By ERWIN CHLANDA
The RSPCA has lost a court case it brought against a pastoralist in WA over de-horning cattle, a standard practice in Australia’s cattle industry.
But the victory came at enormous personal and financial cost to the accused, Kimberley pastoralist Nico Botha, says his defence lawyer, Emma Salerno, of Salerno Law.
According to Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines (AAWSG) the practice of removing horns in cattle “is undertaken to improve animal welfare in the longer term and for operator safety during handling.
“There is an increased risk of injury, hide damage and bruising in horned cattle compared to polled cattle, particularly during handling, yarding and transport.
“It is estimated that there are 52% horned, 47% polled and 1% scurred cattle in the national beef herd.
“Genetic selection for polled cattle is the most effective means to avoid the need for dehorning. However, the inheritance pattern of the polled or horned condition is relatively complex,” says AAWSG.
Ms Salerno provided us with the following statement:
RSPCA has conceded defeat in the WA Court of Appeal after Mr Botha successfully appealed the decision of Magistrate Tavener in the Kununurra Magistrates court from earlier this year.
Magistrate Tavener initially found merit in only one alleged incident out of a total of 16 charges of cruelty brought under the Animal Welfare Act by the RSPCA against Mr Botha and related company, SAWA Pty Ltd.
On appeal, the decision of the Magistrate Tavener was overturned with both Mr Botha and SAWA Pty Ltd being acquitted of the one remaining charge of cruelty.
The acquittal by the Court of Appeal means that following two years of court proceedings the RSPCA were wholly unsuccessful in prosecuting all of the 16 charges initially laid against Mr Botha and SAWA Pty Ltd.
The ultimate and final outcome of the lengthy proceedings is an important and significant win for the pastoral industry. However that the victory has come at a great expense to Mr Botha.
Naturally the major concern from many pastoralists is the potential to be unfairly targeted and prosecuted by authorities like the RSPCA who draw upon large financial resources and pro bono legal representation whilst the average farmer does not have the time, money or inclination to defend such allegations; whether rightly or wrongly made.
The cruelty charges brought against Mr Botha by the RSPCA largely involved the practice of dehorning feral cattle, which is widespread and indeed both a legal and necessary practice for pastoralists across Northern WA. Such a finding that dehorning amounted to an act of cruelty would have had a critical impact on the cattle industry.
The difficulty for a pastoralist being prosecuted for what is considered by experts to be a standard industry practice of dehorning, is that it is expensive, time consuming and unpopular to defend.
The fact that Mr Botha did successfully defend the charges took not only extensive financial resources, but also a lot of guts.
The win has not come without considerable emotional and financial toll to Mr Botha who had to contend with over two years of litigation.
This consisted of more than 10 pre-trial court attendances, a gruelling seven-day hearing which was adjourned part heard in Kununurra Magistrates Court and which was ultimately concluded in the Perth Magistrates Court.
In addition, Mr Botha was required to spend many hours travelling to and attending in court, defending what turned out to be charges which had no merit.
Certainly, whilst this is a vindication for the pastoral industry of the standard industry practice of dehorning, it was achieved at great cost to Mr Botha.
The Alice Springs News Online invited the RSPCA to respond.
UPDATE October 17:
We remain convinced that the prosecution against Mr Botha and SAWA Pty Ltd in relation to dehorning and other alleged acts of animal cruelty was in the public interest and in the interests of animal welfare.
There was evidence of animal cruelty and an ordinary person, who might view the video footage taken by a worker at the cattle station, would have believed RSPCA WA Inspectors were correct in bringing the case before the courts.
After reviewing the case, Justice Martino said that he made no criticism of the way the prosecution case was conducted.
The appeal result was due to a number of complexities during the trial, including the way the Magistrate presented his original guilty finding, and defences in the Animal Welfare Act 2002 which RSPCA WA believes are in need of review.
Their defence also relied on provisions in industry codes of practice which would become obsolete if new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle were adopted in Western Australia. Under these new standards and guidelines, dehorning cattle over 12 months old will require pain relief.
RSPCA WA urgently encourages the State Government to implement the new standards and guidelines.