Rough Justice

Animal welfare and Justice

Animal cruelty and bringing people to justice is something that people rightly feel very strongly about. Inflicting harm whether intentionally or not on a sentient creature is just plain wrong. The public believes the punishment should fit the crime.

However, despite England and Wales passing some of the most progressive and preventative legislation in 2005 – the Animal Welfare Act – the maximum penalty for being found guilty under this Act is just six months. This is even for some of the most extreme cruelty such as animal fighting. How can that be right?

We know that many other countries have much higher penalties for such crimes – for example Canada – five years, Finland – four years, Hungary – three years and New Zealand five years. Looking closer to home Scotland has consulted on proposals to increase their law to five years and Northern Ireland already has maximum penalties of five years. England and Wales are lagging behind.

There is hope; the law has recently been updated this year for those convicted of offences against service animals 1 , e.g. police dogs and horses and prior to these penalties were increased for cruelty towards assistance dogs  2. Finally, this summer the Government introduce a Bill – the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019 which will increase sentences imposed under the Animal Welfare Act for the most serious forms of cruelty to five years. The Bill has made good progress and should complete all its stages in the House of Commons. However, it will fall with the announcement of a Queen’s Speech on 14th October and so will need to be reintroduced. So near and yet so far.

The Government department responsible for the Bill, Defra, seem committed to it so it is hoped the Bill will be reintroduced. However, there is no guarantee. The idea of increasing penalties for the most serious forms of cruelty fits in with the Government’s policy approach of being tough on crime, but it will be competing with a whole range of issues – including Brexit and will it be seen as important enough?

The Bill has widespread support from across the political parties so it should be non-contentious but only time will tell whether it will be brought back. We can all play our part to help by writing to our MPs to ask them to speak with the Defra Ministerial team and ask them to prioritise it.

It is often said that animals have no voice and so we should be their voice – well, here is an opportunity for us to speak loud and clearly. MPs are elected to represent our views and views of their parties – let’s all ask them to do that and secure the justice that is needed for the victims of animal cruelty.

  1. Animal Welfare(Service Animals) Act 2019
  2. Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014