Published: 14:35, 29 June 2021
| Updated: 15:04, 29 June 2021
People who abuse animals can now face up to five years in prison under changes to the law, which have come into force today.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act has increased the maximum jail term for those caught causing cruelty to animals from six months to five years.
The landmark legislation, enabling courts to take a much firmer approach, has been welcomed by the RSPCA.
The charity, and principle investigator in cases of animal neglect and cruelty, or serious organised animal crime in England and Wales, has described the change as a 'milestone' after years of campaigning.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “This is a landmark day for animals and animal welfare in England and Wales. For almost 200 years the RSPCA has been investigating animal cruelty and rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals. While we’ve seen vast changes in the way we keep animals during that time, as well as huge advances in legislation to better protect animal welfare, our sentences for animal abusers have long been letting our animals down.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve now reached this milestone moment and that courts will now have more flexibility to hand out sentences that better reflect the severity of the crimes they are dealing with and we hope the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act will act as a greater deterrent and help us cancel out cruelty once and for all.”
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 increases the maximum prison sentence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 from six months to five years for cruelty and fighting offences.
It was in 2017 that the government first pledged to change the maximum sentence for those prosecuted - receiving support from politicians in all parties. This bill was brought forward by MP Chris Loder as a Private Members’ Bill in June 2019 before being made law, after some delays caused by Covid-19, earlier this year.
It has come into effect on Tuesday (June 29) in both England and Wales and the new law brings punishments in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland were convicted animal abusers can already be jailed for up to five years.
Over the last three years, the RSPCA says it has secured 3,753 convictions in the courts in England and Wales and 156 individuals received immediate prison terms. In the past three years over 130 offenders successfully prosecuted by the RSPCA received prison sentences of six weeks or more for cruelty offences and, in some cases says the charity, magistrates stated that defendants would have received longer prison sentences if they had been available to hand down.
“The reform is long overdue,” Chris Sherwood added.
“For years, those responsible for the most horrific, violent and unimaginable cruelty to animals have been punished with just a few short months in prison, less than they might get for fly tipping."
For more details on the work of the RSPCA or to report a case of an animal needing help click here.