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Debate Packs are produced quickly after the announcement of parliamentary business.  They are intended to provide a summary or overview of the issue being debated and identify relevant briefings and useful documents, including press and parliamentary material. 

Penalties for animal cruelty: Animal Welfare Act 2006

Penalties for animal cruelty are set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006  

In the section on post-conviction powers, the Act makes it an offence to cause an animal unnecessary suffering. Anyone found guilty of an offence under the Act can be subject to an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks.

It is for the courts to decide on an appropriate penalty based on the individual circumstances of each case. To help magistrates to impose appropriate sentences and penalties they are provided with guidance in the form of the Magistrates’ Courts Sentencing Guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council. The guidelines give examples of offences, aggravating and mitigating factors, as well as the range of suggested sentences and penalties for various types of offences.

In answer to a PQ on 17 December 2015, Defra Minister George Eustice, explained that:

The sentences currently imposed for [animal cruelty] offences are not regularly set towards the upper end of the range. This suggests that courts are not finding their current sentencing powers inadequate.

Investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty

The law (like most laws) is a ‘common informer’s Act’. This means that anyone is allowed to bring a prosecution for an offence. The RSPCA investigates many offences relating to animal cruelty or welfare of domestic animals, and in some cases farmed animals, and bring prosecutions where appropriate. The RSPCA does not have formal enforcement powers such as power of entry or the power to seize documents. Where owners do not cooperate or refuse entry to their property, the RSPCA has to call on the assistance of the police.

The RSPCA received nearly 1.2 million calls to its animal cruelty line in 2015, and investigated 143,000 complaints. Moreover, the RSPCA secured 1,781 convictions in a magistrate’s court in 2015, fewer than both 2014 (2,419) and 2013 (3,961).

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