New guidelines planned for tougher animal cruelty sentences

Courts will be able to hand down tougher sentences for the most harrowing cases of animal cruelty in England and Wales, as guidelines are set to be updated in accordance with the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which came into force in June 2021. 

The Bill increases the maximum possible custodial sentences for animal cruelty tenfold, from six months to five years. With the previous maximum of six months, courts would often hand down no custodial sentences at all - or a few weeks' worth of suspended sentences - bar a few particularly harrowing cases.

The Sentencing 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. Under the proposed changes  "sadistic or extreme cases or those carried out in the context of commercial or organised criminal activity will be assessed at the highest culpability," the Council said in a statement.

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."
Sentencing Council member 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.”
The consultation will run from 10 May to 1 August 2022.