'Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are': Brexit, a chance to acknowledge animal sentience in law.
The ‘Great Repeal Bill’ was designed to bring all existing European Union (EU) law into UK law at the point of the country’s departure from the EU on 29th March 2019. At this time a so called ‘Hard Brexit’, with no agreement and a reversion to World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade tariffs is still possible. The Government White Paper on the future relationship with the EU of July 2018 seems however, to outline a softer Brexit or even a ‘BRINO’ (Brexit in Name Only) much to the disgust of arch-Brexiteers. One of the unprecedented number of amendments to the Bill in Parliament produced a media and social media storm on its own. This was the consideration of the concept of ‘animal sentience’ as it exists in EU law. Commentators were concerned that the vote against alignment with this was a signal that the UK Parliament was not prepared to recognise the concept at all after March 2019. Ministerial Guidance was issued within days which attempted to refute his position. Michael Gove, Environment Secretary and prominent Euro-sceptic appeared on national radio to emphasise the Government’s commitment to animal welfare and to urge the people to trust the domestic democratic process to surpass the standards that the EU has mandated in this sector. This paper sets out to consider whether this trust is warranted, specifically in the context of domesticated horses in the UK. It explores the current position and compares it to other jurisdictions, most notably the US, Canada and New Zealand. This is to analyse how willing the UK legislature has been to acknowledge animal sentience to date, as an indicator of future performance outside the constraints of EU law. The reason for narrowing the focus to equines is that we have a ‘special relationship’ with the species which has been the result of a process spanning thousands of years. This connection has shifted from one that provided more or less mutual benefits into one of absolute dependence on humankind. That said, the 21st century has seen the domestic horse take on a new and by no means less significant role within our modern lives. This is not because they continue to be used as beasts of burden, but instead have entered the realms of becoming almost quasi human, through our own changing social constructs. Cultural and societal influences through such mediums as the entertainment industry, commerce, advancements in technology and the media have placed the domestic horse well and truly at the heart of our society. Legal protection for any domesticated reached a pinnacle in 2006 with the Animal Welfare Act. This paper argues that the recognition of animals as sentient beings by both the scientific and legal worlds means that their level of legal protection should be reflected within our current law. This paper takes issue with the construction of legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act and argues that there have been missed opportunities to protect horses with rights that are more in tune with the modern social construction of horses. The paper concludes with a view, based on previous progress, as to whether the UK legislature can indeed be trusted to properly recognise animal sentience post ‘Brexit’.
Citation : Merritt, J. and Horton, J. (2019) 'Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are': Brexit, a chance to acknowledge animal sentience in law. Denning Law Journal, 31 (1)
ISSN : 0269 1922
Peer Reviewed : Yes
- Department of Law