Animal protection charity OneKind has welcomed the publication today (1 February 2019) of Scottish Government proposals to strengthen enforcement measures available under Scotland’s main animal welfare legislation.
In particular, OneKind welcomes the Scottish Government’s intention to increase the maximum available penalties for serious offences to a prison sentence of five years, an unlimited fine or both. The current penalties for cruelty or animal fighting are imprisonment of up to twelve months or a fine of up to £20,000 or both. These have repeatedly been shown to be inadequate, particularly as the courts are obliged to discount sentences for reasons such as an early guilty plea or a first offence, and there have been many calls for sentences that better reflect the seriousness of cruelty to animals.
OneKind strongly supports an increase in sentences to a maximum of five years, but has also pointed out the post-conviction orders, such as disqualification from keeping animals, need to be more consistently and rigorously applied by the courts.
OneKind Director Bob Elliot said:
“Recent cases in the Scottish courts show that chronic neglect and outright cruelty to animals still continues in Scotland. Sentences often involve alternatives to custody, such as community service, and that may often be appropriate, but must always be underpinned by the option of prison in the most serious cases.
“We have noted that more persons appear to be receiving bans on keeping animals, but the disqualification periods vary considerably, so we believe that this should also be examined under the review of the Act.”
The Scottish Government has stated that the new tougher penalties could also apply to attacks against service animals, supporting the initiative known as ‘Finn’s Law’ after Police Dog Finn, who was stabbed in the line of duty during an attempted arrest. The subsequent court case and sentencing highlighted the very low penalties available in England for animal cruelty convictions.
Bob Elliot added:
“All animals deserve justice and that is why the penalties need to be increased across the board. In cruelty cases, of course, there is no difference between the suffering of a police dog and that of any other dog. The courts should always impose the most meaningful penalty for every offence, regardless of the status of the animal. However, society does owe a particular duty of care to service animals and for that reason we’ll be proposing that the reforms include a statutory aggravation for assaults on any animals that work for the public.”
Another proposal in the consultation relates to giving enforcement agencies such as local authorities the ability to issue a fixed penalty notice as an alternative to prosecution in court. This is thought to be suitable in cases such as, for example, failure to comply with a statutory notice to have a dog microchipped, where court action might be disproportionate.
A further change will allow arrangements to be made for the re-homing or sale of animals taken into possession by the authorities after a specified period of time, without the need for a court order. At present animals such as puppies seized from illegal breeders can remain in care for lengthy periods during a court case, when they should be re-homed as soon as possible on welfare grounds.
Notes to editor:
- OneKind is Scotland’s leading animal campaigns charity working to end cruelty to Scotland’s animals. OneKind works to expose cruelty and persecution through investigations and research covering Scotland’s wildlife, farm animals and pets. Find out more about our work at onekind.scot