Are Cats allowed in Court?

Are Cats allowed in Court?

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Photo from the Essex Chronicle

Introduction

The Essex Chronicle updated us on 3rd February 2016 about the tale of Aiden Wiltshire, a 72 year old who is before Chelmsford Crown Court for two counts of stalking between August 2013 and April 2015.

What grabbed the headlines here was the fact that Mr Wiltshire didn’t appear in the dock alone. Alongside him was trusty companion Taylor, his furry feline friend.

The Judge (HHJ Goldstaub) permitted Taylor to remain having heard that “Mr Wiltshire is someone who suffers with health issues and is emotionally supported by his cat. It is a crutch which he relies on. It’s in a basket and not roaming free“.

It was not recorded whether Taylor, a handsome black male cat, objected to being referred to as ‘it’, although he was certainly paying attention – during the hearing “he poked his head out of the top of a shopping trolley where the pensioner stroked his head for “emotional support”.

 

Animals and the Courts

Proving that the internet is generally ruled by cats, Mr Wilthsire and Taylor took Twitter by storm. The general view is that the Judge, in giving permission for Taylor to join his human, took a sensible and humane approach to a problem.

But it does raise the question of why permission was needed, what is it that prohibits animals from coming into Court?

There is no law that regulates animals in Court. A Crown Court is administered by HM Courts & Tribunals Service, recently there has been some controversy after the MoJ announced a further programme of Court closures for example.

Guide dogs are welcome in any Court (see here for an example) for obvious reasons. This may be a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 (which is outside of our areas of expertise).

The general view would be that other animals are not allowed, although if asked, it is hard to point to a specific provision that bans them.

It is probably down to the fact that a Judge has an inherent jurisdiction to control proceedings in his or her Court, and most feel that it is inappropriate to have an animal around.

A public authority has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate someone who has a service animal, but a Court would probably not fall within the definition (Sch 19).

In any event, it is doubtful that this was in issue in Taylor’s case, and it would come down (as it so often does with arrangements relating to the case) to the discretion of the Judge. Here, the Judge made a sensible, and sensitive, decision to allow the cat to stay in the bag in the dock, but it is probably not a legal decision as such.

 

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Damn it, RF, give us a link!

    Dan, If the charge had been dealing in Miau-miau could Taylor have been an expert witness?

  2. Sorry, I tried to post a link to the esteemed journal Legal Cheek, which had covered a US hearing where an assistance horse had misbehaved.

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