UK Politics

MP urges longer jail terms for animal cruelty offences

Rescued terrier at an RSPCA centre
Image caption The MP said the RSPCA did not have the resources to investigate many cases

The maximum jail sentence for the most "egregious" acts of cruelty against animals in England and Wales should be doubled to two years, an MP has said.

Adrian Sanders said the current maximum sentence of 51 weeks was not a proper deterrent since most offenders ended up serving much less than half the term.

Dog and cock fighting were continuing to take place in Britain, he told MPs.

The government said it "deplored" animal cruelty and that penalties had been increased in recent years.

Since 2006, anyone participating in, organising, promoting, making a recording of or betting on an animal fight is liable to a maximum jail sentence of 51 weeks and a fine of £20,000.

'Full force of law'

According to the government, there have been about a thousand convictions under the Animal Welfare Act for such offences, with about 10% of those being jailed.

But Mr Sanders, Lib Dem MP for Torbay, said those receiving custodial sentences rarely served more than eight weeks in prison given that judges had a tendency to "under-sentence".

Speaking during a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall, he said a maximum sentence of two years would be a better deterrent as it meant more people were likely to serve at least six months in jail.

This would send a "powerful signal" and make clear there was "no place for such barbarity" in British society.

"Animal cruelty in its worst form continues to take place in Britain," he said. "We must give judges the power to punish the most egregious acts of animal cruelty."

Disqualification orders

Responding for the government, Environment Minister George Eustice said the internet had made it easier to organise certain types of dog fights.

"The government deplores animal cruelty... and believes offenders deserve the full force of the law," he said.

While he believed that current legislation was "fit for purpose", he said it was up to magistrates to decide what sentences were appropriate within the official guidelines.

Judges had a "great deal of discretion" when it came to determining the gravity of individual cases, he added, although he noted that nobody had yet been sentenced to the maximum sentence available under the law.

However, he said judges would now be expected to explain why anyone convicted of animal cruelty offences was not subsequently disqualified from owning or keeping animals.

The RSPCA says the number of convictions for animal neglect and cruelty following private prosecutions brought by the organisation rose by a third in England and Wales last year.

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