Animal Cruelty Consultation

Closed 1 Aug 2022

Opened 10 May 2022


What is this consultation about?

The current sentencing guideline for animal cruelty, which can be found here, encompasses offences contrary to the following sections of the Animal Welfare Act 2006: section 4 (unnecessary suffering), section 8 (fighting, etc.) and section 9 (breach of duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare). The guideline was last revised in 2017 and, until 2021, the offences it covered were summary only, triable in magistrates’ courts and subject to a maximum penalty of six months’ custody.

In 2021, Parliament passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which increased the maximum sentence for specific offences under the 2006 Act from six months’ to five years’ custody and made these either way offences, meaning they could be heard in magistrates’ courts or the Crown Court. The following offences were impacted by the change:

  • Causing unnecessary suffering (section 4, Animal Welfare Act 2006);
  • Carrying out a non-exempted mutilation (section 5, Animal Welfare Act 2006);
  • Docking the tail of a dog except where permitted (section 6(1) and 6(2), Animal Welfare Act 2006);
  • Administering a poison to an animal (section 7, Animal Welfare Act 2006); and
  • Involvement in an animal fight (section 8, Animal Welfare Act 2006).

In light of this legislative change, the Council is seeking to revise and update the sentencing guideline for animal cruelty, to provide fuller guidance to sentencers. This will also replace the interim guidance that was issued when the statutory maximum penalty was increased, pending the revisions being consulted on in this paper. Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • The principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guidelines more or less serious;
  • The additional factors that should influence the sentence;
  • The types and lengths of sentence that should be passed;
  • Whether there are any issues relating to disparity of sentencing and/or broader matters relating to equality and diversity that the guidelines could and should address; and
  • Anything else you think should be considered.

In developing these revised guidelines, we have liaised with stakeholders to consider their views. We have also examined case studies covering a range of animal cruelty offences and have analysed transcripts of sentencing remarks relating to the very small number of offenders who have been sentenced in the Crown Court.  

As part of the 12-week consultation process, the Council will also be holding a number of exercises with sentencers and other criminal justice professionals to explore how the proposed guidelines might work in practice, to collate their views and feedback on the proposals.

Once the consultation period ends, all responses will be analysed carefully before the Council publishes a formal response and the final revised guidelines for courts to use.

To accompany this consultation paper, a resource assessment has been put together, which considers the likely impact of proposals on the wider criminal justice system, along with a statistics bulletin. These documents, together with the draft guidelines, can be viewed on the Council’s website:

We would like to hear from anyone who uses sentencing guidelines in their work or who has an interest in sentencing. We would also like to hear from individuals and organisations representing anyone who could be affected by the proposals including:

  • Pet owners and those who look after animals;
  • Defendants and their families;
  • Those under probation supervision or youth offending teams/supervision; and
  • Those with protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

It is important to note that the Council is consulting on sentencing these offences and not on the legislation upon which such offences are based. The relevant legislation is a matter for Parliament and is, therefore, outside the scope of this exercise.

What is the Sentencing Council?

The Sentencing Council is the independent body responsible for developing sentencing guidelines which courts in England and Wales must follow when passing a sentence. The Council consults on its proposed guidelines before they come into force and on revisions to existing guidelines.

Age applicability

When issued as definitive guidelines, these will only apply to offenders aged 18 or older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of children and young people are included in the Council’s definitive guideline:



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