Proposed increase in sentences available for animal cruelty offences

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 Animal Cruelty sentences to increase

The government is to introduce new law to increase the maximum prison sentence for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The current limit is six months’ imprisonment, but the new proposals would raise it to five years. This would bring England and Wales into line with other countries’ policies on animal cruelty and correct an issue of proportionality in relation to penalties available for other offences.

Offences covered by the Act 

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes the following a criminal offence. Causing animals unnecessary suffering, improperly docking dogs’ tails, unnecessary mutilation, administering unauthorised drugs, participating in the organisation of animal fights and failing one’s duty of care to particular animals. The Act adopts a wide definition of ‘animal’, to include any “vertebrate other than man.” So even fish are included.

Current sentencing policy

The Act allows for a range of penalties, from absolute discharges to custodial sentences up to six months in length. The statistics on sentences imposed upon people convicted of animal cruelty in 2015 are revealing. In that year, 933 people were convicted of offences under the Animal Welfare Act.

A breakdown of that total reveals the of penalties:


Number of people

Immediate custodial sentence 91
Suspended sentence 202
Community sentence 341
Fine 177
Conditional discharge 100
Absolute discharge 3
Other 20

As a result, the RSPCA has investigated the custodial element of that breakdown further. Interestingly only  three people received the maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment. The RSPCA think that the most common sentence of 4 months is because guilty pleas attract a discount of 1/3rd.

Why some say that increase is necessary

The view of the Government and animal rights organisations is that  these punishments do not fit the crime of animal cruelty. Recent cases which have prompted this change include a man who bought a number of puppies for the sole purpose of killing them by beating, choking and stabbing. These actions require intent and  the current sentences available do not do justice.

People  believe that the difference between sentences  for animal cruelty in England and Wales and other countries must be put right. The maximum sentences for animal cruelty in Germany and Northern Ireland are three years and five years respectively. Other less serious crimes have longer sentences. Fly tipping, for example, carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. Many would say that the damage and mind-set involved in animal cruelty should mean maximum penalties should at least equal that of these other crimes.

The new guidelines for animal cruelty and their context 

The Government is planning to produce a draft of this new law around the turn of the year. The main provision will be to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. Accordingly people who commit serious crimes against animals will face a prison sentence measured in years. The sentence will be equivalent to a conviction for assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

We are here to help

Animal welfare legislation is complex and can lead to a prison sentence, it therefore makes sense to instruct an expert if you are under investigation or facing prosecution. At Moss & Co we have  expert solicitors who will be able to help you whatever the stage of the investigation or prosecution. We can also make representations that you should not be prosecuted depending on the circumstances. For assistance with any aspect of animal welfare law contact us on 02089868336 or email [email protected].


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