In 2010, Associate Professor Amanda Whitfort and Dr Fiona Woodhouse Deputy Director (Welfare) of the SPCA (Hong Kong) published the Review of Animal Welfare Legislation in Hong Kong. Their review, the major output of a Public Policy Research Grant, identified serious shortcomings in the legislation protecting animals in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government has recently released a Consultation Document taking up many of the recommendations proposed in the Whitfort Woodhouse 2010 Review. In particular, the Hong Kong government is proposing to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap 169) to introduce a duty of care for animals to compliment the current anti-cruelty prohibition. Amending Cap 169 in this way was the primary recommendation that came out of the Review of Animal Welfare Legislation in Hong Kong. The amendment would provide that a person commits an offence if he does not take such steps, as are reasonable, in all the circumstances, to ensure that the needs of the animal, for which he is responsible, are met, to the extent required by good practice.
Whitfort has long argued that the necessity for a duty of care for all animals in Hong Kong is clear. As section 3 currently appears in Cap 169, an animal must actually suffer before an offence has been committed. Only then can any action be taken to protect the animal. This means that in cases of neglect, authorities currently have to wait until evidence of suffering is legally actionable before the animal can be, in any way, protected. Accordingly, the current law in Hong Kong does not allow for enforcement authorities to take any action at all to prevent the impending suffering of animals, despite the fact that their care is obviously inadequate. As a result, many welfare abuses go un-prosecuted. Such a situation is clearly unsatisfactory. As Whitfort's comparative studies with other jurisdictions have shown, modern animal welfare laws do not just prosecute cruelty, they actively prevent it.
Along with the proposal to amend Cap 169 to introduce a duty of care, the government also seeks public views on increasing the penalties for cruelty to animals, making serious cases of animal cruelty triable in the District Court as indictable offences and allowing judges to disqualify animal abusers from owning or working with animals. In response, Whitfort has made a submission to the LegCo Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene supporting these changes.
The consultation document outlining the proposed amendments to Cap 169 is available on the government website, Proposals to Enhance Animal Welfare. The consultation ended on 31 July 2019.