The maximum prison sentences for animal cruelty will increase from six months to five years, according to the new legislation given Royal assent on 29 April 2021.

The Bill follows a public consultation in 2017, in which more than 70% of people supported the proposals for tougher prison sentences for those guilty of animal cruelty offences. This followed a number of serious cases where courts have said they would have handed down longer sentences had they been available. Cases included dog fighting, cruelty towards domestic pets or gross neglect of farm animals.

A Bill to make provision about the mode of trial and the maximum penalty for certain offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was published in Parliament by Chris Loder MP in 5 February 2020. Backed by the government, it was fully endorsed by the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities.

Increased deterrence

Explaining the importance of the Bill, Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset said:

“I was shocked to learn that in 2019 the RSPCA investigated more than 130,700 complaints of cruelty against animals and secured 1,678 convictions. I believe tougher sentencing will act as a greater deterrent against the worst examples of animal cruelty.”

“We are renowned as a nation of animal lovers and Britain needs to lead the world on animal welfare legislation. Indeed I rescued my own dog Poppy; a Springer Spaniel, who was abandoned as a puppy at the roadside, and she is part of the inspiration for me introducing this Bill.”

In passing the Bill, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said:

“There is no place in this country for animal cruelty, which is why I am delighted the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is being introduced to Parliament to raise prison terms for the worst abusers. It is a crucial piece of legislation which will help deter criminals and will ensure robust and appropriate action is taken if they are found guilty.”

“I want to thank Chris Loder MP, and all those who have campaigned for this Bill, for introducing it today. The Government will continue to support it as it makes its way through Parliament.”

“This Bill builds on all the work this government is doing to raise the bar on animal welfare even further, including our forthcoming consultation on ending excessively long journeys for live animals and call for evidence on the welfare of primates as pets amongst others.”

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Support from animal welfare charities

This move was supported and welcomed by a range of animal welfare charities. Speaking on behalf of the RSPCA, Chief Executive Chris Sherwood said:

“We are pleased a new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is being introduced and hope it will be “third time lucky” for this proposed legislation following a couple of false starts last year.”

“We see horrendous acts of cruelty perpetrated on animals and have long campaigned for the current maximum six-month jail term to be increased to five years. The Bill has come so close to being enacted in the past – let’s not allow this important change to animal cruelty sentencing to slip through our hands.”

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 received agreement from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and is now an Act of Parliament (law) following Royal Assent on the 29 April 2021. The new law brings England and Wales in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland where convicted animal abusers can be jailed for up to five years.

“It has taken years of hard work to realise this – thank you to all involved. The campaign for our animals continues. Banning live exports and non-stunned slaughter next,” said Chris Loder after the new Bill passed into law.

What impact will the law have?

But what will the measures mean in real terms? Chris Sherwood explained further;

“Tougher sentences will act as a stronger deterrent to potential animal abusers and will help us in our aim to cancel out animal cruelty once and for all.”

“This reform is long overdue – for many years, the most violent and horrific abuse and cruelty received a maximum penalty of just a few months. We’re proud to have some of the best standards of animal welfare in the world but custodial sentences have long been letting us down.”

“Animals have been starved, shot, stabbed, beaten to death and drowned. At least now, in those cases that leave us heartbroken, our courts will be able to hand out sentences that truly reflect the severity of the crimes”

These sanction sentences are amongst the toughest sanctions for animal abuse in Europe and will be coming into force in 29 June of 2021, strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.

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