Animals Get Long-Overdue Protection
Ms Whitfort’s pioneering work to improve the legislative protection of animals is far from over.
The efforts of Associate Professor Amanda Whitfort in the Faculty of Law have had a profound effect on animal welfare in Hong Kong: laws have been changed, protection programmes and training introduced, and public awareness raised about a problem that had been ignored in all but the most extreme cases of cruelty.
The impact of her work has earned Ms Whitfort the Knowledge Exchange (KE) Excellence Award 2016, which was presented to her in a ceremony earlier this year. The award recognises outstanding achievements in KE that have made significant impact on society.
The importance of Ms Whitfort’s work was noted by the former Secretary to the Hong Kong Law Reform Commission, Mr Stuart Stoker, who said it had done the “extremely difficult” thing of enabling legislative change. “The process of change is hugely helped if you have, supporting your arguments, the kind of empirical, comparative research that Ms Whitfort has produced.”
Her landmark contribution was the 2010 Review of Animal Welfare Legislation in Hong Kong undertaken with Dr Fiona Woodhouse of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) (HK), which provided a comparative and detailed analysis of animal protection laws that had been drafted in the 1930s.
The Review exposed sketchy enforcement of animal protection laws, insufficient powers to assist animals in danger of suffering and abuse, serious failures in meeting international animal welfare standards, and lack of legislative control over the pet trade.
Its findings attracted media and government attention and led to specialised training for police and prosecutors in presenting animal cruelty cases at court, regular meetings between the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the police and the SPCA (HK) to discuss cases, proactive reviews of sentences on animal cruelty convictions by the Department of Justice, and the trial of a “Trap-Neuter-Return” programme for feral dogs.
Key recommendations from the Review regarding new licensing conditions in the pet trade were passed into law in 2016 (Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Animal Traders) Regulations 2016) and Ms Whitfort said it was especially pleasing to see this change. “The recognition that breeders and shopkeepers should provide a reasonable duty of care towards the animals they sell is an important first step for Hong Kong,” she said. Her pioneering work to improve the legislative protection of animals is far from over – she would also like to see duty of care imposed on anyone handling animals, including pet owners, through the introduction of a new Animal Welfare Act for Hong Kong.
Further studies being undertaken by Ms Whitfort address the adequacy of Hong Kong’s laws to control illegal trade in wildlife, the third most lucrative black market in the world, and in June and September she appeared before LegCo to argue for an immediate ban on the local ivory trade and the re-classification of wildlife offences as organised and serious crime.