The Liberal Democrats have demanded the Government introduce harsher sentences for animal welfare offences in England, which are amongst the lowest in Europe.
The current maximum penalty for animal welfare offences in England is six months imprisonment, compared to five years in Ireland, three years in Germany and two years in France. This has led to a number of cases of extreme animal cruelty where magistrates wanted to impose a longer prison sentence but were unable to.
Baroness Kate Parminter used a question in the Lords today to ask whether the Government plans to introduce tougher sentences. She is calling for the maximum sentence to be increased to five years, a move backed by animal welfare charities including the Dogs Trust.
However, Environment Minister Lord Gardiner of Kemble refused today to commit to look at extending maximum sentencing, instead offering the possibility of giving revised guidance to magistrates.
Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Kate Parminter said:
"We are a nation of animal lovers and have some of the best animal welfare legislation in the world, but are lagging behind on sentencing.
"Many of these cases involve extreme and premeditated cruelty, yet offenders are getting let off with little more than a slap on the wrist.
"The Government must toughen up sentences to ensure the punishment fits the crime."
Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director of the Dogs Trust, said:
"Dogs Trust, the UK's largest dog welfare charity, continues to be shocked by acts of cruelty that are inflicted on dogs across the UK.
"We feel strongly that the woefully inadequate penalties available for cruelty cases for conviction under the Animal Welfare Act only serve to protect those capable of such horrific crimes."
Notes to Editors
A recent review of the maximum custodial sentence for animal cruelty in 35 European countries found the only country with more lax penalties than England was Belgium, which has a maximum sentence of 3 months (written evidence from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home link)
The RSPCA successfully prosecuted 1,781 people for animal cruelty in 2015 (latest figures available - see here), 71 of these received prison sentences and 165 received suspended prison sentences.
Examples of RSPCA prosecutions:
1. In November 2016, Graham Williams plead guilty for failing to provide veterinary treatment and causing unnecessary suffering to his German Shepherd Yarna, and was sentenced to four months in prison and banned from keeping any animals for life. Such a lengthy custodial sentence is not common. It was reported that the Judge said he would have imposed a longer sentence had the law allowed. https://www.vettimes.co.uk/news/man-jailed-for-beating-dog-to-death/ (accessed 06.12.16)
2. In December 2016 Graham Coombes, aged 41, a groundworker of Abbey Road, Bovey Tracey, pleaded guilty to three counts of intentionally killing deer at night on different dates in 2014. He pleaded guilty to two counts of willfully killing a badger and one of willfully injuring a badger. He pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a terrier called Marley by failing to treat its injuries. Coombes was sentenced to a total of 20 weeks in prison. He was ordered to pay £3,000 court costs and £60 victim surcharge. He was disqualified for keeping dogs for life. The judge said he would have imposed a tougher sentence if available
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