Updated December 2014
Many countries have animal protection legislation, although the extent of coverage, format and enforcement mechanisms (if any) vary greatly. Animal protection organizations need to be familiar with their animal protection laws, as well as other laws intersecting with animal protection, to work more effectively. Also, they can play a key role in influencing the introduction, enhancement and enforcement of animal protection law.
Information about animal protection laws can be found through the relevant government department, at law libraries, or on online legal databases. Animal protection organizations, particularly those with law enforcement authority, may also be able to advise. For information on other countries, the diplomatic representation of the country concerned may be able to provide information.
The format of legislation varies greatly from country to country. An example of legislative structure is:
Primary legislation outlines general principles and provides powers for further regulation. Could be in the form of an 'Act' or 'Bill'. It needs to pass through Parliament/Congress and be agreed at governmental level.
Secondary legislation comprises detailed provisions covering a specific subject area. These are often formulated by the relevant government department charged with implementation of these provisions.
Some legislation is intended to apply locally, only. The level at which resulting laws are introduced depend on the relevant government structure. For example, in the USA there are several tiers of legislation: federal legislation applies throughout the country, state laws apply only in the relevant state, and local laws apply at the city, county, or municipal levels. Wherever possible, strong national animal welfare legislation that sets uniform standards, which may also be supplemented and enhanced at the local level, is preferable.
The legislative system will depend on the culture and history of the country. For example, legislation can be based on that of former colonial powers. Thus, laws in Commonwealth countries (or former Commonwealth countries) and former 'colonies' are often laws based on old British laws. In some countries, such as those in which Islam is the majority religion, law may be based on religious principles. It is important to understand your country's legislative base, in order to use appropriate legislative 'models' and lobbying tactics.
The importance of selecting and adapting appropriate, high-quality model animal welfare legislation cannot be stressed enough. The Model Animal Welfare Act was compiled using an extensive comparative law exercise, and may be helpful in this regard (and also because it contains extensive explanatory notes which provide additional guidance). But there may be other animal welfare laws in your own region which are more culturally appropriate and provide good animal welfare standards. As every nation and community is unique, it is strongly suggested to carefully consider and adapt any models as needed, and to seek advice from local counsel.
More information on animal welfare legislation is contained in Useful Resources and Contacts.
A nation’s constitution and legislation typically serve distinct and separate purposes, although the constitution may impact upon legislation. Generally, for example, a law that conflicts with the constitution may not be enacted. On the other hand, legislation may be drawn from the principles set forth in the constitution. Not all countries have a written constitution. However, where there is a written constitution, a useful animal protection aim is the inclusion of animal protection in the constitution. In the absence of animal protection in the constitution, animal protection objectives can be over-ridden by other constitutional principles (such as freedom of science/research or freedom of artistic expression).
For more information on animal protection in constitutions, see WAN’s Constitution Project.