This case dealt with animal health and welfare. Mr. and Mrs. Jonson had a farm on which they grazed cattle. One day their land became flooded because of bad weather and the tide on the nearby River. At the extreme point the cattle and calves on the farm had their heads barely above water, others swimming along the fence line. Eventually all survived but their health and lives had been at risk. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, taking the view that the flooding was predictable, and that Mr. and Mrs. Jonson had exposed their cattle and calves to needless risk, prosecuted them for five offences against the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were convicted and appealed to this court, stating that the flooding did not become reasonably foreseeable until the afternoon when they were both away from the property, and when they were unable to take any steps.
The court analyzed, among others, the legal requirement of foreseeability of the events. It emphasized that strict liability was not to be understood literally. It was blameworthiness in particular circumstances. In issue was not the exceptional case but what could be anticipated as a ‘substantial probability’. Steps could not be taken until the need was known. Acts or omissions resting on a mistaken belief could still be excusable if both belief and response were reasonable.
The court concluded that as farmers, whose stock was vulnerable to flooding, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson needed to be able to monitor conditions and needed to be able to move their stock at short notice; and if they could not do that themselves, they needed to engage somebody who could. They could not assume that their stock would fend for themselves. Nature never behaved completely predictably and extremes had to be anticipated and catered for. Mr. and Mrs. Jonson’s cattle and calves were left needlessly exposed. Their appeal was therefore dismissed. Mrs. Jonson, however, in contrast to Mr Jonson, had not gone to work that day, so she played a minor role compared to Mr. Johnson. Her fine was therefore reduced.