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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Sentencing Council updates guidelines on animal cruelty offences

Sentencing Council updates guidelines on animal cruelty offences


The updated sentencing guidelines follow a consultation on the matter  

The Sentencing Council published its updated sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty offences on 10 May, which reflect changes introduced by the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, including an increase in the maximum penalty for the most serious cases of animal cruelty from six months to five years in custody.

More specifically the updates include a new ‘animal cruelty’ guideline for the most serious offences, including causing unnecessary suffering, tail docking and animal fighting. The new guideline will apply in both magistrates’ courts and Crown Court.

The Sentencing Council has also published a second guideline on the ‘Failure to ensure animal welfare,’ which revises elements of the existing animal cruelty sentencing guideline and applies to offences under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 concerning a breach of duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare. This updated guideline, which applies in magistrates’ courts only, includes new aggravating factors for a significant number of animals harmed, the offender having a professional responsibility for the animals and an offence motivated by financial gain.

Under the updated guidelines, sentences for the most serious offences are expected to increase. An offender’s culpability will be increased concerning the most sadistic or extreme cases or cases involving prolonged incidents of serious cruelty and regarding cases involving multiple incidents or the use of significant force. In addition to this, higher sentences may be imposed where an offender’s actions have caused an animal to die or sustain life-threatening injuries, or have caused substantial pain or suffering. New aggravating factors include cases where a significant number of animals are affected, where images have been shared on social media, or the act is committed in the presence of children.

Prior to the publication of the updated guidelines, the Sentencing Council published the latest animal cruelty data tables, which explain the current sentencing practice for animal cruelty offences.

Both sets of updated guidelines come into force on 1 July 2023.

Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said: “Animal cruelty is a serious offence and animals can experience untold suffering at the hands of people who they trust to look after them, including being left in appalling conditions or forced to fight each other for money. The new guidelines will guarantee that courts have the powers to deliver appropriate sentences to offenders who mistreat animals.”