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Hong Kong: Court of Appeal Declines to Issue Sentencing Guidelines for Animal Cruelty Cases

(Apr. 30, 2019) In a judgment dated April 4, 2019, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal turned down a Department of Justice prosecutor’s request to increase punishments for an animal abuser and declined to issue sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty cases. (Chris Lau, Punishment for Animal Abuse Should Not Be Strengthened Say Hong Kong Judges, As They Reject Appeal for Tougher Sentence in Case Involving Dead Dog , SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST (Apr. 4, 2019); 律政司司長 訴 馮志凱 (04/04/2019, CAAR4/2017) [2019] HKCA 391, LEGAL REFERENCE SYSTEM (in Chinese).)
Hong Kong’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance prohibits and punishes a number of offenses involving cruelty to animals, including cruelly beating, kicking, or ill-treating any animal. For any of those offenses, a person is punishable on summary conviction by a fine of HK$200,000 (about US$25,500) and imprisonment for three years. ( Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 169) § 3, Hong Kong E-Legislation website.) The term “animals” for purposes of the Ordinance includes not only household pets, but also any other mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, or other vertebrate or invertebrate, whether wild or tame. ( Id. § 2.)
In the appeal to the Court of Appeal of the High Court of Hong Kong, the Department of Justice pressed for a tougher sentence for a man who had been convicted of kicking and punching a dog in his care. The appeal judges pointed out that the increase in penalties had already been reflected in 2006, when the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance was revised, with the prior maximum punishment of six months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$5,000 (about US$637) raised to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000. ([2019] HKCA 391 . )
According to the appeal judges, it is inappropriate and impossible to set up any sentencing guidelines for crimes of cruelty to animals, which must be decided case by case. The judges declined to consider the relevant penalties and sentencing guidelines of other jurisdictions, saying “the way in which other jurisdictions deal with animal abuse is of course affected by their culture, atmosphere, and the awareness the public directed to animal protections.” According to the Court, whether the current Ordinance of Hong Kong ought to be reviewed in light of the practices of other jurisdictions is a question to be considered by the government and the Legislative Council. The Court, however, could only approach the matter in accordance with the provisions of the current Ordinance. ( Id. )
The government of Hong Kong is considering an update to the existing legislation on animal welfare that, according to the Chief Executive’s recent policy address, would raise the penalties for acts of cruelty to animals. (The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the People’s Republic of China, The Chief Executive’s 2018 Policy Address para. 283.)

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