Environment secretary Michael Gove has announced a new bill to enable tougher prison sentences for the worst animal abusers and introduced it to Parliament yesterday (Tuesday 25 June).
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill means that animal abusers could face up to five years in prison, a significant increase from the current maximum sentence of six months. This will make it one of the toughest sanctions in Europe.
The Bill follows a public consultation last year, 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 dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, or gross neglect of farm animals.
Gove said: “There is no place in this 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 their 24-hour cruelty hotline in 2018 with a call every 27 seconds.
There have also been a number of 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 torture other animals, including trapping a fox and a terrier dog in a cage to attack each other.
Animal welfare minister, David Rutley, added: “These 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.”
Claire Horton, chief executive of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, said: “The introduction of this bill is 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.”
Today’s announcement complements 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.
If passed into law, today’s Bill means that someone who attacks a police dog could face a sentence of five years in prison.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) 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.