High Court dismisses woman’s judicial review of the seizure of her livestock
The High Court has refused all reliefs sought by a woman who brought two judicial review cases seeking to challenge a decision to remove animals owned by her.
The applicant, Dona Sfar’s, sheep and pigs had been seized from her by the Department of Agriculture, following six inspections by a Veterinary Inspector in 2014.
The animals were emaciated, lacked access to water and had inadequate shelter. Despite repeated conversations with the applicant, the situation did not improve, resulting in the death of a sheep and a lamb.
The animals were seized in August and taken to a shelter to receive care. The applicant unsuccessfully appealed the issue of the Welfare Notice, and also applied for an enquiry into the Veterinary Inspector’s fitness to practice as a vet, which resulted in the Veterinary Council making a statement that the Inspector had acted at all times in the best interest of the animals.
The applicant then challenged the actions of the Department of Agriculture through judicial review, seeking declarations that first, her livestock were not subject to the European Council Directive 98/58/EC and the European Communities (Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations SI No. 705 of 2006, second, that her right to ownership of her animals had been interfered with giving rise to damages, and that third, she had a legitimate expectation that her pig herd number would not be cancelled.
She also sought an injunction preventing officials from the Department of Agriculture from entering the applicant’s private property or filming on the applicant’s private property without either her permission or legal authorisation or seizing of her livestock on any grounds whatsoever unless authorised by the courts.
In relation to the first issue, the Court noted that “purpose of judicial review is not to enable citizens seek declarations that certain pieces of legislation do or do not apply to them, as appears to be the aim of the applicant in seeking this relief. Accordingly, in relation to this first relief being sought by the applicant, her application for judicial review is misconceived and this relief is refused.”
In relation to the second issue, the Court observed that the applicant’s rights could be interfered with in done in accordance with the law. In the present instance, the Court was satisfied that the alleged interference with the applicant’s property rights and private and family life was lawfully permitted by the Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2013.
In relation to the third issue, it was noted that her pig herd number had not been cancelled, so this was dismissed.
In relation to the request for an injunction, the Court noted that under s. 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2013, authorised officers of the Department of Agriculture are permitted to enter and inspect at all reasonable times any land where they have reasonable grounds for believing that an animal is present.
With regards to filming, the Court observed that the purpose of the Act was to protect animals, and that under s. 38(6), as part of his right of entry, an authorised officer may take “any equipment or materials to assist the officer in the exercise of the power”.
This was recognized as being a means to collect evidence of the welfare of the animals, and to infringe that power would compromise the power and worth of the inspection.
The Court then turned to a second case for judicial review, also brought by the same applicant, which sought various declarations that the Act itself, the European Communities (Welfare of Farmed Animals) Regulations 2010 (SI No. 311 of 2010), and the seizure of her animals, breached her constitutional and human rights.
However, the Court found no merit in her arguments, finding that her rights had been respected throughout, and noting the importance of protecting the welfare of animals.
The Court also noted that it was relevant that:
“the action by the applicant before this Court is in effect an attempt by her to challenge the Welfare Notice in the High Court after she failed in her challenge to the Welfare Notice in the District Court. She also failed in her challenge to the Welfare Notice in the Circuit Court. She also failed in her challenge to the professional conduct of the vet that issued the Welfare Notice before the Veterinary Council. For this reason, her two judicial review applications in this case are in essence a fourth and a fifth attempt by her to challenge the Welfare Notice. Since there are only so many appeals and challenges, which a person should have, to a decision with which they disagree, it is this Court’s view these two judicial review applications verge on an abuse of process by the applicant.”
The Court cited Tracey v. Burton IESC 16 in which MacMenamin J. observed that court time is a “scarce public resource” which should not be “unnecessarily wasted”.
It noted that in situations such as the present one, it could be beneficial for the State to seek an order requiring an individual to obtain permission from the Court before instituting further proceedings.
The Court also admonished the applicant for challenging the Veterinary Inspector’s professional conduct, noting the case of Cooke v. Cronin IESC 54, which stated that proceedings for negligence should not be issued against professionals, without appropriate expert advice.
The Court stated that “It is appropriate to record the Court’s disapproval of the applicant’s decision to make this claim of professional misconduct as an indirect appeal/challenge to his decision to issue a Welfare Notice. A claim of professional misconduct is not the way in which the applicant’s complaint should have been pursued.”
The Court then concluded, refusing all reliefs sought by the applicant.