Another Step Forward: Five-Year Sentences for Animal Cruelty
12 MARCH 2021
A Bill to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty in England and Wales took another step closer to becoming law today when it passed its last stages in the House of Commons.
While this is great progress, it’s not a done deal yet. The Bill will now head to the House of Lords for further review, and it is a race against time to see it passed by the House of Lords before the next Queen’s Speech, which is expected in May. If it's not passed in time the bill would fall, along with all other unfinished legislation, which would mean starting the process all over again. There is still hope though, so here’s everything you need to know about the journey so far and what’s to come.
What is the Animal Welfare (Sentences) Bill?
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, tabled by Chris Loder MP, is designed to give Courts the power to sentence the worst animal cruelty offenders to five years in prison. It was introduced over a year ago and has made slow but steady progress. The Bill is short, simple and non-controversial. All the main political parties support it, with the Government pledging its support as far back as 2017 and reiterating it over 100 times since.
If it sounds familiar, it could be because three similar Bills have been introduced before, but they all ran out of time before they made it into law. This is the furthest a Bill like this has come, but it still faces a race against the clock.
Why does Battersea want five-year sentences for animal cruelty?
In England and Wales, the maximum sentence for the worst cases of animal cruelty is just six months for even the most brutal crimes against animals. That’s only a tenth of the maximum sentence for fly tipping, for example.
Our animals need stronger protection in law, and at Battersea we witness this need more than most. Animals like Chester, the one-year old Saluki, who was found by the side of the road with multiple injuries. Battersea nurses cared for him every single day of his 44-day recovery and he is now living in a loving home in London. Despite inflicting horrible injuries on Chester, if caught, the worst the perpetrator could possibly have received is a six-month prison sentence and a ban on keeping animals. The sentence does not fit this violent crime, and doesn’t act as either a punishment or a deterrent.
It’s because of animals like Chester that Battersea has spent many years leading the fight to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty. Northern Ireland and Scotland already have five-year sentences, but England and Wales have the shortest animal cruelty sentences in Europe.
What happens next?
Now The Bill has passed through the House of Commons, focus shifts to the House of Lords where it must pass the same legislative process that it did in the Commons. If it succeeds, it would then finally bring England and Wales in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Welsh Government has agreed that once the law is changed in England, it will also apply in Wales.
The Bill has understandably faced delays due to COVID-19. That said, within the same landscape, Scotland was able to increase animal cruelty sentences to five years in Summer 2020. The fact is that England and Wales are trailing behind. There are no more excuses for delay; the law must change now.
There’s not much time remaining before the Queen’s Speech, so we’ll continue to push every step of the way and speak up for the animals who cannot speak for themselves.
What can I do?
Keep up to date on the latest developments, including how you can get involved in the coming weeks, here on the Battersea website, and on our Public Affairs Twitter feed.