Target: 50,000

29,000

supporters

59%

of our target

64

MPs in support

What we want to change

Why we need you

We need you to support Battersea's campaign. The current animal cruelty sentence is neither a punishment nor a deterrent.

In England and Wales,
the maximum sentence for
animal cruelty is just
six months

The penalties for animal cruelty in England and Wales

In England and Wales, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (referred to as “the Act”) sets out how people should look after animals. It places a duty of care on pet owners to provide for their animals’ basic needs, spells out the animal cruelty offences and sets out the penalties for breaching the law.

Offences

In relation to animal cruelty, the Act makes it a criminal offence to:

  • cause unnecessary suffering, either physical or mental, to the animal, whether due to negligence or intentional, or by failing to prevent someone else from causing that suffering
  • dock a dog’s tail, unless it is for medical reasons or it is a working dog
  • commit other acts of mutilation that affect sensitive tissues or bone structure,\r\nunless they are necessary for medical reasons
  • administer poison or drugs without authority
  • organise, promote, attend or bet on dog fights, train dogs and keep premises for fighting
  • fail in the duty of care to take reasonable steps to meet the animal’s welfare needs, such as providing a suitable environment and diet, and protection from pain and disease.

Penalties

The maximum penalty available for animal cruelty in England and Wales is 6 months in jail for these offences, and/or an unlimited fine and/or a ban on keeping animals. In Scotland, under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, the maximum penalty is 1 year. In Northern Ireland, under the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, the maximum penalty is 5 years.

Although the Act appears to provide for a maximum prison sentence of 51 weeks, these are summary offences, dealt with in Magistrates’ Courts, whose sentencing powers are limited to 6 months. Legislation which would have allowed Magistrates’ Courts to impose a 51-week sentence has never been enacted. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee recommended in pre-legislative scrutiny that some offences should be made triable ‘either way’. This would enable the more serious cases to be tried at Crown Court where lengthier sentences could be imposed. This was not accepted by the Government of the day.

Furthermore, the Sentencing Council recommends a reduction in sentence of up to one-third if the offender pleads guilty at the first reasonable opportunity. The Sentencing Council is currently consulting on this guideline, although its proposal is to reinforce the one-third reduction principle. This would mean a maximum prison sentence of 4 months for offenders in the most serious cases of animal cruelty in England and Wales who plead guilty at the first Court hearing. Only 1 in 5 people believe that the maximum sentence is either appropriate or too high compared to almost two-thirds of the population (65%) who believe that the maximum penalty should be increased.

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England and Wales have the
lowest
maximum sentences for
animal cruelty in Europe

How do England and Wales compare with the rest of the world?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was rightly heralded as a landmark piece of legislation. It was seen internationally as cementing the nation’s reputation as a leading voice in animal welfare. Ten years on, how do England and Wales compare with the rest of the world?

The chart below shows the maximum custodial penalties provided for in law for animal cruelty in 100 jurisdictions around the world. These include:

  • 36 European nations, including England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • 50 States of the USA plus the District of Columbia
  • 6 Australian States plus 2 Territories
  • 5 other OECD countries (Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Turkey).

The penalties shown are for the most serious cases of animal cruelty, such as intentionally torturing an animal, causing it serious injury or death15.

Maximum custodial sentences available for animal cruelty in 100 jurisdictions around the world

Maximum sentence pie chart

Of the 100 jurisdictions studied:

  • over half (54%) can impose a prison sentence of 3 years or more
  • a third (34%) can impose a sentence of 5 years or more in prison
  • 8% allow for prison sentences of more than 5 years.

England and Wales’ position in this global picture is even more starkly presented in chart below which shows the maximum penalties in individual countries in Europe and the USA.

Maximum custodial penalties for animal cruelty in Europe

Sentences by countries

England and Wales is amongst the most lenient of the 100 jurisdictions, having the lowest maximum custodial penalty for the most serious cases. Scotland is slightly stronger at 1 year, but still does not compare favourably with many other places.

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The maximum sentence
for fly tipping is
10 times
longer than for animal cruelty

Is the sentence for animal cruelty proportionate?

Proportionality in sentencing is a key principle of British justice – the sentence must fit the crime. This is ensured in 2 ways:

  • Parliament sets the maximum penalty for offences, reflecting its view of their relative seriousness and creating the framework within which sentencing decisions must be made.
  • The Sentencing Council provides guidance to the Courts on how to differentiate the severity of cases within offence types, and the types of sentence that would be appropriate within the limits set by Parliament. Yet the maximum sentence cannot exceed what is set by Parliament.

In relation to animal cruelty, Parliament has set the maximum custodial penalty of 6 months. Contrary to some suggestions, this is the role of Parliament and Parliament alone.

Sentencing guidelines recommend:

  • a fine for the least serious cases such as incompetence when there is little or no injury to the animal
  • 12-26 weeks custody for the most serious cases such as when an animal is deliberately killed.

These guidelines were revised in 2017. The maximum sentence that can be imposed remains constrained by Parliamentary legislation at 6 months in its effort to ensure a proportionate sentencing framework across all offences.

Maximum permitted custodial penalties provided for in law for a range of offences in England and Wales

Sentences by crime

  • is it proportionate that the most serious offences of animal cruelty such as torturing an animal to death are considered less serious than, for example, fly tipping or theft?
  • is it proportionate that if a dog attacks and injures an assistance dog, its owner can be jailed for up to three years, but if a person attacks and injures or kills a dog, the most they can get is 6 months?
  • wouldn’t it be proportionate to allow for much harsher penalties to be imposed for serious cases of animal cruelty? The penalty structure for violence against the person operates along this principle and provides a useful model for animal cruelty in terms of graduated penalties, with attacks resulting in the most serious injuries attracting longer sentences.

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How your support can change the law

Three steps to changing the law for animals in England and Wales.

1. Get the support of your parliamentary candidates

We need you to get support for our call for five year animal cruelty sentences

Email your candidates

2. Go to parliament

With enough support, we will see tougher sentences for animal cruelty

Download our report

3. Change the law

With your help we can get parliament to change the law and help countless animals across England and Wales

Latest news and updates

All the latest news and campaign updates.

Why is Battersea telling me about this?

We know these cases are hard to read about, but they’re even harder for the animal concerned. Battersea sees shocking cases of cruelty and neglect where the dogs and cats who come into our care have been put through unimaginable suffering. These animals may face months of veterinary treatment and unfortunately sometimes do not make it. However, even if their abuser is brought to justice and charged with animal cruelty offences, the maximum sentence they can receive in England and Wales is just six months in prison. Battersea believes this is a wholly inadequate sentence and this is why we are campaigning to increase the maximum sentence to five years in prison.

What is Battersea doing about this?

Battersea has launched a campaign to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences in England and Wales from six months to five years, and we are having discussions with key MPs to discuss our campaign.

Battersea aims to take in any dog or cat regardless of their age, breed, or medical condition. Any animal who comes through our gates is cared for and treated by our highly experienced Veterinary team. Many animals are fostered by our staff to make sure they receive all the love and round-the-clock attention they need. All our medical decisions are made in the very best interests of our animals and we will do everything we can to give them a second chance in life. Where necessary, we report suspected cruelty cases to the RSPCA.

Battersea will continue to research this issue and lobby the Government to increase these sentences. We believe that animal cruelty is a serious crime, with serious consequences, and the sentences available in the Courts should reflect this.

Five years isn't enough - why aren't you campaigning for more?

Five years is the highest sentence available anywhere in Europe. While we have some sympathy with people who may feel it should be higher, we believe that this is proportionate and in line with other criminal offences. It would be both a worthwhile punishment and a deterrent in the worst cases, neither of which is the case for the current maximum sentence.

What happens to people who bring an animal to Battersea with evidence of cruelty?

Battersea’s primary consideration is what happens to the animal. We will take in any animal who needs our care irrespective of age, condition or breed. We will, and do, care for animals who have suffered unimaginable medical and psychological damage and try to find them a better future. Taking them in is our first task. If we believe that the animal has been the victim of cruelty and know or suspect where this took place, then we would report the case to the RSPCA.

Why are you only talking about England and Wales, not other UK countries?

England and Wales have the lowest maximum sentence for animal cruelty in Europe. Therefore, we are targeting our attention there first. However, the picture is not significantly better in Scotland, with a maximum sentence of just one year. The Scottish Government have stated that they will be reviewing this sentence. Northern Ireland already has a five-year maximum custodial sentence, and we want England and Wales to follow their example.

What should I do if I am aware of someone I think is being cruel to an animal?

If you suspect cruelty to an animal, or group of animals, then you should contact RSPCA’s cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 or visit RSPCA’s online contact page and provide as much detail as you can.

What happened with your last campaign about backstreet breeding? Did that make any difference?

Thanks to the help of thousands of people like you, it has made a big difference. The Government has now formally agreed with our campaign and we are working with other charities and Government to make sure these plans are acted upon to improve the lives of puppies and mothers.

With your support, we can make a big difference here too, and start giving animals the protection they deserve.

Will 50,000 supporters achieve a change in the law?

Not directly, however Battersea would ideally like as many people as possible to email to show their support for an increase in maximum animal cruelty sentences in England and Wales and we have now set a minimum target of 50,000 supporters. There is no figure which in and of itself compels the Government to change the law, however, we feel that support on this scale is a very positive step to show the government just how strongly the public feels about the wholly inadequate sentences currently in place.

Why am I being asked to email my local parliamentary candidates?

Emailing your local parliamentary candidates provides the opportunity to show them how important the issue of increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty is. By emailing candidates you can also help to make sure that, following the General Election, new MPs are already aware of the importance of this issue. Once elected, new MPs will have the opportunity to raise this issue with the new government.

Help change the law on animal cruelty

The penalties for animal cruelty in England and Wales need to change. By taking a couple of minutes to fill in your details below, you will be asking your local parliamentary candidates to support an increase in the maximum sentence available from just six months to five years.

Six months is not enough

Stand up for animals by emailing your parliamentary candidates and asking them to fight to change animal cruelty sentences.