High Court Test Case on ‘Death Row Dogs’

On 14 April 2015 the full bench of the High Court heard an appeal challenging Knox City Council’s decision to destroy Izzy, a four year old Staffordshire Terrier. Izzy had been detained by the Council following attacks on other dogs in August 2012, May and June 2013 after Izzy and two other dogs had escaped from their owner’s yard. The High Court transcript can be found here.

The Council decided to destroy Izzy in October 2013, after representing to Izzy’s owner, Ms Tania Isbester, that it would not do so. Ms Isbester challenged the Council’s decision through the Victorian courts, claiming the Council’s decision makers were affected by apprehended bias, bad faith, did not consider whether Izzy should have instead been declared a “dangerous dog” and did not afford Ms Isbester procedural fairness, among other grounds.

The Victorian Court of Appeal upheld the Council’s decision in September 2014. Ms Isbester was granted leave to appeal that decision to the High Court on the basis the Council’s decision was affected by a conflict of interest. This is the first case regarding a local council’s decision to destroy an animal to reach the High Court and, although based on administrative law grounds, the case is likely to provide useful guidance on the procedural requirements local councils must follow when investigating and deciding penalties regarding dogs.

The crux of Ms Isbester’s argument is that Izzy did not receive a fair hearing by the Council when it was considering what action to take in response to Izzy’s involvement in the three attacks on other dogs, which involved two other Staffordshire Terriers owned by Ms Isbester, one of which had already been destroyed by the Council. The Council officer that had investigated those dog attacks and charged Ms Isbester was a member of the panel convened by the Council to hear the charges and decide the penalty.

Ms Isbester has argued before the Victorian Courts and the High Court that the Council’s investigator played an influential role in Magistrate’s Court proceedings brought against Ms Isbester as Izzy’s owner, and the Council’s decision to destroy Izzy. Ms Isbester’s legal representatives submitted that the participation of that investigating officer in the legal processes involving Ms Isbester and Izzy amounted to them acting as both accuser and judge, creating an apprehension of bias and a conflict of interest that affected the Council’s decision-making process.

Izzy has been detained by the Council since June 2013.

More on this topic can be found here.

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Mulesing

Mulesing is performed annually on over 20 million Australian Merino lambs. It involves taking a crescent-shaped slice of skin (5-7 cm) from either buttock (the ‘breach’) of a sheep, without anaesthetic, and results in abnormal behaviour for up to three days.

Despite industry’s promise to phase-out mulesing by 2010, many retailers throughout Europe have boycotted Australian wool due to overwhelming consumer concern.

More humane alternatives to surgical mulesing, such as intradermal injections prompting fleece to fall away from the breach (permanently) through a process of necrosis, are currently not receiving the support they require from Australia’s wool industry.


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