Hong Kong Seeks to Update Animal Welfare Laws to International Standards

Knowledge Exchange Video

Hong Kong Seeks to Update Animal Welfare Laws to International Standards

Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world with low crime rates, an independent judiciary, rule of law and a police force that is regarded as one of the finest in Asia.

Under the One Country Two Systems principle, Hong Kong's legal framework is based on the English Common Law and statute.

While most antiquated laws have been updated over the years, a 2010 review of animal welfare legislation discovered that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance had not been significantly amended since it was enacted in 1935.

The 2010 review was conducted by Amanda Whitfort, Associate Professor in the Department of Professional Legal Education, The University of Hong Kong (HKU), and veterinarian Dr Fiona Woodhouse, Deputy Director (Welfare) of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, following growing public concerns about animal cruelty in the city.

The 180-page review, the first of its kind, highlighted inadequacies in Hong Kong's out-of-date animal protection laws and recommended a more humane approach in line with international guidelines and practices.

"The legislation in Hong Kong is old and it is piecemeal. It's difficult to find, it's difficult to understand and it's therefore difficult to enforce," said Ms Whitfort.

"The difference between our legislation and the legislation that we see overseas is that overseas there has been an introduction of a minimum standard of care for animals. This places a duty of care on anybody who has an animal to provide it with a reasonable standard of living."

The law reform recommendations of Ms Whitfort and Dr Woodhouse took into account the latest animal welfare science. They examined the welfare of animals in all types of situations, from slaughterhouses to strays, and from pets to those in the wild.

Ms Whitfort said they sought to provide the government and the public with the information that they need in order to adopt policies and legislation that will better protect these animals.

The law review, which received cross-party political support, also looked at the wide scale unlicensed breeding of pets in Hong Kong and identified ways to improve the welfare of feral dogs. Their work has resulted in policy changes in government in relation to both problems. All breeders will soon require a licence to sell their dogs and a trial "trap neuter return" programme for feral dogs is due to commence in 2014.

Making use of the report's findings the Department of Justice has been active in seeking review of sentences for animal cruelty, while the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is developing codes of practice for the care of companion animals.

Professor John Bacon-Shone, Associate Director of the Knowledge Exchange Office at HKU, said there was a need to update the legislation, but it should be based on the most up-to-date research, and not simply on concerns in the community.

"Knowledge exchange in this case is a very good way of showing the impact of this particular piece of research, particularly because it's the primary cause that we can see for this policy change, and there was direct credit given by both the government and by the NGOs," Professor Bacon-Shone said.

While it is a long, complicated process to amend laws, the 2010 review has received widespread support for the introduction of an animal welfare-friendly policy reflecting the authors' recommendations.