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Essay: Statutory Interpretation – application to a case study

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Foundations of Law: Statutory Interpretation Essay Q 2

At a surface level, when supplied with the information regarding the case of Billy Tripe, one would believe him to be held responsible for the mistreatment of his herd of alpacas. However, upon closer inspection of Mr. Tripe’s case, in particular, the circumstances of the misfortunate treatment of the animals, and in considering legislation and rules on statutory interpretation in the common law system, one discovers the complexities that surround this case. To advise Mr. Tripe on whether the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015 applies to him, one must take into account the rules of statutory interpretation, the duty of care Mr. Tripe had to the animals, and the terms of the domestic legislation under which he is being prosecuted and how EU legislation relates to this.

We are asked to advise Mr. Tripe on whether the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015 applies to him. We can explore this in terms of an investigation on statutory interpretation, and in terms of whether Mr. Tripe is to be held responsible for the demise in the conditions of the health of his animals, as his staff left employment without giving any notice. I will begin my essay by considering the fundamental question of whether the act applies based on statutory interpretation.

One of the main aspects of statutory interpretation is to consider what was intended when the legislation was adopted. The purpose of the legislation guides us in considering how the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015 should be interpreted. The Oireachtas updated their legislation on animal cruelty in response to a number cases of public prominence relating to incidents of animal cruelty in Ireland. In this way, we can conclude that the act was introduced to prohibit cases of animal cruelty, like the case of Mr. Tripe’s alpacas.

Section 5(1) of the 2015 Act states:

‘It shall be an offence for a person to cause or permit any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to farm animals under his or her care or control.’

The words ‘under his or her care or control’ are an issue in Mr. Tripe’s case, as it could be argued that the animals were not under his direct control as he left the animals in the care of his farm laborers, who left work without giving any notice. Even if there is no provision of the employee’s contract dealing with notice, the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973 provides that the statutory minimum notice of one week, by law, must be applied. The interpretation of the act in section 1 of the act states that an ‘ ’employee’ means an individual who has entered into or works under a contract with an employer, whether the contract be for manual labour, clerical work or otherwise, whether it be expressed or implied, oral or in writing, and whether it be a contract of service or of apprenticeship or otherwise’ 1

However, the act does not apply to employees who would normally be expected to work 20 hours a week. We are not given information about the contract that exists between Mr. Tripe and his employees, but we can assume that they should have given notice before they left employment. This, fundamentally would provide an argument for why the act does not apply to Mr. Tripe. However, in the case of the McAleenan family in Antrim, Northern Ireland, the abuse of horses, ponies and donkeys, resulted in criminal sentences for both father and son in the case, even though the son actually owned the animals, and the father owned the farm. McAleenan senior accepted his responsibility in this case, and bore some of the guilt, even though his son was responsible for the day to day running of the farm. This is similar to Mr. Tripe’s case in that, even though Tripe was not directly responsible for the abuse of the animals, he may still be subject to punishment under these terms of the act, as he may be considered liable for the neglectful actions of his employees.

Despite this, the most important argument in favour of Mr. Tripe’s immunity from the act is the ordinary meaning of the text.
Section 1, the interpretation provision of the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015 states that farm animals are ‘cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and other animals’. The Law Reform Commission published a paper in 1999 that deals with the issues surrounding statutory interpretation quite excessively and comprehensively. It underlines the three basic rules of statutory interpretation, the first rule being that

‘If the Act is directed to dealing with matters affecting everybody generally, the words used have the meaning attached to them in the common and ordinary use of language.’

Therefore, adopting the ordinary person rule, this act should not apply to Mr. Tripe as the ordinary person would not consider an alpaca to be a regular farm animal in Ireland. As in Inspector of Taxes v Kiernan, the word ‘cattle’ was given the meaning an ordinary person would give it, instead of being labeled as including pigs, to benefit the state in receiving taxes from Kiernan.

The concept of noscitur a sociis, meaning, something is known by its associates, comes into play in examining the interpretation provision of this act, as ejusdem generis protects the legislation from being misinterpreted.

Ejusdem generis considers when a general word follows a number of specific words. The specific words will restrict the interpretation of the general words. For example, in the case of People (AG) v Kennedy, Black J stated that;

‘this principle requires frequently that a word or phrase or even a whole provision which, standing alone, has a clear meaning must be given a quite different meaning when viewed in the light of its context.’6

Section 5(1) of the Interpretation Act 2005 would have been a further aid in examining the interpretative scope of the legislation but excludes penal sanctions in its application. Mr. Tripe is being criminally prosecuted in this case, as he bares the responsibility of the inactions of his former employees in taking care of the animals. The death of the animals and the condition in which the live animals were in, allow this case to be considered criminal, which rules out use of the Interpretation Act 20057, and also forbids the interpreter from relying on the purpose of the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015, and focusing on the words of the act.

However, special rules do exist within the domain of statutory interpretation. These special rules cover legislation imposing criminal or tax liability. One must now consider in the case of Mr. Tripe; did he commit a criminal offence? Intentional animal cruelty, is considered by the DSPCA as:

‘often seen in association with other serious crimes including drug offences, gang activity, weapons violations, sexual assault and domestic violence and can be one of the most visible parts of an entire history of aggressive or antisocial behavior.’

It is challenging to argue that intentional animal abuse is not a criminal offence, but we must consider whether the abuse and mistreatment of these farm animals, was intentional on Mr. Tripe’s part. Mr. Tripe said that he had learned about alpacas on a recent trip to south America and had noted that they would require little daily attention. This again would advocate that Mr. Tripe did not purposely want to cause harm to the animals as he left them in the care of his farm laborers when his obligations to his second job became more pressing. However, on the part of his employees, one could argue that they had intent in causing the animals distress and mistreating them, as they left employment without giving notice for Mr. Tripe to find replacement farm labourers. Unfortunately for Mr. Tripe, the McAleenan case2 would again suggest that Mr. Tripe take the responsibility for the criminal actions of his former employees.

We are told that during Dail debates on the legislation, the Minister for Agriculture advocated that the legislation was intended to protect farm animals and to act in compliance with Ireland’s obligation to uphold EU law, specifically, Directive 98/58/EC, section 2 of which defines an animal as:

‘any animal (including fish, reptiles or amphibians) bred or kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur or for other farming purposes’

Mr. Tripe had learned that the soft fleece of the alpacas was highly sought material in the fashion industry. This soft fleece, the fur of the animals, allow Mr. Tripe’s alpacas do fall under this legislation.

Although Dail debates are not to be followed under Statutory Interpretation, one reason for this being, that the consultation of parliamentary debates will not produce a single verdict from parliament.3 The mention and consideration of EU legislation is primary in considering the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015, as EU law holds constitutional immunity over domestic law under Article 29 of the Irish Constitution, and in accordance with case law, for example, the case of Van Colson, which decided that all national courts of EU member states were required to interpret domestic law in conformity with EU Law, known as indirect effect. Kelly J in Byrne v Conroy stated that:

‘In the case of ambiguity in the legislation, the strict constructionist approach would have to give way to an interpretation which would comply with the State’s obligations in European Law’13

Ireland’s obligations to uphold and promote the wishes of the European Union, and indeed, to implement EU directives, contradict an interpretation of domestic law, and ensure that Mr. Tripe will be prosecuted under the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015, as EU Law takes precedence over domestic law. Ireland’s compliance with Directive 98/58/EC, has been expressed in the undertaking of mandatory inspections, as in article 6 (1) of the directive which states:

‘Member States shall ensure that inspections are carried out by the competent authority to check compliance with the provisions of this Directive. Such inspections may be carried out at the same time as checks for other purposes.’10

Therefore, Ireland must comply and adopt the directive as precedent in this case.

EU Directive 98/58/EC is more particular in its approach in describing and categorizing what a farm animal is, and is more purposive legislation than the domestic legislation. While the ordinary interpretation comes into play heavily when examining the domestic legislation, the EU Directive is stricter in its explanation and clearly defines which animals are protected under the directive.

Despite, the ordinary interpretation of the act and the fact that alpacas are not considered to be common farm animals in Ireland, Mr. Tripe will still be prosecuted under the act. However, Mr. Tripe is entitled to sue his former employees for damages, as they left employment without giving notice, which is a breach in their employment contracts with Mr. Tripe. However, if an employee has been working for an employer for less than 13 weeks and has no contractual obligation to give notice, then the employee is not obliged to give notice. We are unsure of the circumstances surrounding this in Mr. Tripe’s case.

To conclude, strictly speaking, Mr. Tripe should not be prosecuted under the terms of the Protection of Farm Animals Act 2015. However, because of the impact of EU legislation on domestic law, Mr. Tripe will be prosecuted and held responsible for the actions of his employees.

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