Jail terms for animal cruelty, new legislation, and the question of whether animals’ pain will be taken into account in future laws.
“In 2019 there were 717 prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act of which just 11% were sent to jail at all, 23 people for less than three months”
“There is also much talk of how sentience, where the capacity of an animal to experience feelings such as pain or pleasure, would be recognised in all future legislation”
What should happen to a person who deliberately abuses an animal?
For many readers the first thought is probably unprintable but once the emotional response goes away there is a very real question. Is the intention to punish, stop them doing it again, show society that animal abuse is unacceptable or perhaps to protect future victims?
One thing we do know for certain is that many of those that commit violence to animals also commit violence against people.
On 30th November 2020, Scotland increased the maximum jail term available for cruelty from one to five years. England and Wales finally passed matching legislation to increase from six months to five years from June this year. Of course, very few abusers will receive anything like that, and actual terms will be decided based on guidelines issued by the sentencing council.
In 2019 there were 717 prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act of which just 11% were sent to jail at all, 23 people for less than three months. Back in 2010 there were 1,095 prosecutions and 29 went to jail for less than three months. Over the last 10 years, between one and three of those that commit cruelty received the maximum term.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that jail sentences have reduced animal cruelty offending, there are many reasons why prosecutions may have reduced. Anecdotally through media reports it actually seems like more cases of violence towards animal are happening.
In addition, the Magistrates Courts can order a disqualification from the ownership of animals in the same way that it makes other orders such as football banning orders, restraining orders for driving disqualifications, but of course someone has to enforce these.
So, what will happen with the new five-year term? Certainly, it will give the judiciary the power to refer serious cases to the Crown Court and I would be hopeful that some offenders will be referred to the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements designed mainly for sex offenders but could (in theory) be used to manage serious animal abusers. It has to be likely though that no more than two people each year will be sent to prison for five years for seriously harming an animal.
The recent Queen’s Speech promised much in terms of new legislation from banning the keeping of primates as pets (a subject I have been heavily involved in providing investigations for) to ‘cracking down’ on puppy smuggling which as we know is often organised criminals exploiting weaknesses at the border. There is also much talk of how sentience, where the capacity of an animal to experience feelings such as pain or pleasure, would be recognised in all future legislation. Certainly, the right noises are being made but whether these will be translated into actual laws that protect animals we can only wait and see.
Personally, I’d like to see more formal recognition of the link between animal and human violence enshrined in legislation. Canada recently passed a law to make training on this issue mandatory for police officers and the judiciary. The safest societies are those in which everyone feels safe, and that includes animals.