Tackling animal cruelty
25 NOVEMBER 2020
Parliament is currently considering a law to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences in England & Wales from six months in custody to five years. This is good news for animals everywhere, but what does it mean, and why does it matter?
Existing sentences are inadequate
The law that governs penalties for animal cruelty in England and Wales is the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This law makes it a crime to fail to adequately provide for an animal’s needs, including the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease. Currently, when cases of animal cruelty are prosecuted, no matter how serious the offence, Courts face the difficult reality of only being able to issue a six-month maximum custodial sentence, which can be reduced even further by a guilty plea. In many severe cases, judges have said they wish they could issue a stronger sentence but are prevented by the law.
Six months in prison is just a tenth of the maximum sentence for fly tipping, or theft. In some cases, animal cruelty is prosecuted as another offence, such as theft, as the sentences are more stringent. Whichever way you look at it, the current maximum sentence is woefully inadequate.
England & Wales are lagging behind
In June 2020, the Scottish Parliament voted to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years, in line with the decision made in Northern Ireland back in 2011. In fact, of over 100 jurisdictions across the world, six months is the very lowest sentence found anywhere, with over half having a maximum sentence of three years or more. We like to think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but when it comes to tackling the most severe cases of animal cruelty, parts of the UK are well behind the rest of the world.
Tougher sentences prevent cruelty
What we really want is to stop cruelty in its tracks. Every dog or cat that suffers these crimes is one too many. Evidence shows that stronger sentences, and well-publicised examples of them being given, can be a deterrent, as people understand there are consequences to abuse of animals. By showing that we won’t tolerate animal cruelty, we send a strong message to potential abusers. Just as Scotland and Northern Ireland already have.
Cruelty to animals can predict cruelty to humans
The link between animal abuse and domestic violence is well documented. Perpetrators often use violence against pets to intimidate and control their victims, and research conducted by Battersea found that children were at risk of neglect or abuse in 83% of families with a history of animal abuse. By taking animal cruelty seriously, we also gain one more valuable weapon against domestic abuse.
We're so close
The vote to bring in five-year sentences in Scotland was only possible thanks to the thousands of passionate people just like you who joined the Battersea campaign against cruelty and wrote to their MPs and MSPs demanding a change in the law. England & Wales are now the last piece of the puzzle in the UK. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019-21 is currently working its way through Westminster and could finally give our animals the protection they deserve. But it won’t be possible without your help. We need you to help us keep up the momentum, and make sure that this life-changing opportunity for so many animals is not lost. Find out more about the campaign and what you can do to stand up for animals right now on the ‘NotFunny’ campaign page.