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 five 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?

Northern Ireland has had a maximum sentence of five years for some time now and in June 2020 the Scottish Parliament voted through legislation that will also make this law in Scotland. However, this has yet to become law in England and Wales.

In England and Wales, legislation to increase sentences for the worst animal cruelty offences from six months to five years failed to become law twice in 2019. In February 2020, Chris Loder MP introduced a new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill to Parliament, which has the support of the UK Government. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the second reading for this Bill in the House of Commons (the second of a ten-step parliamentary process) keeps being pushed back and will now not be heard until October 2020. Will you help us ensure this becomes law quickly by emailing your MP to call on them to support tougher sentences for animal cruelty offences?

In Scotland, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act became law in July 2020; however, not all of it is immediately enforceable and it will be up to Scottish Ministers to decide when the rest of the legislation comes into force. This Act increases maximum sentences for animal welfare offences to five years in Scotland, 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.

The new Scottish legislation goes some way to achieving this, as it requires a record of reasons to be established and maintained by the Courts and Tribunals Service, stating why they did or did not choose to impose a ban and this will hopefully encourage much needed consistency in the use of bans across Scotland. In addition, the Scottish Government will be obliged to report within 5 years on the progress they have made on information sharing amongst enforcement authorities, which is a step in the right direction towards a joined-up approach.

Read more about our campaign on sentencing for animal cruelty offences.

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