Animal abuse laws in England just got a whole lot tougher
It's no secret that many people out there care more about animals than other humans. When we hear about a human being injured we are no doubt distressed, but a dog, cat, horse or rabbit being abused? Stories like that are the ones which really hit us where it hurts. However, thanks to new animal abuse laws in England, people who cruelly mistreat animals will be paying a much harsher price than before - and rightfully so.
In late September 2017, the British government revealed plans to make people who commit the most heinous acts of cruelty to animals face up to five years in prison. The move is a hefty increase on the former six-month maximum and signals an important shift in tone for the country, which currently has some of the most lenient sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty in Europe.
The crackdown is no coincidence and comes after a number of court cases in which judges have admitted they would have liked to impose harsher punishments if they had the option, including a particularly horrifying one where a man bought a number of puppies with the intention of brutally and systematically beating, choking and stabbing them to death. According to the UK's Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), about 1,150 people per year are currently convicted for animal cruelty - but fewer than five receive the current maximum sentence.
The Department of the Environment claimed that the new legislation will also enable courts to deal more effectively with merciless gangs involved in organised dog fights. Under the government's plans, the courts will retain the ability to hand out unlimited fines, as well as being able to ban offenders from owning animals in the future, but in addition, they will have the power to sentence the most monstrous cases more harshly.
Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, spoke highly of the proposed animal abuse laws, stating it would target "those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals". He added: “We are a nation of animal lovers and so we must ensure that those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals face suitably tough punishments,” he said. “These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts. This is one part of our plan to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead.”
England's moderate animal abuse laws have been a heavily debated issue among the public for quite some time. As the announcement was made, animal lovers across England rejoiced and many even took to social media to express their jubilation. In addition, many people in Wales expressed their hope that their country would soon follow suit.
One important example of the old laws provoking outrage is the case of two brothers from Redcar, in Teesside, who subjected a bulldog to abuse in 2016. Andrew and Daniel Frankish repeatedly stamped on the dog, before throwing it down the stairs; as a result of the attack, the dog became paralysed in the back legs and eventually had to be put down.
However, when its coldhearted assailants were taken to court, they were only given a suspended sentence at Hartlepool Magistrates Court. Afterwards, livid adversaries pointed out that, even if they had been jailed, the maximum prison sentence they could have faced was six months - meaning they would likely have been released in just three. The incensed public response highlighted the fact that punishment for animal cruelty offences needed to enforced. Reportedly, between 2013 and 2015, more than 3,000 people in England and Wales were convicted of animal cruelty but just seven per cent received jail terms.
The government plans to publish draft legislation for the new laws - which will only apply in England as animal cruelty powers are devolved to the nations of the UK - around the New Year, with the guidelines expected to come into force in 2018. Unsurprisingly, the reform has been warmly welcomed by the RSPCA, a charity operating in England and Wales that promotes animal welfare.
David Bowles, RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, said: “Our inspectors regularly rescue animals from horrific circumstances of mistreatment, brutality and neglect. It is only through the prosecutions that we take that many of the perpetrators are brought to justice.
“The strength of feeling behind a move to toughen up these sentences is huge," he continues, "but at the moment the courts are limited by the law under which the strongest sentence for animal cruelty is six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine - but this rarely happens. Michael Gove’s promise to bring sentences in line with Northern Ireland, which has a maximum of five years imprisonment, should help to deter people from abusing and neglecting animals and will finally mean that the sentence fits the crime.”
With the arrival of the new laws, we can only hope that animal abusers in England feel the full force of the justice system and receive the harshest punishment possible for their crimes.