Sentencing

Maximum sentences must be tough and proportionate to discourage animal cruelty.

Maximum sentences must be tough and proportionate to discourage animal cruelty.

While the majority of equine cases that are prosecuted do not meet the requirements for a prison sentence (in the UK, those that do include cases where there has been a deliberate attempt to cause suffering or there is ill treatment in a commercial context) we believe a 5 year maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences give judges a greater range of options for cases which do meet the requirements for a prison sentence. We believe this will encourage tougher – and more proportionate – sentences to be given for serious animal cruelty offences and act as a proper deterrent to those who abuse horses.

What is the current situation in the UK?

While Northern Ireland already has a maximum sentence of five years, this has yet to become law in England, Wales and Scotland. In England and Wales, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was introduced to Parliament to increase sentences for the worst animal cruelty offences from 6 months to 5 years. While it did not become law before Parliament was suspended in October, the UK Government reintroduced it in the new session, later that month, and it is currently being reviewed by Parliament.

In Scotland, the government has introduced the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers (Scotland) Bill to Parliament, which – if approved – will increase maximum sentences for animal welfare offences to 5 years, alongside providing for fixed penalty notices for animal welfare and animal health offences and conferring powers on inspectors and constables  to make appropriate permanent arrangements for animals taken into possession more quickly and without the need for a court order.

Looking ahead

However, we are clear that in the UK the majority of equine cases that are prosecuted do not meet the requirements for a prison sentence. It is vital that sentencing guidelines are reviewed to improve consistency in the sentences handed out across England and Wales, and that in Scotland sentencing guidelines are introduced, and they reflect the crime committed.

Our view is that we must also have tough, enforceable bans to safeguard the welfare of equines, and other animals, and prevent repeat offenders. To be effective it is critical that enforcement agencies enforce them, and this can only be done through a joined-up approach. We believe this can best be achieved through a simple national animal offender register.

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