Animal welfare campaigners lose High Court challenge over ‘hidden camera’ laws

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In a joint judgment, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justice Patrick Keane said discussions of animal welfare are a “legitimate matter of governmental and political interest and a matter in respect of which people may seek to influence the government”, but the laws were not an impermissible restriction on the implied liberty.

They said the provisions contributed to the legitimate aim of preventing or deterring “acts of trespass”.

While the majority of the court answered a more specific question about the validity of the laws, some justices considered how the law might apply to the media.

Judge Michelle Gordon said the provisions would ‘for example, prevent the media from reporting on images that reveal unlawful conduct taking place in a slaughterhouse or even unlawful conduct by the government’ if given to them by an intruder . To that extent, Gordon said, the laws would be invalid.

In a dissenting judgment, Justice Stephen Gageler said the laws operated without discrimination and imposed an impermissible burden on the implied freedom of political communication. Judge Jacqueline Gleeson agreed.

Judge James Edelman said Delforce had been “involved in numerous incidents of covert recording of agricultural activities involving considerable suffering of non-human animals”, and some of the footage shown in court “reveals shocking animal cruelty non-human”. However, it was not established in court that these practices were illegal.

This meant that the challenge in this case was limited to the circumstances in which Farm Transparency Project published images of lawful activities. Judge Simon Steward agreed that the laws were valid.

Edelman said the court was not asked and did not consider the broader application of the laws, such as a newspaper publishing a smartphone video taken by a gatecrasher at a private party that recorded MPs from the government discussing “an illegal business”.

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