A Bill proposing to amend the Animals Act 1971 has been introduced under the Ten Minute Rule Bill. The Animals Act holds horse owners liable for the actions of their animals and has resulted in blameless equestrian enthusiasts incurring heavy fines. Although Bills introduced this way are rarely given parliamentary time to progress to the statute book, the new Bill will give the current unjust situation the chance to be discussed in Parliament.
The new Bill, introduced by Laurence Robertson MP, aims to remove the injustice of strict liability by providing for a defence of “reasonable care” and has been welcomed BHS and the Countryside Alliance have welcomed the proposal.
“We currently have the Kafkaesque situation in which a blameless person can be made subject to substantial financial penalties. Mr Robertson’s Bill gets to the heart of the matter by proposing that there should be no penalties without blame,” said BHS Chief Executive Graham Cory.
“We welcome the concept of Laurence Robertson’s Bill, and support the idea that a horse owner should not be liable if they have taken all reasonable precautions to secure their animals,” said a CA spokesperson, “We urge sensible debate, and look forward to progress on this issue in the future.”
The present injustice of the Act was highlighted in the case of Mirvahedy vs. Henley where three horses broke out of a properly fenced field, having probably been startled. The terrified horses strayed onto the highway and collided with a car, resulting in serious injuries to the driver, Mr Mirvahedy.
Although neither the owners of the horses, nor Mr Mirvahedy, were responsible for the situation, the Henleys were judged to be strictly liable under the Animals Act 1971 and required to pay substantial damages to Mr Mirvahedy.
“It is essential that Parliament removes the inequity of punishment without blame,” said Mr Robertson who is Conservative MP for Tewksbury and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Horse.
“My bill proposes an amendment of the 1971 Act by providing for a defence of ‘reasonable care’. Under these proposals, if the owner or keeper of the animal had exercised the same level of care which any other reasonable person would have exercised, they would not be liable for damage caused.”
In his judgement in the Mirvahedy case, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead acknowledged the argument that “negligence apart, everyone must take the risks associated with the ordinary characteristics of animals commonly kept in this country. These risks are part of the normal give and take of life in this country.” However, he pointed out that it was for parliament, not the courts, to determine what was a matter of social policy.
“I hope the Government will now take up this very important issue and amend the 1971 Act,” said Mr Robertson.