The Government has confirmed that new tougher sentences for animal cruelty will be introduced following the results of a consultation on animal welfare.

Animal abusers who commit the most heinous crimes will face up to five years in jail after the draft legislation set out by Environment Secretary Michael Gove gained strong support from welfare groups and the public.

Currently, the maximum custodial sentence for animal cruelty is six months in England. Tougher sentences – including up to five year’s imprisonment for the most severe cases – are already in place in Northern Ireland, having been passed by the Assembly in 2016.

Animal Welfare Bill

The draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill was put out to consultation in December 2017.

The consultation also set out proposals to ensure animal sentience is reflected in domestic law when we leave the EU. A summary of responses has been published today and work on this will continue.

However, in line with the recommendation from the EFRA Committee, earlier this year, legislation on sentencing will be brought forward separately so that courts have the powers available to them.

Animal Welfare Minister, Lord Gardiner said: This Government is making good on our commitment to make the UK a world leader in the care and protection of animals as we leave the EU.

“Our proposals to raise maximum sentences for animal abusers attracted strong support. We will now legislate so courts have the power to punish offenders properly.

“We will also continue to work with welfare organisations to ensure that animal sentience is properly recognised in our legislation once we have left the EU.”

Service dogs

The Government also supported the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, introduced to Parliament by Sir. Oliver Heald.

The bill, which passed its second reading in July, will ensure service animals such as police dogs and horses will be offered greater protection. The proposed legislation will remove a section of the current law of self-defence, often used by those who harm a service animal in the process of committing a crime.

The plans to increase maximum sentences follow a number of harrowing cases where courts have said they would have handed down longer sentences had they been available.

These include a case last year when a man trained dogs to torture other animals – including trapping a fox and a terrier dog in a cage to brutally attack each other.

The plans are part of a wider programme of reform to cement the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.

This includes making CCTV mandatory in all English slaughterhouses and taking steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter as we leave the EU.