Animal abusers could face up to five years in jail, under a new bill announced by Defra this week.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 26 June, following years of campaigning from the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities.
Under the new bill, the maximum sentence will be increased from six months to five years – better reflecting the severity of cruelty cases seen in England and Wales and bringing us in line with Northern Ireland and other European countries where convicted animal abusers can be jailed for up to five years.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “This reform is long overdue. Those responsible for extreme cruelty towards animals or those criminal gangs involved in organised animal crime, such as dog fighting or badger baiting, will now face the tough justice they deserve.
“The current maximum sentence of six months neither reflects the severity of some of the cruelty we witness on a daily basis nor does it act as a deterrent. Even if magistrates and judges impose the maximum sentence – six months in prison – offenders will often serve just a few weeks before being released. As a nation that prides itself on its love of animals, this is simply not acceptable.”
Dogs Trust also welcome the announcement, with Veterinary Director Paula Boyden commenting: “We whole-heartedly welcome this measure being brought forward, as we continue our fight to tackle animal cruelty – an increase from the six-month maximum sentence is long overdue and much-needed to deter offenders.
“We also hope the government will guarantee the welfare of animals involved in cruelty cases while trial proceedings take place is considered. There is potentially a hugely detrimental effect on the wellbeing of dogs held in kennels for extended periods during long-running cases.”
The RSPCA and 10 other animal welfare charities hosted a roundtable discussion at Number 10 on Monday 24 June calling on the UK government to fulfil its promise to increase the maximum sentence to more than 18 months after Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made the promise.
Lord Randall, the Prime Minister’s environment advisor, chaired the meeting, which was also attended by Inspector Graham Hammond and two-year old terrier, Jet, who was shot four times in the head by the ex-boyfriend of his previous owner and left for dead.
The UK’s largest cat charity, Cats Protection has also welcomed the new bill who said the announcement was good news for feline welfare in the UK.
James Yeates, Cats Protection’s Chief Executive said: “Every week we hear of stories where cats and other animals, have been subjected to horrific cruelty. This directly causes severe suffering and often lifelong physical injuries or psychological problems. And sadly, we hear of many cases where cats have died after suffering appalling acts of cruelty.
“We very much welcome this announcement which is an important step in ensuring the UK is one of the world leaders on animal welfare issues.”
Chris Sherwood, RSPCA chief executive added: “It’s a sad reality that, in England, you could face a longer prison sentence for fly tipping than for brutally beating an animal to death. We need to better protect our animals and the RSPCA hopes this new Animal Welfare (sentencing) Bill will give courts the powers they need to punish those responsible for the most unimaginable cruelty to innocent, defenceless animals.
“We also believe this would act as a much stronger deterrent to other pet owners and hopefully help us stamp out animal cruelty once and for all.”