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The Government will today (Wednesday 26 June) set out new legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty after campaigning from public and welfare groups.

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. It follows a public consultation last year, in which more than 70% of people supported the proposals for tougher prison sentences.

The new Bill, which was announced by environment secretary Michael Gove and will be introduced to Parliament today, would be one of the toughest sanctions in Europe, strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.

Michael Gove says, “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.”

A fitting punishment

Last year the RSPCA received over a million calls to their 24-hour cruelty hotline and according to Defra, there have been numerous cases in the last few years in which courts said they would have handed down longer sentences had they been available.

Animal Welfare Minister, David Rutley, says, “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.”

Dog behind fence
Last year the RSPCA received over a million calls to their 24-hour cruelty hotline

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has strongly advocated for an increase in sentences. The charity has been campaigning on the matter since February 2017 and called the announcement today a “landmark achievement”.

Claire Horton, Battersea chief executive, says, “The introduction of this Bill is a landmark achievement, which will make a profound difference to dogs and cats in England and Wales.

“Over 63,000 people backed Battersea’s campaign to increase animal cruelty sentences, sending out a strong message that the current six-month punishment for this type of crime is unacceptable and that animal cruelty will not be tolerated 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 criminal and today’s announcement should prevent the suffering of so many animals in the future.”

Following their research looking at 100 different jurisdictions across the world, the charity found England and Wales’ maximum six-month sentence to be the lowest, lagging far behind countries like Ireland at five years and Germany at three years.

Claire adds, “This new legislation, properly enforced, will help bring an end to animal suffering. We look forward to working with MPs of all parties to see this law passed, ensuring that the punishment for animal cruelty will finally fit the crime.”

Service animals

The Bill will also complement other animal welfare laws, such as Finn’s Law, which came into effect earlier this month and provides increased protection for service dogs and horses. The law is named after Finn, a retired police dog who was stabbed several times whilst apprehending a man suspected of robbing a taxi driver at gunpoint.

PC Dave Wardell and Finn who he now owns as a family pet.
PC Dave Wardell and Finn who he now owns as a family pet.

Finn’s owner and former handler, PC David Wardell, along with fellow Finn’s Law campaigners, has been urging supporters to write to their MPs and push for tougher sentences.

Commenting on today’s announcement, PC David Wardell says, “I’ve always been hugely supportive of animal welfare. Hence my campaign for #FinnsLaw after our incident. I was also keen to support the Government’s call for increased sentencing for all animal welfare cases so that we can send out the important message that our animals matter.

“To hear the announcement today that the Government is set to increase maximum sentences, #FinnsLawPart2, tenfold is fantastic news and will of course ensure that all animals, including our amazing service animals will have the best protections available in law.

“I thank the public for their amazing support with this second and vital part of our #Finnslaw campaign. It has been refreshing to see people get involved, politely, in politics and bring real and positive change.”

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.

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