The CASJ has submitted a hard-hitting response to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) inquiry into the effectiveness of the Animal Welfare Act. We’ve focussed on the extraordinarily lenient sentences handed down in England and Wales, even for the most horrific and sadistic abuse of animals. The maximum sentence of six months is amongst the lowest in the international community, and most cruelty convictions do not result in a custodial sentence at all.
We highlighted the deep public anger at lenient sentencing for animal cruelty offences, indicated by the mammoth support of almost half a million signatures gained by the ‘Justice for Chunky’ epetition, where Chunky the chihuahua (see picture) was ‘attacked for hours in what the RSPCA called one of the most disturbing cases of animal abuse they had ever seen. Chunky was, over a period of hours, beaten and drugged, his neck was broken, he was set on fire and finally he was dumped and left for dead.‘ The perpetrators were let off with a ban on keeping animals for five years.
There is a gaping chasm between the public’s high moral regard for animals and current sentences, which send the wrong message to such criminals and society as a whole by implying that such offences are trivial. Furthermore, they fail to act as a sufficient deterrent.
Scientifically-speaking, the level of harm experienced by nonhuman animal victims of violent crime should be assumed to be similar to that suffered by human victims. We have called for animals to be recognised as crime victims and the recipients of criminal behaviour that is an offence against the state. Therefore, sentencing powers for animal crimes should be closer to those for similar offences against human victims as, for example, the New Zealand courts now recognise.
The British state’s relaxed attitude to animal cruelty is yet another manifestation of its institutionalised view of animals as little more than inanimate objects who are the property of humans, rather than sentient individuals with intrinsic moral value.
To help prevent animal suffering caused by cruelty and neglect, we have also recommended:
- people who want to keep animals must obtain a licence based on passing a competency and attitude test
- much greater public participation in developing policy, as seen in the state of South Australia, for example
- the state must take ultimate responsibility for protecting animals, rather than washing its hands of the problem and leaving it to charities
- the need for a government body – an Animal Protection Commission – to coordinate and drive forward effective animal protection policies and laws
You can read our submission here.
 Killeen, A. (2013) ‘Animal welfare sentencing’, New Zealand Law Journal No 3 (April).