‘Landmark day’ for animal welfare as new legislation comes into force

  • Animal abusers could face a maximum of five years in prison from today (29 June) in what has been described as a “landmark” day for animal welfare.

    The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act, which passed into law in April as reported by H&H, has now come into effect. This means courts will have the flexibility to impose tougher sentences for the worst animal abusers in England and Wales under the Animal Welfare Act. The law brings the countries in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    Welfare charities have campaigned for a number of years for increased sentencing and in 2017 the Government pledged to reform the maximum sentence, receiving cross-party support. The Bill was brought forward by MP Chris Loder as a private member’s bill in 2019.

    A spokesman for the RSPCA said the charity is “celebrating this milestone”. In the last three years the RSPCA has secured 3,753 convictions in courts in England and Wales, and 156 individuals were given immediate prison terms. More than 130 offenders successfully prosecuted by the RSPCA were sentenced to six weeks or more in prison for cruelty offences.

    RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said this is a “landmark day” for animals and their welfare.

    “For almost 200 years the RSPCA has been investigating animal cruelty and rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals. While we’ve seen vast changes in the way we keep animals during that time, as well as huge advances in legislation to better protect animal welfare, our sentences for animal abusers have long been letting our animals down,” he said.

    “We’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve now reached this milestone moment and that courts will now have more flexibility to hand out sentences that better reflect the severity of the crimes they are dealing with and we hope the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act will act as a greater deterrent and help us cancel out cruelty once and for all.”

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    Mr Sherwood added in recent weeks the charity’s officers have been called out to investigate shocking cases including horses left with hooves so overgrown they could not walk – as well as pets who had been starved to death, and dogs who had been beaten to death.

    “At least going forward our courts will be able to hand out sentences in animal cruelty cases that truly reflect the severity of the crimes,” he said.

    “I’d like to thank all of the politicians who supported this Bill and I’d also like to congratulate everyone – from members of the public to organisations involved in the campaign – on this victory; it belongs to us all and shows what can be achieved when we all work together.”

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