Back in September, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced tougher sentences for animal cruelty in England; now he has launched the new draft Bill to turn that promise into reality, increasing the maximum sentences for animal cruelty in England from six months to five years. The draft was launched during Mr. Gove’s visit to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home’s iconic South London centre. 

The Government’s announcement was warmly welcomed by Battersea’s Chief Executive Claire Horton. The charity launched a campaign last February demanding harsher punishment for those who subject animals to horrible acts of cruelty. The current maximum, six months, is the lowest across Europe, the States and Australia.

It’s to help dogs like Justine that Battersea is so passionate about seeing five year sentences introduced. No animal deserves to be suffering such pain

“Battersea is greatly encouraged by the Government’s willingness to see sentences for the most shocking cases of animal cruelty increase from six months to five years and today’s DEFRA announcement takes a significant step in that direction,” she says. “Battersea is very much at the front line of animal welfare and it’s deeply distressing to see truly shocking cases of animal cruelty and neglect come through our doors.”

During his visit, Mr. Gove met one of the many dogs the new sentencing guidelines will hopefully protect: four-year-old stray Staffie Justine came into Battersea in a dreadful state, after somebody poured acid on her back. 

Claire added, “It’s to help dogs like Justine that Battersea is so passionate about seeing five year sentences introduced. No animal deserves to be suffering such pain. Justine is now frightened of everyone and everything. 

“The current maximum animal cruelty sentence of six months in England and Wales is neither a punishment nor a deterrent but Battersea believes today’s publication of a draft Bill could help to achieve both, and bring about some form of justice for dogs like Justine.”

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

Michael Ward, interim chief executive of the RSPCA, was just as pleased.

“It’s great news that the Government has committed to bringing in tougher sentences  in England and Wales. Sadly, every year, our inspectors are faced with sickening cases of animal abuse, cruelty and neglect,” he says.

“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.”

The new draft bill also sets out that the Government recognises that animals are sentient beings – something that had been rejected at first, leading to widespread protest and calls to ensure the recognition of animal sentience was enshrined in UK law.

With Magistrates courts only able to issue sentences of up to six months, the more serious cases will be heard at the Crown Court, which may increase timelines and therefore the time an animal is held

Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, was also pleased – although concerned that longer proceedings may result in long wait in kennels for the affected animals.

“We welcome this draft Bill recognising that animals are sentient beings whose welfare should be protected, now and post Brexit, and that cruelty against them should receive appropriate punishment,” she says. “We also ask that the government ensures the welfare of the animals involved is preserved whilst trial proceedings take place.

“It is often already many months until a case is resolved, with companion animals held in kennels until that time. With Magistrates courts only able to issue sentences of up to six months, the more serious cases will be heard at the Crown Court, which may increase timelines and therefore the time an animal is held. There is potentially a huge detrimental effect on the wellbeing of dogs in particular, kennelled for extended periods.”

Main image by RSPCA.

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