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ADO action for laboratory rabbits

24 April 2020

World Day for Laboratory Animals

On World Day for Laboratory Animals 2020, we reflected on how well the law can protect these animals - or NOT, as we recently discovered.


These animals are the invisible of the invisible - born, caged, used, killed and disposed of in ultra-secure laboratories. That's why we recently leapt at the chance to represent clients who wanted to take legal action to rescue several rabbits used in research laboratories in NSW.

Our clients had tried to persuade researchers to rehome the rabbits who survived the research, rather than kill them. Under clause 3.4.2 of the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 2013, rehoming surviving animals should be considered ‘wherever possible’.

The researchers refused so our clients made a formal complaint to the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI). After several months this was dismissed and the DPI refused to release crucial information we sought unless we took legal proceedings in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Our clients were determined to save the surviving rabbits, so on their behalf we applied for review of the DPI’s decision and represented them in the Tribunal. The matter was listed during the worst of the terrible 2020 summer bushfires. Despite this our volunteer lawyers pressed ahead for the laboratory rabbits, travelling interstate through still smouldering burnt-out areas to get to the proceedings in Sydney to argue that they be saved and rehomed.

To the utter dismay of our clients and volunteer lawyers, the DPI blindsided everyone by announcing through its lawyer at the first hearing that the information they had withheld during the complaint process meant that the application for review could not proceed!

We didn’t give up that easily. We sought and obtained another hearing to argue why the Tribunal could hear the matter. We also secured a commitment from the DPI that no rabbits would be killed before the next hearing. Ultimately, however, while the Tribunal agreed with our argument that it had jurisdiction over some of the rabbits if they were still alive, sadly none were, so we had no choice but to discontinue.

This case highlights how animal research is shrouded in secrecy and how the legal avenues supposedly ensuring transparency and accountability are too easily circumvented. Transparency would be an important first step in raising awareness about animal research. It is also vital to meaningful enforcement of animal research laws and to providing those animals who do survive a chance at life outside the lab.

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