The RSPCA is thrilled that the Animal Welfare (sentencing) Bill, brought forward by Chris Loder MP, is one step closer to increasing the maximum sentence for the worst animal abusers.
On Friday (23 October), the Second Reading of the Bill was completed, and it’ll now proceed to the committee stage for debate. In 2017, the government pledged to reform the maximum sentence for those prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act, increasing maximum prison sentences from six months to five years.
During the three years since that announcement, immediate custodial sentences were imposed on 132 individuals in RSPCA cases and more than half of those (73) received sentences of more than 17 weeks, close to the six-month ceiling under the Animal Welfare Act.
If the maximum sentence was raised from six months to five years, then courts would have more flexibility in these cases to impose a sentence that better reflects the severity of the crime.
England and Wales currently have some of the lowest sentences for animal welfare offences in the world. Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland have recently increased them maximum sentences to five years and the RSPCA wants to see the sentences here brought in line.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “The sentences available to English and Welsh courts dealing with serious offences of animal cruelty are inadequate. Despite being one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to animal welfare, we’re trailing behind other parts of the UK and the rest of Europe with sentencing.
“It’s time this changed, and we had sentences available to our courts that better reflect the severity of the horrendous crimes we’re dealing with as well as acting as a deterrent to others.”
The charity wants courts to have more flexibility in imposing harsher sentences on those who commit the most serious crimes and acts against animals.
West Dorset Conservative MP Chris Loder introduced the Private Member’s Bill after welcoming Poppy, an injured Springer Spaniel he found abandoned by the roadside into his family.
The RSPCA has been working with him to lobby MPs for support for the Bill.
Chris Loder MP said: “Despite legislation being in place, 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 more stringent sentencing will act as a greater deterrent against animal cruelty.
“We are renowned as a nation of animal lovers and I believe Britain can now take the lead on global standards for animal welfare. I’m pleased to have the support of the RSPCA and for my Bill to contribute to raising these standards.”
Chris Sherwood added: “We’re thrilled that The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill has passed through this stage and that we’re one step closer to living in a country with better protection for our animals. We consider ourselves a nation of animal lovers and one of the leading countries when it comes to animal welfare, so it’s time the sentencing guidelines and the sentences imposed by courts reflected this.”