New sentencing guidelines published for animal cruelty offences - Veterinary Practice
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New sentencing guidelines published for animal cruelty offences

Updated sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty offences that reflect changes introduced by the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, were published today by the Sentencing Council following consultation

legal books and gavel in library

For the first time, a new “Animal cruelty” guideline gives judges and magistrates in England and Wales guidance for sentencing the most serious animal cruelty offences, including causing unnecessary suffering, tail docking and animal fighting.

The Council developed the guideline after the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 increased the maximum penalty for these offences from six months to five years’ custody.

A second guideline also published today. “Failure to ensure animal welfare” revises elements of the Council’s existing animal cruelty sentencing guideline and applies to offences under section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006: breach of duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare.

This revised guideline, which applies in magistrates’ courts only, includes new aggravating factors for a significant number of animals harmed, the offender having a professional responsibility for the animals and offence motivated by financial gain.

Both guidelines have been developed in accordance with the Council’s usual procedures, which include public consultation and analysis of current sentencing practice. The guidelines, which apply to adults only, come into force on 1 July 2023.

Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said: “Animal cruelty is a serious offence and animals can experience untold suffering at the hands of people who they trust to look after them, including being left in appalling conditions or forced to fight each other for money.

“The new guidelines will guarantee that courts have the powers to deliver appropriate sentences to offenders who mistreat animals.”

Under the updated guidelines, sentences for the most serious offences would be expected to increase. Sadistic or extreme cases or cases involving prolonged incidents of serious cruelty will be assessed at the highest culpability.

Cases involving multiple incidents or the use of significant force will also increase an offender’s culpability.

Where an offender’s actions have caused an animal to die or sustain life-threatening injuries, or have caused substantial pain or suffering, this may also attract a higher sentence than previously.

Where a case affects a significant number of animals, involves images of the cruelty being shared on social media or is committed in the presence of children, these will now be treated as aggravating factors.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “We know most people in this country share our love of animals. But sadly, our officers deal with perpetrators of serious animal abuse on a daily basis, and our legal system must be equipped to deliver justice for these animals.

“’The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021′ was a monumental moment for animal welfare legislation, empowering the courts to hand out sentences that more accurately reflect the seriousness of these crimes.

“We welcome the Sentencing Council updated guidance as it gives judges and magistrates clarity and clearly recognises animal cruelty in the guidance for the first time in what is a landmark moment.”

As one of the RSPCA’s founders Richard Martin said, if legislation to protect animals is to be effective, it must be adequately enforced and as we approach our 200th anniversary this message is still as important as it was then.

“The cases our officers investigate can be very complex and it is welcome that the guidance looks at factors like the number of animals harmed and the connection to financial gain which our officers on the frontline witness when seeking to bring perpetrators to justice.”

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