Sentencing Act comes into force increasing maximum jail terms for animal abusers to five years

People who abuse animals can now face a maximum sentence of five years in prison as the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act comes into effect.

The landmark legislation kicked in this week (Tuesday 29 June) after completing its final Government stage and passing into law in April 2021.

After years of campaigning, the RSPCA – the principal investigator of animal neglect, cruelty and serious organised animal crime in England and Wales – is celebrating this ‘milestone’.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “This is a landmark day for animals and animal welfare in England and Wales. For almost 200 years the RSPCA has been investigating animal cruelty and rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals. While we’ve seen vast changes in the way we keep animals during that time, as well as huge advances in legislation to better protect animal welfare, our sentences for animal abusers have long been letting our animals down.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve now reached this milestone moment and that courts will now have more flexibility to hand out sentences that better reflect the severity of the crimes they are dealing with and we hope the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act will act as a greater deterrent and help us cancel out cruelty once and for all.”

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 increases the maximum sentencing under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 from six months to five years for cruelty and fighting offences. It comes into effect in both England and Wales on the same day, The new law brings us in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland where convicted animal abusers can be jailed for up to five years.

Chris added: “The reform is long overdue. For years, those responsible for the most horrific, violent and unimaginable cruelty to animals have been punished with just a few short months in prison, less than they might get for fly tipping. In recent weeks our officers have been called out to investigate shocking cases, for example dogs who have been beaten to death and dumped on the side of the road like rubbish, horses left with hooves so overgrown they can’t walk, and pets who have starved to death in filthy conditions.

“At least going forward our courts will be able to hand out sentences in animal cruelty cases that truly reflect the severity of the crimes. I’d like to thank all of the politicians who supported this Bill and I’d also like to congratulate everyone – from members of the public to organisations involved in the campaign – on this victory; it belongs to us all and shows what can be achieved when we all work together.”

In 2017, the UK Government pledged to reform the maximum sentence for those prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act, receiving support from cross-party politicians. This bill was brought forward by MP Chris Loder as a Private Members’ Bill in June 2019.