Proposals to update sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty offences in England and Wales were published this week by the Sentencing Council, to reflect changes introduced by the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021.
Under the proposals, courts will have a new guideline for the most serious offences, including causing unnecessary suffering, tail docking and animal fighting, after Parliament increased the maximum penalty for these offences from six months to five years' custody. The proposed guideline reflects this change and includes revised offence ranges.
Animal cruelty offences are now eligible to be tried in both magistrates' courts and the Crown Court to reflect the new maximum penalty, and the proposed guideline for serious offences will apply in both courts. Sentences for the most serious offences would be expected to increase in line with the new legislation.
Minor changes have also been proposed to the existing sentencing guideline for the offence of a breach of duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare. This guideline will continue to apply to magistrates' courts only because the maximum penalty for this offence has not changed and remains within magistrates' sentencing powers.
The Council is seeking views on the draft guidelines - which apply to adult offenders only - from judges, magistrates and others with an interest in this area. The consultation will run from 10 May to 1 August 2022.
Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said:
Animal cruelty is a serious offence and can cause great distress to animals who have been ill-treated or neglected or even forced to fight each other for entertainment.
Animals are not able to defend themselves or draw attention to their suffering, and it is important that courts have the powers to deliver appropriate sentences to offenders who commit these crimes.
Under the proposed changes for the most serious offences, sadistic or extreme cases or those carried out in in the context of commercial or organised criminal activity 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 CEO Chris Sherwood said:
We welcome this consultation following the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act which was finally brought into law last year, following years of campaigning. We're pleased that the Council is seeking views on the guidelines and that animals will soon have better protection from those who hurt them and exploit them.
Notes to editors
- The current sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty applies to offences contrary to the following sections of the Animal Welfare Act 2006: section 4 (causing unnecessary suffering), section 8 (involvement in an animal fight) and section 9 (breach of duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare).
- The guideline was last revised in 2017 and, until 2021, the offences it covered were summary only, triable in magistrates' courts and subject to a maximum penalty of 6 months' custody.
- In 2021, Parliament passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which increased the maximum sentence for specific offences under the 2006 Act from six months' to five years' custody and made these either way offences, meaning they could be heard in magistrates' courts or the Crown Court.
- The following offences were impacted by the change:
- Causing unnecessary suffering (section 4, Animal Welfare Act 2006);
- Carrying out a non-exempted mutilation (section 5, Animal Welfare Act 2006);
- Docking the tail of a dog except where permitted (section 6(1) and 6(2), Animal Welfare Act 2006);
- Administering a poison to an animal (section 7, Animal Welfare Act 2006); and
- Involvement in an animal fight (section 8, Animal Welfare Act 2006).
- All new sentencing guidelines follow more recent Council guideline models and include a stepped approach to sentencing
- Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
- The Council does not expect a significant increase in the number of cases sent to the Crown Court for serious offences, based on data on recent cases.
- The Council is consulting on sentencing animal cruelty offences and not on the legislation upon which such offences are based. The relevant legislation is a matter for Parliament and is, therefore, outside the scope of this exercise
- The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council's effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
- For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email Kathryn.firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com