The UK has dozens of ombudsman services covering various industries and state organisations including communications, energy, finance, the motor industry, health, housing and even ones for the removal trade, estate agents and the furniture industry, but nothing for the pet trade industry which appears surprising particularly as it brings over £7 billion to the UK economy.
We are able to complain to our heart’s content when we feel we have been hard done by, but animals literally cannot voice their concerns and complaints and even if they could there is no ombudsman representing them. As owners or keepers of animals we cannot put their case for them either.
When any new policy, regulation, law or amendment to an existing law is considered by the Government all the vested interests that it might affect have their say in lessening the impact it might have on their livelihood or on what is called ‘legitimate human interests’. Governments consult with all these different interest groups such as agriculture, commerce, industry and science and consider their objections and suggestions.
But when the policy, law or issue affects the rights and well-being of animals, such as in the case of culling protected badgers, there is no one to speak up for them. Animal charities and campaigners can put their points forward, but there is never a truly impartial person to speak up for them with the power to investigate and research all the evidence and decide on the validity of any proposed actions. An animal’s ombudsman or woman could do this.
Although the UK has a Minister for almost every area of commerce and industry including a Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which covers mainly livestock issues, there is no specific Government office whose sole purpose is to look out for the interests of animals, so it could be argued that we also need a Minister for ‘animal affairs’ who could intervene in issues that might affect large numbers of animals.
An ombudsman for animal affairs is not a new concept
It may seem a strange suggestion to have an animals’ ombudsman or woman, but it is nothing new or unheard of. There has been debate for several years on whether it is time for the UK and other countries to have some form of official legal representative or watchdog solely responsible for representing the rights and welfare interests of animals.
Noel Sweeney, a Barrister and well-known advocate of animal rights has lectured and written about the need for an animals’ ombudswoman for over five years. He has suggested that such a person could represent all animals in Court and Parliament where any action affects their welfare and future and meet with the Law Commission to introduce a new Act with the paramount principle of granting animals a legal personality.
Does this all sound bizarre or silly? Logically it shouldn’t be as we have already taken a step towards this by establishing ‘independent’ Committees such as the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) and the National Companion Animal Focus Group (NCAFG) who supposedly safeguard animals’ interests.
Industry, Countries and Cities already have a ombudswoman for animal welfare
Australia has shown some interest in the concept and there was a petition at one stage and Austria is one of the few countries which actually has an Animal Welfare Spokesman and an animals ombudsman service following a referendum there. Each State elects an independent, non-governmental representative and although not a perfect system it is pioneering in its intentions and beyond anything most counties have.
The city of Lisbon in Portugal appointed a ombudswoman for animal welfare in January this year who was reported to have “made fast work of getting stuck into her job” by immediately announcing a plan to solve the overcrowding in the city’s dog pounds and making an appeal in Parliament for the country’s policymakers to create laws that “better meet the needs of animals”. At her swearing in ceremony she stated, “I want to seize this opportunity to reach out to the population and raise awareness of the issue of animal welfare.”
Back in 2014 the DPZ German Primate Centre in Göttingen, which houses 1300 research primates, appointed an “outsider” ombudswoman which the 43 animal keepers can go to with any welfare concerns instead of the in-house animal welfare officer and welfare committee. The fact that she is a scientist makes it debatable how impartial she is, but it shows that industry, science and governments are not averse to the idea of ombudsman or women.
It is definitely time for this nation of animal lovers to have an ombudsman or woman for animal welfare and follow the lead of Austria and Portugal. Animals need an independent legal representative and a spokesperson with the ear of the Government to investigate suspect decisions, conflicts of interest and policies on the well-being of animals and if necessary instigate prosecutions of any institution that by its actions cause unnecessary suffering.