On Sunday at St Albans Cathedral the idea will be floated of an Animal Cruelty Offenders Register (and so would go alongside that of the Sex Offenders Register). Someone on the Animal ruelty Offenders Register would be forbidden from keeping an animal, or working with them, which means it would be an offence to sell an animal to such a person or employ them in animal-related work. The person would end up on the Register after an animal cruelty conviction, but not straight away. The proposal is that Christian principles apply in that at first the convicted would have to attend compulsory classes run by animal protection professionals to develop some empathy with animal suffering and confront their own violent tendencies. The person sees the error of their ways and escapes the Register.
Professor Andrew Linzey in a sermon on Sunday evening (18:30) at St. Albans Cathedral. It is a proposal that responds to calls for tougher and more consistent punishments for animal offenders but one that recognises that prison does not work given the tendency to reoffend from a dehumanising setting. Also, the link is being made between cruelty to animals and violence then towards other human beings.
Would it work? This is my view. The Sex Offenders Register works because there are clear understandings of what constitutes sexual offence. Take the example of a teacher and a student, he aged 30 and she 15, and she gives consent to sexual activity. He will still end up on the sexual offenders register, and the reason is that we judge that she cannot make that consent, that he had a duty of care and to step away from even considering a 'relationship', because her level of development and outlook is clearly not fully formed. The excitement for life and emotional turmoils and attractions of a teenager are for teenagers alone and not a person, a professional, put in place to teach. The rules then become clear, and a minimum limit of 19 - in fact over the age of consent - is made in that situation. The clear rules follow lots of professional advice on the matter. Indeed, the clear rules mean that you might attend change of behaviour and outlook classes but you are still put on the Sex Offenders Register. Andrew Linzey's proposal allows one to escape the Animal Cruelty Offenders Register if the person has changed their outlook and behaviour.
I'm not sure about the proposal (before hearing it in full). The comparative problem with animal cruelty is that it is a shifting area of debate. The view of a vegan, for example, is that the milk industry and removal of calves from mothers involves animal cruelty. Now I am not sure that calves and cows have an awareness that leads to that conclusion. They might and if it becomes demonstrable then cruelty exists: would we then be placing farmers on an Animal Cruelty Offenders Register? A potential future is one where private individuals keeping cows for milk could be prosecuted.
This sounds like a far-fetched argument, but there are lots of claims about cruelty in abattoirs. There are arguments that in the final moments the animal becomes aware of what is happening and is thus fearful. This is emotional cruelty with physical consequences (they have minds and bodies - it is suffering). To not keep equipment up to the mark might involve prosecutions if there was any intent in not retaining the highest standards regarding stunning and killing.
To say that this proposal can be limited to physical violence may then call upon definitions of violence and purpose. Clearly there have to be definitions, perhaps centred around physical immediate pain that must mean suffering and perhaps also involving a warped sense of human enjoyment.
But let's turn this comparison around: would it have been possible for Victorians to have had a Sex Offenders Register? There was an environment of violence, sexual-charged violence (even with the cane in schools), childhood exploitation and an underworld of class based sexual duplicity. It is even more complicated than that because much of what offended Victorians is not so regarded today and some of what was deemed essential to Victorian life we now regard as requiring the Sex Offenders Register. So an Animal Cruelty Register, via changing behaviour classes, could well be a good place to head for protection of animals, but it needs clear and settled guidelines and principles on what we are protecting animals from and where activity with animals that some people call cruel remains entirely legal and free from legal threat beyond the usual monitoring of standards. But I can see a situation where (perhaps rightly) a position once entirely legal and free from threat becomes something that demands change of behaviour and outlook classes and the threat of being placed on a register. Is the ball moving too fluidly at present to have such a register?
Update: Andrew Linzey tells me his point is for those convicted now of animal cruelty, whereas I am asking about a regime that prosecutes when there is a register. Further Update: Andrew Linzey comments in response: "I am referring to those convicted now or in the future of illegal acts of cruelty, hence the definition of cruelty is quite clear. One would need to be convicted of an illegal offence before the empathy training and/or register would apply."