In all walks of life, on a quotidian basis, there are so many problems that can arise that can lead to litigation that it is useful for everyone to have a good understanding of the law as it affects their own particular activities. For beekeepers, this is essential; on the one hand they may find themselves as defendants – when their bees have become a nuisance, the cause of injury or even death to other animals or people, whilst on the other hand they might be plaintiffs if their bees have been destroyed deliberately or during legitimate agricultural practices, for example.
Determining blame is very complex as regards bees for it has to be decided as to whether they should be treated as ‘wild’ or ‘domesticated’ animals. Over the centuries defining the status of bees has been problematic not only for lawyers but also for scientists and beekeepers themselves. More often the conclusion is that they are neither; they are somewhere ‘in between’, their uniqueness in this respect making any problems that arise from beekeeping very difficult to resolve.
Whilst cases concerning negligence and nuisance take up a large section of the book, Noel Sweeney also takes a searching look at the law in relation to a beekeeper’s employees and matters concerning beekeeping as a business. Included, too, are the beekeeper’s responsibilities to the laws relating to control of bee diseases, honey standards and labelling, and the importation of bees.
A very interesting part of the book concerns swarms, the possession and ownership of, and the truth regarding whether a beekeeper can trespass in order to capture his swarm. Those beekeepers who have always held the long time belief that the law was always on their side may well be in for a surprise.
What strikes me particularly having read through all the cases is the unwillingness of both plaintiffs and defendants to accept a court’s initial ruling, wanting to go to appeal after appeal. Surprisingly, the judge doesn’t always agree with the jury, and appeals can lead to three or more successive judges having different opinions regarding a case.
The author adds a fascinating historical note to the book showing that animals in the past were taken to court, tried and sentenced for any misdemeanour on their part. This included bees, one example being in 864 when the Council of Worms decreed that bees which had killed a man should be ‘suffocated in the hive before they could make any more honey’ – the bees being demonically tainted.
The above is a small taste of what this fascinating book has to offer. The work has been the result of an enormous amount of research by a legal expert; it is unique in what it provides for the reader and will undoubtedly become a classic on the subject of bees and the law. It is an understatement to say that the book should be in the hands of all beekeepers. It should be thoroughly read and digested so that the owners of bees will be fully aware of their responsibilities and, if litigation should ever occur, the difficulties which might arise. It is not a difficult read as regards its structure and use of language, but it nevertheless needs much concentration on the part of the reader. The descriptions of incidents, whilst traumatic for those involved, show at times the absurdity of human behaviour and occasionally, a touch of incredulity as well as humour.
On an optimistic note, we learn that courts often favour bees when cases involving them arise – because they are seen as being very useful and important creatures! They are even more favourable towards beekeepers if they have been seen to act in a caring and neighbourly way (a reference here was made to the actions of the Good Samaritan).
The Beekeepers Quarterly