Pre-World War I Animal Cruelty Sentencing Needs Urgent Review

106 years ago, Parliament enacted the Protection of Animals Act, which banned various forms of cruelty to animals. The Act imposed a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment on those found guilty.

In the time since, a lot has happened: two World Wars, women’s suffrage, the creation of television and the internet. The world has moved on a lot. And yet something remains the same: a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment for animal cruelty offences.

At the League Against Cruel Sports, we see a lot of appalling animal cruelty. We have got to know dogs rescued from fighting, who have found loving homes, but still carry the scars of their past. We know the horrendous cruelty that humans can inflict on animals, and that is why we believe the Government needs to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty.

We are not alone in this belief. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have released an excellent report, outlining current sentencing and providing some heart-breaking examples of animals they’ve taken in. The RSPCA has conducted a poll showing seven out of ten people want the Government to increase sentences for animal cruelty. The cross-party Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee in its report on domestic pet welfare stated that the maximum sentence should be increased to five years imprisonment.

And two MPs have also taken up the mantle. Kevin Foster (Conservative MP from Torbay) and Anna Turley (Labour MP for Redcar) have both tabled pieces of legislation to increase sentencing for, in Kevin’s bill, animal fighting and, in Anna’s bill, animal cruelty. The Lib Dems have also supported calls for increased sentencing. It is truly heartening to see so much support from all sides of the political spectrum.

Internationally, England and Wales have fallen further and further behind. Battersea’s report looked at 100 jurisdictions, and found that 54% can impose a prison sentence of 3 years of more, 34% can impose a sentence of 5 years, and 8% allow a sentence of 5 years or more. We don’t even need to look too far afield to see how these penalties can be increased. Following a horrific case of animal cruelty in Northern Ireland, where those responsible received suspended sentences, public pressure forced a legislation change. The Northern Ireland Assembly introduced a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment for animal cruelty. In Scotland, the current maximum sentence stands at one year.

Increasing the maximum sentence will not be a silver bullet. We do not want to see a five year sentence for every animal cruelty offence. Animal abuse can be complicated and courts will need a range of measures to deal with it. But for those occasions where the cruelty is so blatant, so appalling, and so horrific, there needs to be justice for those animals. Animal welfare groups, the public, and MPs all agree - it’s time for the Government to act.

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