One Step Closer to Five-Year Sentences

03 FEBRUARY 2021

Battersea is delighted that a Bill to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty in England and Wales has taken one step closer to becoming law. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill which was introduced in Parliament almost a year ago has just completed its Committee stage. But what has it taken to get here?

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Battersea’s Battle for Tougher Sentences

Battersea first called for longer sentences for animal cruelty in 2017. Our research report revealed that England and Wales had the lowest sentences for animal cruelty of over 100 jurisdictions we surveyed. At just six months, the maximum sentence was much lower than that for fly tipping (five years) and theft (seven years).

Since 2017, we have campaigned tirelessly for higher sentences. Our passionate supporters have emailed their MPs and MSPs, we have held events in both the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments, and we have provided evidence to MPs and committees on why it’s essential that the law is changed.

Neither a Penalty Nor a Deterrent

These low sentences did not reflect the severity of the crime. Battersea has seen horrific cases of animal cruelty inflicted on dogs and cats before they come into our care, and low sentences simply do not act as a deterrent. Analysis of crime rates and sentence lengths by researchers at Birmingham University showed that a relatively small increase in sentencing length is proven to reduce crime, particularly when targeted at serious offenders.

The Link to Other Violence

The link between animal cruelty has long been established. Women in domestic violence shelters were nearly 11 times more likely to report that their partner had hurt or killed family pets. Furthermore, 22% of women reported that concern for their pets had kept them from going to the shelter sooner.

Providing tougher sentences for animal cruelty offers more avenues of support for people who have witnessed animal cruelty at the hands of their abusers. People like Shelly, who we spoke to, who was put off seeking help to prosecute her abusive ex-husband for his cruelty towards animals because the short sentence just didn't feel worth it.

Victories and Upsets

Last summer, we were delighted that Scotland introduced five-year sentences for animal cruelty. However, the fight to change the law in England and Wales has proven more difficult. In 2019, a Bill to increase maximum sentences began its journey through Parliament and made it through the Committee Stage, but then fell due to the prorogation of Parliament and the subsequent General Election.

A New Bill, A New Hope

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was introduced at the start of 2020 and has had Government backing and support from across political parties. However, as backbench legislation it made relatively slow progress last year, and following its Second reading in October it disappeared from the legislative timetable.

This week’s Committee stage is therefore a welcome indication that the Bill could yet complete its passage in this parliamentary term. The committee stage involves a select group of MPs looking over the Bill in more detail and considering potential amendments to the text. The Bill will now head for its final stages in the Commons before it moves to the House of Lords.

We at Battersea and our dedicated supporters will be watching its progress keenly.

Show Your Support

Find out more about Battersea’s Not Funny campaign to increase sentences for animal cruelty and see what you can do to help us push the bill through.

Battersea's COVID-19 report

Our report highlights the drastic impact that COVID-19 has had on animals in the UK.

Download our report