People found guilty of cruelty to horses will face tougher sentences when the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill passes into law tomorrow (Thursday 29 April).
The new Bill means animal abusers could face up to five years in prison under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The maximum sentence was previously six months.
In a statement, the RSPCA said it is “delighted”.
The Bill is expected to come into force later this year. Courts will then have the flexibility to impose tougher sentences for the worst animal abusers.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said the reform is “long overdue”.
“For many years, the most violent and horrific abuse and cruelty received a maximum penalty of just a few months. We’re proud to have some of the best standards of animal welfare in the world [in the UK] but custodial sentences have long been letting us down.
“This Act is a huge step forward for animal welfare in the UK and we’re delighted that justice will now be served for animals.
“Tougher sentences will act as a stronger deterrent to potential animal abusers and will help us in our aim to cancel out animal cruelty once and for all.”
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act will apply in both England and Wales, once the Welsh Parliament passes a legislative consent motion. The new law brings these countries in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland, where convicted animal abusers can be jailed for up to five years.
Over the last three years, the RSPCA has secured 4,103 convictions in England and Wales courts and 156 individuals received immediate prison terms.
Recent abuse cases the RSPCA has dealt with include Bonny (pictured, top) who was found in a field emaciated with ribs, spine, hips and pelvis visible.
She had a swollen knee and wore a dirty bandage which, when removed, revealed an old infected wound that had turned green. Despite veterinary care her condition deteriorated and she was put to sleep.
A man was found guilty of three animal welfare offences related to Bonny. His sentence included being banned from keeping horses for four years.
“Every year our officers are faced with cases of the most unimaginable cruelty: animals beaten, stabbed, shot and burned; unwanted or elderly pets being drowned; wild animals shot with crossbows or set on fire; gangs forcing cockerels to fight to the death; and breeders cutting off puppies’ ears to make them look tough,” added Chris.
“At least now, in those cases that leave us heartbroken, our courts will be able to hand out sentences that truly reflect the severity of the crimes.”