, especially those to do with farm animals, are similarly trivialised by Tasmanian magistrates, in my view.
• Alistair Nicholls, a north west dairy farmer who cut the tails off over 100 of his dairy cattle with an angle grinder and a knife, was fined the equivalent of about $53 per cow (Advocate report here)
• Another former north west dairy farmer, Roderic Neil Mitchell, has yet to be dealt with after allegedly being involved in the death of upwards of 350 cows and calves. The Mitchell case has been before the courts for six years.
• Derwent Valley farmer Richard Rainbird, after starving to death cattle and seriously neglecting sheep, was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment, wholly suspended, again by magistrate Olivia McTaggart, who determined that he ‘didn’t mean to do it’. He was re-arrested less than two weeks later on similar charges, had the 28 days suspended sentence ‘re-imposed’ and a further 30 days wholly suspended setence added. (Mercury report here) (STOPTAC report here)
• Midlands sheep farmer Robert Charles Gregg, starved 1000 sheep so severely that some were down and their eyes had been pecked out by crows. He had been farming sheep for 20 years, but (then) magistrate Helen Wood concluded that ‘he didn’t mean it’, ‘didn’t know what he should have been feeding them’ and sentenced him to one month imprisonment, WHOLLY SUSPENDED. (Mercury report here)
The Animal Welfare Act, as it stands, does not specifically recognise individual animals in cases of farm animals.
‘It’s such a poor state of affairs that magistrates so clearly and continually fail to understand the community’s outrage about the treatment of these shocking cases’, Ms Cass said. ‘The list of these travesties is endless. It’s not even as if one is worse than others, all animal abuse cases are similarly trivialised. Really, mandatory sentencing is the only answer, and the removal of the discretion of magistrates is a step that can’t happen quickly enough.