A seismic day for animal welfare in Britain: Maximum jail terms jump for worst offences

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New law provides courts with the opportunity to hand out much heftier sentences that are in line with other countries.
Image by Ulrike Leone

A campaign by animal welfare organisations in Britain has resulted in a major increase in the maximum sentence for the most serious animal cruelty offences.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act has completed its final reading in the House of Lords and has received Royal Assent, meaning sentences for animal cruelty will increase from a maximum of six months to five years.

The charity World Horse Welfare said it warmly welcomed the passage of the long-awaited bill.

It has been part of a coalition of leading animal welfare organisations that have been pushing Britain’s parliament to increase penalties.

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers hailed it as a seismic day for animal welfare.

“I just want to express a huge thank you to all our supporters who campaigned to help make this happen – you really did make the difference.

“We are delighted that the bill has finally become law – giving courts the opportunity to hand out much heftier sentences that are in line with other countries – and go some way towards acknowledging how heinous animal cruelty can be.

“Of course, we recognise that most equine offences are for neglect and do not receive prison sentences and whilst this bill is a huge step in the right direction, there is still so much more to achieve.

“This will include pushing hard for accessible registers of equine offenders so that investigators in any part of Great Britain will be able to immediately confirm if a person has received a ban on keeping animals.”

The coalition of welfare organisations – comprising the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, Compassion in World Farming, Dogs Trust, Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, UK Centre for Animal Law, and World Horse Welfare – was brought together by The League Against Cruel Sports and RSPCA in June 2019.

Members have been jointly campaigning to see maximum sentences for the worst crimes against animals increased from six months to five years, in line with sentencing policy across Europe and internationally.

The coalition, in a joint statement, said it had been nearly two years since members first went to Downing Street to call on Theresa May’s government to bring the bill back to parliament, and more than five years since it was first proposed by Anna Turley, the then Labour MP for the Redcar electorate.

“Our coalition, representing the interests of millions of animal lovers across the UK, was determined to bring about this momentous change in law that will act as a deterrent. We finally have a punishment that fits the crime. It is a huge and long-awaited win for animals and the public alike.

“We heartily thank Chris Loder MP and Lord Randall of Uxbridge for their excellent work in getting this bill into law, as well as the Government and politicians on all sides of both Houses of Parliament who have signalled their commitment to animals in this bill.”

Andy Knott, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Animals need us to speak up for them, and our close collaboration lent them a voice that was both compelling and deafening.

“We now have a meaningful deterrence to protect animals from wilful abuse or cruel sports such as dog-fighting.”

The chief executive of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Peter Laurie, said he was delighted the government had listened to the coalition.

“As a nation of animal lovers, the previous punishment was wholly inadequate.”

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “Our officers are faced with cases of the most unimaginable cruelty; from organised criminals making money from the suffering of animals, to pets starved, shot, stabbed, beaten to death and drowned.

“At least now, in those most shocking of cases, courts will be able to hand out sentences that truly reflect the severity of the crimes.”

Lord Randall of Uxbridge, former special adviser on the environment to then Prime Minister Theresa May, met with the coalition in June 2019, and has spearheaded the bill’s passage through the House of Lords.

“It is a much-needed measure that will now ensure that those who harm an animal by, for example, causing unnecessary suffering, mutilation or poisoning, face the full force of the law,” he says.

“I commend all of the charities involved for the weight and purpose that they brought to this campaign, to secure one of the most significant changes to animal welfare legislation since the Animal Welfare Act of 2006.”

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