A new bill that will introduce tougher prison sentences for the worst animal cruelty offences in England and Wales has been welcomed by the charity World Horse Welfare.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced this week that The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will be introduced to parliament.
It means those who commit the worst animal cruelty offences could face up to five years in prison, a significant increase from the current maximum of six months.
“We are encouraged that the Government has listened to calls from the public and the animal welfare sector to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences,” the charity’s chief executive, Roly Owers, said.
“This will ensure that the worst animal abusers receive tougher and more proportionate sentences, and we urge Parliament to ensure that this Bill passes through quickly.
“Longer prison sentences are such an important element of protecting animal welfare from the worst acts of abuse, but we are clear that this is only the first step needed to better protect our national herd.
“Under current sentencing guidelines, the majority of equine cases that are prosecuted do not meet the requirements for a prison sentence – those that do include cases where there has been a deliberate attempt to cause suffering or there is ill-treatment in a commercial context.
“It is vital that these sentencing guidelines are reviewed, and we encourage the Sentencing Council to do this once the proposed bill passes into law.”
Owers continued: “Our view is that we must also have tough, enforceable bans to safeguard the welfare of equines, and other animals, and prevent repeat offenders.
“To be effective it is critical that enforcement agencies, most especially local authorities, enforce them, and this can only be done through a joined-up approach.
“We believe this can best be achieved through a simple animal offender register and we would welcome UK Government support for further research on how this could be best implemented.”
The bill follows a public consultation in 2018, in which more than 70% of people supported the proposals for tougher prison sentences. It means the courts will be able to take a tougher approach to cases such as gross neglect of equines kept by a commercial owner, such as a dealer.
The bill will be introduced into the House of Commons, before moving through to the House of Lords. If passed, it will come into effect in two months after it receives Royal Assent.
The bill, if passed, will lock in place some of the toughest sanctions in Europe.
Gove says there is no place in the country for animal cruelty.
“That is why I want to make sure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law.
“Our new bill sends a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, with the maximum five-year sentence one of the toughest punishments in Europe.
“I am committed to making our country the best place in the world for the care and protection of animals.”
The RSPCA received 1,175,193 calls to its 24-hour cruelty hotline in 2018, with a call every 27 seconds. There have also been several cases in the last few years in which the courts said they would have handed down longer sentences had they been available.
Recent examples include a case when a man trained dogs to ruthlessly torture other animals, including trapping a fox and a terrier dog in a cage to brutally attack each other.
Animal Welfare Minister David Rutley says the increased maximum sentences will act as a serious deterrent against cruelty and neglect in the future.
“This step builds on recent positive action we have taken to protect animals, including plans to ban third-party puppy and kitten sales and banning the use of wild animals in circuses.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood says the reform is long overdue.
“Those responsible for extreme cruelty towards animals or those criminal gangs involved in organised animal crime will now face the tough justice they deserve.
“We need to better protect our animals and the RSPCA hopes that this new bill will give courts the powers they need to punish those responsible for the most unimaginable cruelty to animals.
“We also believe this will act as a much stronger deterrent to others and help us stamp out animal cruelty once and for all.”
The chief executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Claire Horton, describes the introduction of the bill as a landmark achievement, which will make a profound difference to dogs and cats in England and Wales.
“We, and many other rescue centres, see shocking cases of cruelty and neglect come through our gates and there are many more animals that are dumped and don’t even make it off the streets.
“Research shows that tougher prison sentences act as a deterrent to would-be criminals, so today’s announcement should prevent the suffering of many animals in the future.”
The new bill will complement Finn’s Law, which came into effect earlier this month and provides increased protection for service dogs and horses.
It was named after a German shepherd named Finn, a police dog stabbed in the head and chest in 2016 while trying to catch a man suspected of robbing a taxi driver at gunpoint.
Finn’s handler, Constable David Wardell, said: “I’ve always been hugely supportive of animal welfare. Hence my campaign for #Finnslaw after our incident.
“I was also keen to support the government’s call for increased sentencing for all animal welfare cases so that we can send out the important message that our animals matter.”
“To hear the announcement today that the government is set to increase maximum sentences, #FinnsLawPart2, tenfold is fantastic news and will, of course, ensure that all animals, including our amazing service animals, will have the best protections available in law.
“I thank the public for their amazing support.”