Tougher Sentences for Animal Abuse

May 23, 2022, By

Last year we wrote about reforms to the sentencing of animal abuse offences. Parliament has since passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill which brings about the welcomed change many have been waiting for.

Additionally, it has just been announced that pro footballer Kurt Zouma has been charged with animal abuse offences following his behaviour to his cat earlier this year.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

There are many ways in which an animal can be maltreated, neglected or exploited. The increase in the maximum sentence affects a number of the offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The following offences are impacted by the reform:

  • Causing unnecessary suffering (section 4);
  • Carrying out a non-exempted mutilation (section 5);
  • Docking the tail of a dog except where permitted (section 6(1) and 6(2));
  • Administering a poison to an animal (section 7); and
  • Involvement in an animal fight (section 8).

Under the previous guidelines, a person who committed one of the offences above could receive a maximum sentence of only 6 months in custody.

Members of the public found it difficult to accept that a person who commits serious offences against animals could receive such a low sentence. Seemingly, Parliament agreed which is reflected in the new maximum sentence available for these offences namely 5 years in custody.

Previously, a case of this nature would only be heard in the Magistrates’ Court. Now, they may be heard in either the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court to reflect the seriousness of the offence.

Consultation for Sentencing Guidelines

Sentencing guidelines are used by Judges and Magistrates to decide what sentence to give to someone guilty of an offence. They include factors that should be taken into account across a spectrum of harm caused to the victim and the culpability of the offender.

The sentencing guidelines for the above offences are now in consultation stage, which means that they are to be confirmed at a later date and are not yet to be taken into account when sentencing. They do, however, provide a good indication of the factors a court may consider when sentencing for these offences in the future.

The guidelines that are in consultation can be found here. In summary, a person found guilty of animal abuse could receive anything from a Band ‘A’ fine (50% of weekly income) to 5 years’ custody for the most serious offences. The sentence may include a fine, community order or a period in custody.

The consultation is running until 1st August 2022. After this date, the official guidelines will be published and used by the Courts when determining sentences.

Reporting or avoiding animal abuse or neglect

If you can no longer support a pet you own, whether that is in terms of their health or financially, it is much better to do something about it sooner rather than later.

Neglecting a pet, whether intentional or otherwise, could land you with a severe punishment of up to 5 years in prison. See RSPCA guidance on giving up a pet

Allegations against you

If you as an owner have been reported for animal abuse and are facing an investigation from the RSPCA, you will need to speak with a solicitor.

The RSPCA, of course, take animal welfare extremely seriously. If you have been unfairly accused of animal abuse or there has been a misunderstanding, our crime team can support you through the investigation.