On 29 April, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill received Royal Assent and passed the final legislative hurdle, meaning that in June the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty will be raised from six months to five years.
As stated by DEFRA, “The new maximum penalty will enable courts to take a firmer approach to cases such as dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens,illegally cropping a dog’s ears and gross neglect of farm animals. As well as a prison sentence, offenders can also receive an unlimited fine.”
This comes after extensive campaigning by several animal welfare groups and a subsequent Private Members Bill which was introduced by Chris Loder MP in February 2020 which has since received overwhelming cross-party support. Needless to say, this piece of legislation is long overdue and it is frankly embarrassing that it has taken until 2021 for the maximum prison sentences for animal cruelty to be raised. Time and time again we see cases of disgusting treatment of animals and time and time again the perpetrators are let off the hook with a measly fine or a temporary ban on looking after animals.
However, we must not be fooled into thinking this is not a major step forward when it comes to animal rights legislation in the UK. It has a historic piece of law and puts down a marker as to offences involving animals being taken as seriously as they should be. It is of course disappointing that when it comes to wildlife crime, notably that of fox hunting and illegal activities such as hare coursing and hare hunting, that the situation when it comes to sentencing remains the same. There is still not a great enough deterrent to prevent those who continue to use the lie that is “trail hunting” to chase and kill wildlife, and a recent report shows the situation is only getting worse. According to a report seen by The Mirror, “One police force had 1,000 reports of illegal chases in three months” and that “nationwide there were at least 10,000 in 2020”. The levels of cruelty inflicted upon animals in the countryside is at an alarming level and it is not just wildlife caught up in it either. A report released by Keep The Ban in March 2021 revealed how there had been an incident involving hunts terrorising domestic animals or livestock on average every two weeks between October 1st 2020 to January 4th 2021 (when the hunting season was postponed due to the pandemic).
Keep The Ban continues to campaign for existing wildlife legislation such as the 2004 Hunting Act to be strengthened and properly enforced as well as backing the campaign for Mini’s Law which you can read more about here.