The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill passed its Third Reading today, and will now go to the House of Lords. Animal charities welcomed this development, and urged speed in passing this Bill into law in order to protect animals as soon as possible.
Battersea has today (12 March) welcomed progress towards strengthening sentences for animal abusers after a long-awaited change in legislation completed its passage through the House of Commons.
The leading animal welfare charity launched its campaign to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years in prison in 2017. It has since gained universal support from over 60,000 members of the public and MPs across Parliament. The Bill first introduced to the House in February 2020 has now passed its Third Reading after a protracted delay.
Battersea’s Interim Chief Executive, Peter Laurie, said: “It’s encouraging to see real progress being made to make five-year sentences a reality. Now the Bill moves onto the House of Lords, I urge the Government to keep up the momentum and make this the law before the end of the current parliamentary term. Any further delays are unacceptable.”
Previous Bills to introduce the change in the law in England and Wales have suffered many delays and setbacks, including the last Government Bill which fell when Parliament was dissolved before the General Election in 2019. The proposal was brought back as a Private Member’s Bill by Chris Loder MP in February 2020, and his Bill passed the Committee stage earlier in February this year.
Peter continued: “Battersea will continue to stand up for innocent animals across the country no matter what. England and Wales have one of the lowest maximum sentences for animal cruelty crimes in the world at just six months – it’s the same sentence you would get for fly tipping or theft. It’s time we had a punishment to fit the crime and send out a clear message that we will not stand for this.”
Earlier this month, the owner of a dog left for dead in a river was fined just £80 after she admitted causing her pet unnecessary suffering in a Nottingham court case. Belgian Shepherd Bella - now in the care of the RSPCA - was found tied to a rock and thrown in the River Trent. Cases like this show the urgent need for stronger sentences for animal cruelty.
The Bill must now clear the same stages in the House of Lords before the end of the current parliamentary term in May to pass into law, or risk falling once again.
Battersea also campaigned successfully on this issue in Scotland. The Scottish Government passed the law to raise maximum sentences from 12 months to five years in July 2020, bringing the law north of the border in line with that in Northern Ireland.
The RSPCA is also ‘thrilled’ as the Sentencing Bill, which could see maximum penalties rise to five years, moves on to House of Lords.
The RSPCA is celebrating after the long-awaited Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill completed all stages in the House of Commons today (Friday 12 March) and now moves forward to the House of Lords.
The Bill - which was brought forward by Chris Loder MP - completed its House of Commons phase, meaning it’ll now move to the House of Lords for the next stage.
The landmark step comes four years after the UK Government pledged to reform the maximum sentence for those prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act in England, increasing maximum prison terms from six months to five years. The RSPCA and other welfare organisations have long been campaigning for tougher sentencing, a move which was supported by cross-party politicians.
In Wales, the Welsh Government is expected to put a legislative consent motion before the Welsh Parliament - meaning any change in law in England would likely apply in Wales too.
Heidi Allen, RSPCA director of advocacy and policy, said: “England and Wales - a nation of self-described animal-lovers - has, for far too long, lagged behind other countries when it comes to sentencing those responsible for some of the most unimaginable cruelty to animals.
“Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and most of Europe have increased their maximum sentences to five years and the RSPCA has long been campaigning to bring sentences here in England and Wales in line.”
England and Wales currently have some of the lowest sentences for animal welfare offences in the world.
She continued: “Each year the RSPCA investigates around 100,000 complaints of cruelty to animals, including incidents of unspeakable violence as well as harrowing cases of neglect and abuse,” Heidi added.
“We’re thrilled that the Sentencing Bill is now one step closer to being introduced and that, soon, animals will be better protected and courts will have stronger sentences at their disposal when passing judgement on the worst animal abusers.
“We believe all parties wish to get the Bill onto the statute book in this parliamentary session - before the next Queen’s Speech which is expected in May - because MPs and Peers agree with us that no suffering animal can afford to wait another minute.
“It’s time the sentences imposed on individuals who cause pain and suffering to animals reflect the severity of the crimes they are committing because current sentences available are completely inadequate.”
Some recent animal welfare cases prosecuted by the RSPCA in recent months include:
• A tiny kitten violently attacked by her owner and left with bleeding, missing teeth, chest trauma, bruising around her neck and injuries consistent with attempted drowning.
• A man who stabbed his dog to death and buried the body in the back garden was sent to prison. The Staffie had five wounds to the neck, legs and throat and could have been bleeding any time from a few minutes to a few hours. The attack seemed to have been triggered by the dog biting the owner when he was drunk.
• A man who burned a cat in a hot oven, tried to flush her down the toilet, attempted to strangle her and threw her against the wall was given a suspended prison sentence. The cat was taken to the vet and found to have third degree burns and loss of skin. The owner admitted putting her in the oven for up to five minutes. The magistrate called him “dangerous man” and her sentencing powers were insufficient for the offence.
• A dog left bleeding and with a fractured hip after being beaten by kitchen utensils. Two men received suspended jail sentences.
Thin Blue Paw Foundation trustee Dave Wardell, who spearheaded the Finn’s Law Part 2 campaign for increased sentencing for those found guilty of animal cruelty, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Finn’s Law Part 2 has completed the Commons stage and will now pass to the House of Lords for approval.
“It’s high-time the country’s animals were better protected and the courts had greater sentences available when sentencing the worst animal abusers.
“It’s been more than four years since Finn was promised that maximum sentences under the Animal Welfare Act would be increased to five years and now, finally, we’re one stop closer to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill becoming law.”
At DogCast Radio we join in hoping that before too long there are more celebrations as the Bill becomes law. Fingers - and paws! - crossed!