The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which will increase maximum custodial sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years in England, passed its Second Reading on Friday (23 October) and will now proceed to the committee stage for debate.
After much campaigning from charities and animal welfare advocates, who referred to the current maximum jail term of six months – (the lowest across Europe and North America – as an “unfunny joke”, Government pledged to reform the maximum sentence for those prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said, “The sentences available to English and Welsh courts dealing with serious offences of animal cruelty are inadequate.
“It’s time this changed and we had sentences available to our courts that better reflect the severity of the horrendous crimes we’re dealing with as well as acting as a deterrent to others.”
However, the Bill found itself in a limbo after the Parliament was suspended in September 2019, and fell again as a new Parliament was formed following the 2019 general election. Despite widespread support across parties, the Bill was seemingly forgotten about for a long time.
West Dorset Conservative MP Chris Loder finally introduced the Private Member’s Bill after welcoming Poppy, an injured springer spaniel he found abandoned on the roadside, into his family.
He said, “Despite legislation being in place, I was shocked to learn that in 2019 the RSPCA investigated more than 130,700 complaints of cruelty against animals and secured 1,678 convictions. I believe more stringent sentencing will act as a greater deterrent against animal cruelty.
“We are renowned as a nation of animal lovers and I believe Britain can take now the lead on global standards for animal welfare. I’m pleased to have the support of the RSPCA and for my Bill to contribute to raising these standards.”
A notable case of animal cruelty the RSPCA recently prosecuted was that of three men from Kent convicted for using their dogs to torture and kill wildlife. They all were jailed for four months; the RSPCA says that, if the maximum sentence was raised from six months to five years, then courts would have “more flexibility in these cases to impose a sentence that better reflects the severity of the crime”.
Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland have recently increased their maximum sentences to five years. Now that the Bill is back on track, it is hoped England may catch up soon.
Chris Sherwood added, “We’re thrilled that The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill has passed through this stage and that we’re one step closer to living in a country with better protection for our animals.
“We consider ourselves a nation of animal lovers and one of the leading countries when it comes to animal welfare, so it’s time the sentencing guidelines and the sentences imposed by courts reflected this.”
Images by RSPCA