UK government moves to recognise animal sentience

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A draft Bill to recognise animals as sentient beings when formulating policy has been published by the British government.

The bill would also increase sentences for animal cruelty and also recognise animal sentience in domestic law. RSPCA figures show that just 6.5 percent of people it prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act this year received an immediate prison sentence.

The new law will increase the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty tenfold, from six months to five years, in England and Wales.

Responding to the announcement on Tuesday by Michael Gove, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, British Veterinary Association President John Fishwick said: “Vets have been clear in our calls that the duty on the state to have due regard for animal welfare – as captured in Article 13 of the EU Lisbon Treaty – must be enshrined in UK law.

“This Bill captures the substantive obligation that Article 13 currently puts on the national government to consider animal welfare, as well as explicitly recognising animals as sentient beings.

“Today’s draft Bill lays out in black and white the Government making good on its promises, to ensure the UK remains a global leader in animal welfare post-Brexit.”

The BVA has campaigned for Article 13 at public, industry and government level. “This is a real win at national level for the veterinary professions,” Fishwick said.

One of the horses involved in the Somerset case. Photo: RSPCA
A horse taken into care by the SPCA. © RSPCA

RSPCA interim chief executive Michael Ward said it was great news that the Government has committed to bringing in tougher sentences in England and Wales.

“The new draft bill also sets out that the Government recognises that animals are sentient beings that have the capacity to feel joy and pleasure, as well as pain and suffering, and that the Government will take this into account when formulating new policy,” Ward said.

“This year our officers have seen shocking cases of horses being hit repeatedly with wood, pets being beaten to death by their owners, and dogs being kept in cold, concrete pens coated in their own filth.

“As the cruelty continues to shock us, so too do the sentences handed out to such cold-hearted and cruel individuals. Of the 40 people who received immediate jail terms in RSPCA prosecutions this year so far, just 14 were given sentences towards the upper limit of six months.”

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