New sentencing guidelines offer greater protection for animals

In a win for animals, judges across England and Wales now have greater powers to increase prison sentences for animal cruelty offences. This follows a new set of guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales which the animal charity League Against Cruel Sports has fed in to. Following a consultation last year on the guidelines, the council has accepted a number of revisions we suggested, giving greater protection to animals. Judges will now be able to treat serious animal cruelty offences, such as dog fighting and badger baiting, with the seriousness they deserve.

The Sentencing Council, an independent body, which sets guidelines for judges and magistrates to use when handing down sentences, last year proposed a new set of guidelines for animal cruelty offences. This followed the passage of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act which increased the legal maximum sentences for many animal cruelty offences to five years in prison from a pitiful six months; we played a key role in the passage of this act. The new guidelines however, did not propose to take full advantage of the law, instead the typical sentence for the most serious animal cruelty offences was set to around 18 months in prison. We responded firmly to this, urging the Sentencing Council to increase proposed sentences, and alter definitions to ensure serious cases of animal cruelty did not slip through the cracks and continue to receive the absurdly low sentences that they currently do.

In recognition of concerns raise by the League, other animal charities, legal professionals and members of the public, the new sentencing guidelines now go much further in reflecting the will of parliament. Those convicted of the most serious animal cruelty offences can now expect to receive a custodial sentence of between six months and three years six months, with a starting point of two years in jail. Particularly shocking offences may still result in a five year sentence. While we would prefer this to be even higher, this marks a significant improvement on previous proposals and offers animals greater protections than ever before.

The case last year of a North Wales Huntsman, and convicted badger baiter who, despite a history of animal abuse and animal cruelty convictions, received just a 22 week prison sentence, later reduced to a suspended sentence comes to mind. I certainly hope instances of such weak punishments for serious animal cruelty offences become a thing of the past following the latest sentencing guidelines.

You can read the summary of the consultation responses, including the League’s involvement here: https://www.sentencingcouncil....

In addition to the increase in proposed sentences, the Sentencing Council agreed with us, including quoting our response, that factors such as animal cruelty leading to significant financial gain should be an aggravating factor in sentencing. This opens up those who breed or sell animals for fighting or participate in betting on dog fighting to receive harsher sentences under new guidelines.

The sentencing council also agreed with us on the need to alter language which may have limited the inclusion of serious animal cruelty offences in higher categories of offences and thus limit the ability of judges to impose more severe sentences. This will ensure animal abusers who cause significant harm to animals will face the appropriate level of punishment.

As recognised by the sentencing council, the League has been at the forefront in strengthening deterrents for animal cruelty. Thanks to the ongoing support of our supporters, we have been able to influence guidelines to ensure those who commit animal cruelty receive the serious sentences that the crime warrants.

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