Insights into litigation, sports law, media and legal culture

Reading between the lines? How live baiting is treated in greyhound racing rules

It’s widely known that if you give a dog a live animal to kill, on occasion I’ve heard of cats being used – this makes the dog more keener and makes it perform better. It’s because they’ve had the taste of blood…The use of live bait – in this case rabbits – is against the law in Ireland and the UK. Blooding is, in fact, an imprisonable offence. Nevertheless, blooding is a common training technique and in rural areas in Ireland, the use of live lures is an open secret.”

If you substitute ‘Australia’ for ‘Ireland and the UK’, this quote likely resonates for viewers of the ABC Four Corners program on 16 February 2015. Its source? A 1993 BBC 2 undercover investigation called “On the Line. From Cradle to Grave”. Its impact was lasting and led to the formation of lobby groups such as Greyhound Action.

In Australia, greyhound ‘coursing’, popular in the 19th century, was the precursor to greyhound racing. The practice, with its origins in the United Kingdom, involved two dogs competing to chase a hare. Often the hare won by slipping away. Often it lost and was killed.

The Shire of Melton heritage study lists the Plumpton Hare Enclosure as of historical significance. This is because it is the most substantial surviving remnant of the three hare enclosures built by Sir WJ Clarke in Diggers Rest as part of his pioneering of the sport of greyhound coursing in Australia. The inaugural ‘St Leger Stakes’ was held there on 14 May 1874, near the Railway Station. Hares there were “plentiful, large framed and stout runners. The ground was dry and firm, good going for the 400 spectators, who were quiet and orderly. The courses were easier to predict because the hares tended to run north, striving to escape into the rough ground bordering Jacksons Creek.” (Clarke, M, Clarke of Rupertswood 1831-1897: The Life and Times of William John Clarke First Baronet of Rupertswood, (Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 1995), pp. 74-75, cited in Shire of Melton Heritage Study – Volume 3)

According to an interesting blog post from Scratching Sydney’s Surface, mechanical lures were introduced to NSW in 1927, leading to a vast increase in the popularity of the sport amongst working classes.

In light of its history as a bloodsport, notwithstanding the adoption of mechanical lures, the offences against live baiting in the rules of greyhound racing are not so easily found and, once found, the language used is primarily oblique. Why so shy?

How do the rules of Victorian greyhound racing work?

The Racing Act 1958 (Vic.) is the ultimate source governing greyhound racing in Victoria. It is divided into sections covering thoroughbred racing and harness racing. Greyhound racing then follows. There are then Local Rules created pursuant to the Act. These incorporate the Greyhounds Australasia Rules (GAR), amongst other things.

The rules obviously need to govern how the sport is administered, how it is regulated, betting, greyhound welfare and so on. It is notable, however, that highlighted integrity issues primarily concern the condition of the greyhounds (to ensure they are fit and proper to race), the use of prohibited substances, and so on. This approach is largely consistent with rules governing thoroughbred racing and harness racing. It is only buried in the fine print, in a mostly oblique fashion, that one finds a nod to the blood sport heritage of greyhound racing.

For example, GAR R86(ad) makes it an offence for someone, unless authorized, to keep or bring onto a racecourse or trial track or a surrounding area, a live animal other than a greyhound. GAR (af) also makes it an offence to use an animal for any purpose connected with greyhound racing in an improper manner. Such coded language hardly clarifies that the purpose of these rules is to prevent small animals from being used as live lures or killed by greyhounds.

So too, rule 18.4 of the Local Rules provides that no live animal other than a greyhound shall be used or caused to be used, in any manner on any Greyhound Trial Track or surrounding area as defined by the Board.

It is only when one comes to rule 18.5 that the penny drops. For the first time, there is an express prohibition that: “no person shall use or cause to be used any live animal as a lure for greyhounds or for the exciting of greyhounds on any Greyhound Trial Track or any other location”.

Contrast the genteel language used in the greyhound rules of racing to that used in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic.). Section 13 of that Act, for instance, bluntly makes it an offence to use an animal as a lure or kill for the purpose of blooding greyhounds or in connexion with the training and racing of any coursing dog.

How will disciplinary proceedings work?

The GRV Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board (GRV RADB), a body established under the Racing Act, will hear charges brought in relation to live baiting. Partly, this is because they are of such a serious nature the Stewards would likely refer the charges to it anyway.

Further, the use of animals as live lures (breach of rule 18.5) is classified as a Serious Offence. This means accused offenders will move ‘straight to go’ and avoid an initial hearing before Stewards. In the event of an adverse outcome, there is a review right to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. In the meantime, pending such a hearing, there are broad powers to suspend licences and prevent accused persons from competing in the sport (see GAR R92(5)).  The media has reported that these suspensions are already in train.

Is GRV RADB like a court?

In a previous post, Four Corners racing scandal: a court of opinion is not a court of law, I explain the challenges of adducing evidence which has been illegally or improperly obtained in criminal proceedings such as those under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic.). The surveillance footage supplied to the ABC by Animals Australia or Animals Liberation Queensland might fit into that category. There is some inconsistency in relation to how disciplinary proceedings are meant to work, depending on whether you are reading GAR (the Australasian rules) or the Local Rules / Racing Act. GAR treats the hearings as very informal, private hearings without legal representation. The Local Rules / Racing Act offer more protections.

In the event of inconsistency, the Local Rules / Racing Act take priority. The effect is that:

  • legal representation is permitted;
  • the hearing may be conducted in private;
  • GRV RADB must give reasons;
  • natural justice must be supplied; and
  • GRV RADB can otherwise regulate its own procedure: see section 83N of the Racing Act.

There is no requirement that the rules of evidence apply to such hearings. Further, GAR R92 expressly states that inquiries are “not bound by formal Rules and practices as to evidence”. Based on the way these disciplinary bodies tend to operate, there is likely to be considerable latitude about the evidence to be presented.

Does this mean the surveillance footage can be used as evidence?

It is not for me to say. However, the procedures are certainly not as strict as in a court of law. The members of GRV RADB will exercise their discretion when considering this question, having regard to things like the nature and seriousness of the offence (see GAR R92(4)). It follows that there is a genuine prospect that some persons identified on video footage as having participated in live baiting may not be charged with a criminal offence, but will be banned from the sport by GRV RADB.

UPDATE: Since writing this post I have also located the 2014 GRV Animal Welfare Guidelines which recommend a minimum 10 year disqualification period for any person found guilty of a live baiting offence under section 13 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (Vic.).  Note that this is less than the ‘life ban’ referred to in recent media comment, although it might have that effect for some.  Note also that this recommendation appears contingent on a guilty finding under the criminal standard.

It is further stated:

The impact of such behavior on the Industry is significant, and therefore any registered persons found guilty of such an act will be liable to an offence under GAR 86 (q), GAR 86 (ad) and/or GAR 86 (af).” [GAR 86 (q)  provides that it is an offence if a person commits or omits to do any act or engages in conduct which is in any way detrimental or prejudicial to the interest, welfare, image, control or promotion of greyhound racing.]

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