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Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Animal Cruelty Offences Animal Cruelty Offences and Penalties in South Australia (SA)

Animal Cruelty Offences and Penalties in South Australia (SA)

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Australian National Character Check (ANCC) makes every effort to provide updated and accurate information to its customers. However due to the continuously changing nature of legislations for the Commonwealth and various States and Territories, it is inevitable that some information may not be up to date. The information on the website is general information only. The contents on the website do not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, suitability, accuracy or availability with respect to the information.

The South Australian (SA) legal system classifies several actions as malicious to animals regardless of who does it.

The Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) prohibits all activities that cause animals pain and ills without adequate legal reason.

For this purpose, the legislations qualify for all animals, especially of the subphylum vertebrate species. The Act also covers all cases of offences whether the accused is the owner, manages the animal or is an outsider.

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

What are the punishments for Animal Cruelty offences?

The penalties for animal cruelty offences range with the severity of the crime. The legislation in South Australia through the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) issues penalties of up to 4 years imprisonment for ill treatment of animals.

Section 13 of the Act describes this part to mean where the accused person;

  • Treats the animal in a manner contradictory to the Animal welfare act,
  • Where such treatment of the animal causes the death, permanent damage or severe destruction of the animal
  • The accused person is reckless to the harm they caused to the animal

Any of these offences under this section attract the maximum penalty of;

  • $50,000 in fines, or
  • Four years imprisonment

For this section, the section considers ill-treatment to an animal where the accused person;

  • Commits any of these acts intentionally, recklessly, or in a matter that will not be reasonable
  • Where a person who is supposed to be in charge of the animal;
    1. Fails to Provide appropriate nutrients, resources and other necessities for animal survival,
    2. Fails to take reasonable/approved steps to correct any harm the animal suffers,
    3. Forsakes the animal, especially in a place of peril,
    4. Neglects the animal in a manner that would cause it damage.
  • Fails to deliver any remedial action to mitigate the harm it has done the animal
  • Causes the animal death or destruction from another animal or object
  • Ends the animal life in a manner that causes unnecessary pains
  • Where the killing is reasonable/inevitable, kills the animal that causes the death to be slow or painful
  • Performs any form of research on the animal that is contrary to scientific procedures or standards under SA laws.
  • Treats the animal in a manner that is inconsistent with the regulations and purposes of the server.
  • Aggravating circumstance for the offence

The section further details a circumstance where the court may commit an aggravated case to a lesser matter if they are not convinced of the evidence. It is also possible for the court to lift a lesser matter as an aggravated matter if they consider the evidence.

It is an aggravated case for the offence if the accused person causes the death of the animals by their actions.

Defence to an ill-treatment offence

Subsection 5 of this section also considers a defence where the accused can prove to the court that

  • The offence did not result from their lack of Care or intentional acts
  • That there was no way they could have prevented the injury to the animal.

The offence of engaging in prohibited activities

Section 14 of the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) prohibits a person from engaging in a prohibited activity under the SA legislation on Animal welfare. An accused person who participates in any prohibited activity towards animals will receive punishments of $50,000 in fines or four years imprisonment term.

Subsection 2 also prohibits a person from being where prohibited acts occur. For this section, a prohibited act is described by the Animal welfare Act or any other regulatory body on Animal welfare matters.

The Act lists it as an offence that carries a penalty of $20,000 or a two years imprisonment

Also, the law considers a person to be present for a prohibited act if they are (without any contrary proof) found there within 2 hours after the event is over.

However, it is a defence in court if the accused person proves that;

  • They did not know of a prohibited activity in the vicinity
  • They could not reasonably expect a prohibited activity to occur in the place

Subsection 5 lists prohibited activities for this section as;

  • Using animals as live baits
  • Live baiting
  • Releasing an animal from captivity for it being hunted, killed or used for live bait
  • Selling or supplying an animal for it being used for any prohibited activity.
  • Keeping or preparing an animal for any prohibited activity

The subsection explains the meaning of taking part in prohibited activity to mean;

  • Organising any of the activity
  • Promoting the activity through any of their platforms
  • Allowed their premises or any property they manage/own to be used for the prohibited activity
  • Intentionally provides any of the requirement, animal or other materials used for the prohibited activity
  • Undertakes any other activity or mission relating to the prohibited activity

Possession of certain prohibited items

Certain items are considered prohibited under the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA), and without the approval of a minister, a person must not own, possess or supply any of these items.

Section 14A of the Act lists some of these items to include;

  • Cock-fighting Spur
  • Implement, article or other material adapted for attachment to the animal. It includes materials used to;
    1. Train or fight another animal
    2. Incite or assist an animal in fighting another animal
    3. Protect an animal in a fight over another animal
  • A drug or other ingested substances are given to an animal that incites it or assists it to belligerence towards other people or animals.
  • A lure or bait, including another animal used for live baiting.

For this section, the court can issue penalties of up to $20,000 in fines or two years imprisonment.

Animal welfare offences involving electrical devices

Section 15 of the Act forbids a person from using an electrical device to confine or control an animal. Any use of an electrical device in this form contravenes the Animal welfare and Care regulations. In this case, the Act prescribes a

  • $10,000 in fines, or
  • 1 year maximum imprisonment

Animals involved in car accidents

Section 15A of the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) describes cases where an animal is involved in a car accident. Depending on the conditions, it requires the person to;

  • Take practicable and reasonable steps to inform the owner of the animal (or its manager)
  • Inform an inspector or other officer where the candidate cannot contact the owner within 24 hours.

The Act lists any contrary action as an offence that incurs a maximum penalty of $5,000 or a $315 expiation fee for the offence.

The offence of Unlicensed use of animals for teaching or research

Section 16 (Part 4) of the Act explicitly requires all persons who want to use an animal for research or teaching to obtain a license. It includes where the person uses the animal to;

  • Teach any science, or
  • As research for any experimentation
  • Or any other academic purpose without a valid license

For this offence, the Act stipulates a maximum penalty of $50,000 if the offender is a corporate body and $10,000 for a single offender.

Contravening the conditions of a License

A person must not only get a license to conduct any scientific or academic research on an animal, but they must also abide by them. Part of the condition of the license is for the candidate to comply with the ethics committee of any board or those imposed by the minister.

A person who contravenes part of or any number of conditions is guilty of an offence that incurs;

  • $50,000 in fines for violations by a corporate body,
  • $10,000 in penalties for offences by a person

Section 20 of the Act maintains that all licenses relating to animal welfare can only remain in force for two years, which must then be renewed.

Functions of the Animal Ethics Committee

The committee's functions ensure that license holders and any other person under their jurisdiction abide by the law. The functions include;

  • Approval of animals for whatever legal use or purpose the person obtains a license for,
  • Approving the acquisition of an animal for any legitimate purpose under the welfare act,
  • Supervising the use and conducts of this experiment to ensure they are done humanely.

The animal ethics committee will not approve any of the licenses or conducts for the use of the animals unless;

  • It is essential and paramount for the purpose.
  • The person in charge of the experiment or conduct has experience and qualifications as to the use.

It is an offence for a person to contravene any of the orders or conditions listed by the Ethics committee. This offence incurs a;

  • $50,000 for offences committed by corporate bodies
  • $10,000 for offences committed by a singular person

Animal welfare Notices

Part of the powers of an inspector is to supervise and examine animals under Care, especially those for commercial purposes.

In some cases, the inspector can break into a premise, car or property if they believe it is relevant to the animal's welfare. An inspector may also issue warrants or notices where it considers it necessary to the animal's Care.

A Notice is a written order for an owner/manager to perform certain acts regarding the animal's welfare. Contravening any of these Acts is an offence that carries the maximum penalty of $2,500 in fines, or a $210 expiation fee.

Will a Animal Cruelty Offence show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

If an individual is found guilty of an animal cruelty offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

Individuals can obtain a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.


Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) -

Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) (Austlii References) -

Legal Services Commission of South Australia (Cruelty to Animals) -

RSPCA South Australia (Welfare Inspectors) -

RSPCA (What are the penalties for animal cruelty offences?) -

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