Scottish Government proposes increased sentencing for animal cruelty

The Scottish Government is seeking views on proposals to strengthen its powers against those who commit animal cruelty.

Proposed amendments to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 would increase the maximum penalty for the most serious cruelty offences from 12 months to five years imprisonment, as well as adding a potentially unlimited fine.

These new tougher penalties could also apply to attacks against service animals, supporting the initiative known as ‘Finn’s Law’ after a police dog who was repeatedly stabbed in the chest during an attempted arrest.

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 and work is currently underway to bring similar legislation into effect in England.

The changes set out by the Scottish Government would also allow quicker rehoming of animals removed by animal welfare inspectors.

This would make it possible for abused or neglected animals to move to new homes immediately, instead of being subject to potentially lengthy stays in temporary facilities.

It is also proposed to enable enforcement authorities to issue fixed penalty notices, which would allow animal welfare inspectors to better apply quick and proportionate punishment for offences such as missing documents.

Speaking ahead of the consultation launch, Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon said: “Animal welfare is a subject that I feel very passionately about so I’m delighted to be launching this consultation today.

“The Scottish Government is taking bold steps to try to further improve the welfare of our animals, and we believe the best way to do that is to challenge and change negative attitudes and behaviour.

As such, I hope that strengthening these powers will send a strong message that such abhorrent behaviour will not be tolerated in a modern, progressive and responsible society such as Scotland.

“We want to have the highest standards of welfare for our animals, but before we introduce new legislation, it’s vital that we know what relevant stakeholders – particularly those with practical experience of animal cruelty issues.