Animal Sentience Recognised In Law

25 MAY 2022

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On 28 April 2022, the Animal Welfare Sentience Bill became law. The legislation recognises dogs, cats and other animals as sentient beings which means their needs will be better taken into account when developing future Government policy.

What is animal sentience?

An animal is considered sentient if it can feel sensations such as pain, pleasure, joy, and sadness. This new law now means that whenever somebody cares for, or interacts with an animal, or creates policy or legislation that impacts an animal’s welfare, they must recognise and take into account the animal’s sentience.

Why was a new law required?

Animal sentience is a principle contained within European Union Law, which established that EU member states should consider animals as sentient beings and prioritise their welfare when formulating policies in certain areas. However, when the UK left the EU, this was not carried over into British law.

In 2017 the Government said it would create a law that would recognise animal sentience. The first attempt, the Animal Welfare Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience Bill, was dropped in 2018. In the meantime, increased sentences for animal cruelty were made law in 2021.

Following further work from the animal welfare sector, the Animal Sentience Bill was introduced into the House of Lords in May 2021, as a flagship piece of legislation within the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, a strategy which was launched at Battersea.

Battersea worked as part of a wider group of animal welfare organisations called the Better Deal for Animals coalition to brief MPs and Peers throughout the Bill’s progress through Parliament.

What does the new animal sentience law do?

The Bill has three main strands:

  1. The creation of an independent Animal Sentience Committee. This is designed to be an independent expert committee that advises Government on policy but doesn’t direct it.
  2. The Bill enables the Animal Sentience Committee to scrutinise existing and developing Government policy and creates reports to the Government with recommendations.
  3. The Government is now required to lay a response to the report before Parliament within three months of the report being published.

The passage of the Bill into law is a welcome development and an important first step in delivery against the Action Plan. Battersea will now be working to help shape the forthcoming guidance to support the legislation and the creation of the Committee.

Focus now shifts to another major piece of legislation – the Kept Animals Bill – which has been carried over into the new parliamentary session. The Bill will crack down on puppy smuggling, ear cropping and dog theft, along with other animal welfare issues. Here at Battersea, we are calling for several amendments to the Kept Animals Bill, and we will keep you updated as things progress.

In the meantime, you can find out more by following our Public Affairs team on Twitter or signing up for campaign email updates.

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