The current six-month maximum custodial term for the worst criminal cases was described as “shocking” and “laughable” by rights groups who want the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) updated with harsher penalties.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (BDCH) will launch a campaign on Monday, saying England and Wales lag behind many other western nations in penalising abusers.
The RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports also called for increased prison terms, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the subject on Friday. Raising the maximum sanction to five years in prison would put England and Wales on a par with Northern Ireland and Ireland. In Scotland the current maximum is one year.
Official figures show the average prison term for animal cruelty is 3.3 months.
BDCH chief executive Claire Horton said: “It isn’t acceptable that our courts are unable to hand out tougher sentences in such extreme animal cruelty cases, yet the likes of fly-tipping can result in prison sentences of up to five years.
“So let’s get this into proportion and let the punishment for abusing animals truly fit the crime.”
In a report released today, BDCH said the six-month maximum sentence puts England and Wales on a par with Belgium, Macedonia and the US states Idaho and Mississippi.
But the BDCH says it lags behind countries like Latvia (five years) and Finland (four years), Connecticut and Louisiana (both 10 years) and Queensland (seven years).
The report concludes that while the AWA was “a landmark piece of legislation” when introduced in 2006, “its provisions for dealing with animal cruelty have been overtaken by progressive legislation in Europe and the USA”.
It added: “Battersea’s evidence suggests that the public wishes us to keep pace with these other countries.”
The campaign launch comes ahead of a debate in Parliament. The discussion of a Private Member’s Bill by Anna Turley, the Labour MP for Redcar, will take place on February 24.
In January the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, said: “Current sentencing practice for offences of animal cruelty in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 does not suggest that the courts are finding current sentencing powers inadequate.”
Chief executive Jeremy Cooper said: “The strength of feeling behind a move to toughen up these sentences is huge – but at the moment the courts are limited by the law. I spend a lot of my time looking at horrific dog fighting footage as the League is working hard to stamp this out in the UK, but I know in the back of my mind that if we catch a dog fighter, the most they will get is six months in prison – and probably much less.
“That’s utterly inadequate and would be laughable if it wasn’t so shocking.”