DEFRA announces increase in maximum sentence for animal welfare offences

DEFRA has announced that the maximum sentencing powers available to Courts when sentencing those convicted of animal welfare offences are going to increase significantly.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 as it currently stands animal welfare cases can only be tried by a Magistrates Court and the maximum sentence which the Magistrates can impose is a prison term of up to six months and/or an unlimited fine. In addition, the Magistrates can disqualify the person who has been convicted from keeping animals for such a period as it thinks fit.

However, following a public consultation, DEFRA has decided to increase the maximum sentence to up to five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. The court's power to order disqualification from keeping animals will remain unchanged. As a result of these changes, the most serious animal welfare cases will be tried in the Crown Court.

Cases involving outright abuse of animals are, thankfully, comparatively rare. Far more common are cases involving allegations of neglect. Such cases often involve a difference of opinion between Trading Standards and/or the RSPCA – the bodies that usually prosecute animal welfare cases – and the person who keeps the animal and his/her vet as to whether or not the way the animal was treated was deficient.

Contact a solicitor

Obtaining early, expert advice in these cases has always been essential. This is even more important now that the potential consequences of being convicted of such offences are more severe.

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