New fines to bolster fight for animal welfare
18 NOVEMBER 2021
With the new five-year maximum sentences for animal cruelty, those that commit serious acts of animal cruelty face tougher punishments than ever before.
But what about less serious cases where animal welfare laws have been broken but no animals have come to harm, such as not meeting a deadline to submit paperwork? In these cases, criminal prosecution would be inappropriate, but at the moment perpetrators only face an official warning letter.
A new Bill in Parliament bridges the gap between strict and lenient sanctions for minor infractions of animal welfare law. It proposes a new option: fines of up to £5,000 dependent on the type of infraction.
The Animal Welfare (Penalty Notices) Bill
The Government announced in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare that it wanted to introduce penalty notices for flexible and proportionate enforcement. A new Bill from Romford MP Andrew Rosindell proposes to do just that.
With support from the Government, the Bill was debated in October in the House of Commons for the first time. It passed unanimously and will soon proceed to further stages before it can become law.
Concerns and Reassurances
Whilst we support the principles of the Bill, we also raised some specific concerns in our briefing to MPs ahead of Second Reading. We wanted to make it plain that fines are only appropriate for technical breaches of animal welfare law, and not in cases where cruelty has taken place. We want the Government to ensure that the use of penalty notices is closely monitored to ensure this is the case.
Minor welfare offences could include pet owners failing to keep microchip details up to date, and businesses missing paperwork deadlines. The size of the fine, although capped at a maximum of £5000, is proposed to be proportional to the infraction so the maximum fine for incorrect microchip details will likely be much less. Offences where cruelty or suffering have taken place should always be prosecuted, using powers set out in the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act where appropriate.
During the debate, Shadow Minister Daniel Zeichner MP said he was initially concerned that serious animal welfare offences could be ‘downgraded’ by the introduction of fines, acknowledging Battersea’s concerns. However, Mr Zeichner confirmed he had since been reassured about the proposed change and credited Battersea for supporting the Bill.
It’s encouraging that the range of options open to tackle animal welfare offences is growing, particularly if this Bill makes it into law. Battersea thanks Andrew Rosindell MP for his work to promote this issue and the many other Parliamentarians backing the change.
Our Public Affairs team will continue working with the Government and MPs to help shape the developing legislation, ensuring it provides protection for animal welfare and the measures are proportional. You can find out more about this campaign and others by subscribing to our campaigner newsletter or following us on Twitter.