The validity of a charge brought against key defendants in the death of 16 horses aboard the Spirit of Tasmania has been argued in a Burnie court.
Lawyers for TT-Line, which owns the ferries, and Andrew Williams, who owned a number of the horses, appeared in the Burnie Magistrates Court on Wednesday for the first listed date of a hearing into the matter.
TT-Line lawyer Robert Taylor presented submissions to Magistrate Leanne Topfer ahead of evidence being heard and said a "fair reading" of the legislation meant some of the charges could not be applied to the company.
Mr Taylor said a distinction must be made between the horses being loosely transported in the hold of the ship or, as they were, transported within a vehicle, which was itself in the hold of the ship.
"None of these animals were loose in the hold of the Spirit of Tasmania," Mr Taylor said.
"They were contained in a vehicle."
Mr Taylor also said the regulations that inform the charges applied to a class of land-based vehicle such as trucks and trains, and therefore did not apply to a maritime vessel such as the Spirit of Tasmania.
Crown prosecutor Simon Nicholson refuted Mr Taylor's argument and said the regulations fell under animal welfare legislation and therefore could be applied "in the manner alleged by the prosecution".
Mr Nicholson said the legislation specifically referred to the transportation of a horse across Bass Strait.
"It can't be any clearer than that," Mr Nicholson said.
Mr Williams, a professional polo player, pleaded not guilty in October to one count of using a method of management reasonably likely to result in unreasonable and unjustifiable pain and suffering to animals, and 16 counts of transporting a horse across Bass Strait failing to ensure that the horse was individually stalled.
In November, TT-Line pleaded not guilty to one count of using a method of management reasonably likely to result in unreasonable and unjustifiable pain and suffering to the animal or animals in the group.
It has also pleaded not guilty to 28 counts of a person transporting a horse across Bass Strait failing to ensure that the horse was individually stalled.
Ms Topfer retired to consider the arguments and adjourned the matter until March 31 at 9.30am.