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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Animal Cruelty Offences Animal Cruelty Offences and Penalties in the Northern Territory (NT)

    Animal Cruelty Offences and Penalties in the Northern Territory (NT)

    The Animal Protection Act 2018 (NT) regulates all behaviours and acts towards animals in the Northern Territory. It replaces the original Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) and stipulates modified terms and higher penalties for offenders for animal cruelty in the Northern Territory.

    Besides the primary duty as a guide against the ill-treatment of animals, it also provides definitions of other terms relevant for the execution. For example, it defines what an animal is, and the people are referred to as carers or managers under the Northern Territory laws.

    If an individual is convicted in a Northern Trritory (NT) court for an animal cruelty offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a national police history check in the NT.

    The offence will be disclosed on a criminal history check in accordance with the Spent Convictions Scheme in the NT.

    Penalties for Animal cruelty offences

    The Act lists various animal cruelty offences, usually of varying degrees. For example, the punishment for animal cruelty leading to an animal's death is worse than that, causing the Animal a "curable" pain.

    Various sections in the Act list what constitutes an offence under the jurisdiction and the penalties for such offences. It is of less importance to the court that the offender did not know of these laws/Acts when charged to court related to dealing with an animal.

    What is an animal under the Act?

    Section 5 of the Animal Protection Act 2018 (NT) defines an animal as all living things (especially vertebrates) domesticated or in the wild. It includes animals in the zoo, homes (pets), in the wild and other beasts comprising of;

    • Cephalopods (squids/octopuses),
    • Reptiles,
    • Fishes
    • Crustaceans,
    • Amphibians,
    • Birds,
    • Mammals,
    • And other animals that would apply under the definitions of the Act.

    What is the minimum level of care for a person to an animal?

    The legislation expects everyone in charge of animals to provide certain materials/necessities for them. Section 6 of the Act considers it the minimum level of care that a person has to the Animal under their care.

    Under the section, any animal owner/manager must ensure animals under their care has;

    • Sufficient food and water for their survival, especially where such Animal cannot fend for itself
    • Necessary shelter or conditions favourable for its resting and sleep.
    • Has the liberty to roam or move within a space (even in a cage). It implies that the animal space should not be too small to limit its development physically.
    • Will not be used for any duty or task, usually outside their performance or history. For example, using a cat/dog for heavy farm work.
    • The Animal should be allowed to exercise and earn an adequate space for its growth and development. For example, dogs or other domestic animals should not be kept in tiny cages.
    • The Animal will only be used and treated in a manner approved by the Act or any other relevant Animal right committee of the
    • It is not abandoned in a manner that puts it at the mercy of other animals or predators.
    • Is not used or trained for an intentional animal fight
    • The Animal should not be live bait, whether for hunting or any other purposes
    • The Animal should not be left to roam to an area the owner knows is dangerous or harmful
    • The Animal should not be used for an unlicensed and unapproved scientific procedure.
    • The owner must not administer drugs or other sensitive substances to the Animal without the permission of an expert.

    Any acts contradictory to these listed above will likely constitute an animal cruelty offence unless done in special cases. These special cases may count as a defence before the court on why the accused person carried out the Act.

    Any contrary actions to the minimum level of care are regarded as an animal cruelty offence.

    Animal cruelty offences

    The lists of offences that qualify as animal cruelty under the Act include;


    1. The offence of failing to provide the minimum level of care

    Section 23 details the offence of defaulting to provide the minimum level of care for an animal under your control. It is an offence that incurs the maximum penalty of 100 penalty units and 12 months imprisonment.

    It is irrelevant in the court that the accused person is unaware of the Act or other regulations regarding animal care in the State.


    1. Cruelty to animals

    Section 24 of the Act forbids anyone from being cruel or ill towards animals. It is an offence that carries up to 200 penalty units in fines or two year imprisonment. It is irrelevant to the court whether the accused person acted recklessly (involving in an act they were unsure of to its detriment).

    For this section, being ill to an animal means the accused person was involved in the following acts;

    • Beating, abusing or torturing the Animal,
    • Injuring, wounding or damaging a part of the Animal
    • Using a stick, metal or other materials as instruments to commit these acts
    • Training an animal using torture tactics
    • Using an electrical, or hot material to torture the Animal
    • Scaring the Animal using any means
    • Starving the Animal; intentionally or recklessly
    • Refusing to provide adequate medical aid
    • Any other acts that will reasonably cause the animal pain/damage or suffering.

    And where the accused person engages these acts without license or the approval of a professional veterinarian.

    • Tail docking an animal
    • Ear-cropping an animal
    • Claw removal of an animal
    • Debarking an animal

    1. Aggravated animal cruelty offence

    While animal cruelty is no small matter before the court (may lead to imprisonment), section 25 of the of the Animal Protection Act 2018 (NT) also stipulates harsher terms for aggravated forms of animal cruelty. Unlike Animal cruelty, the conditions for aggravated cruelty are clearer and pronounced.

    Aggravated animal cruelty incurs a maximum penalty of 500 penalty units in fines or five years imprisonment.

    It is an offence of aggravated cruelty if any acts of cruelty lead to severe harm or death to the Animal.

    For this section, serious harm means damage to the Animal that is most likely to end in "mercy killing" of the Animal. It also refers to severe or protracted impairment or mental dysfunctions for the Animal.


    1. Notification of injury

    Besides injuring an animal, it is also an offence if the person responsible does not report the injury. The culprit (cause of the accident) must either report to;

    • The person in charge of the Animal, or
    • The necessary officials in the region/area.

    Failure to report an injury that a person causes attracts punishments of 20 penalty units in fines. Section 26 of the Act details this part of the legislation.


    1. Prohibited activity

    It is an offence for a person who has control of an animal to use them for a prohibited activity intentionally. It includes where the person uses the Animal for such Act or is the manager or owner of the place where the Act happens.

    Section 32 of the Act stipulates a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment for such offences.

    A prohibited activity under the Act includes using the Animal

    • In fights,
    • Using the Animal as live baits
    • The killing of an animal for blooding greyhounds

    1. Feeding poisons to animals

    Section 27 of the Animal Protection Act 2018 (NT) lists an offence where a person administers a poison or any other substance that is damaging to an animal's health. The Act stipulates punishments up to 100 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment for such offences.

    However, this matter may become a “special case” if the accused person is a veterinarian under prescribed conditions.


    1. Using harmful instruments (Traps, Spurs, poisons, and so on)

    Section 28 prohibits the use of traps, spurs, electrical devices and toxins that may kill or cause suffering to an animal.

    Section 29 of the Act prohibits a person from setting a metal-jawed trap to capture an animal or subject it to a trap. Section 30 also prohibits using electrical devices to capture or torture an animal either in the wild or otherwise.


    1. Use of Animal for scientific purposes

    The Act allows an animal to be used for scientific purposes only if licensed by the appropriate body.

    It is an offence under the Act to use an animal for a scientific purpose other than the requirements of the registration scheme.

    The Act stipulates punishments of 100 penalty units in fines or 12 months imprisonment to use animals for scientific purposes other than the stipulations of the scheme.

    Aboriginal laws concerning the Animal welfare Acts

    The Animal Protection Act still expounds on the right of Aboriginal communities to practice traditional hunting, fishing and cultural practices per their traditional customs. It is detailed in the Native Title Act of 1993 (Cth).

    Due to the Aboriginal traditional law or custom, it is a defence if the person charged for the animal cruelty is an Aboriginal.

    Code of Practice in Animal welfare

    The Code of Practice guides specific actions of officers and committees regarding Animal Protection Regulations. Under the Code of practice, an excuse can be made for any act of cruelty towards animals.

    Section 20 of the Act guides the a Code of Practice relating to;

    • The production, processing, keeping, care, husbandry and breeding of animals.
    • The transportation, hunting, catching, trapping, netting or protection of animals.
    • Other special uses of animals.

    Section 21(2) of the Act makes a defence available for any activities conducted under the Code of practice.

    Execution of Animal welfare Acts

    An authorised officer in the NT may enter premises or property under reasonable leads to determine whether an animal is suffering. However, the owner/manager of such premises must get a minimum of 48 hours notice of the intention to search.

    Will a Animal Cruelty Offence in Northern Territory (NT) show up on a national criminal record check?

    If an individual is found guilty of an animal cruelty offence in a Northern Territory (NT) court, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their criminal record check.

    Individuals can obtain a criminal background check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

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