Examination of Witnesses

Part of Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:11 am on 23rd July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Mike Schwarz:

Yes, it is precisely that: the danger of disparities and distortions, and even confusion, caused by the ramping up—that is not a critical comment—of maximum sentencing in one area, which is the domesticated and under-control-of-man area, while leaving well behind the maximum sentence in other areas. As you know, the disparity is between six months in most other areas—in the Hunting Act 2004, it is even less—and five years under the Bill. That may cause problems when it comes to sentencing.

The root of the problems is the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is about sentencing, and two provisions in particular. The first is section 143, which says that the essential issues when it comes to sentencing are the culpability of the offender—that is not so relevant to today—and the “harm…caused”. That term begs the question why harm, cruelty and suffering in one sector are sentenced at a more serious level than in another. That is one provision that sparks potential problems.

The other provision is in section 152 of the same Act, when the court is required to look at whether the threshold for custody is passed. It is not a helpful comment—it is rather circular—but the section asks whether custody is justified and whether a fine or a community sentence is not appropriate. That begs the question whether the sentencing and custody threshold should be passed in one area when similar activity in another that causes similar suffering and harm might not reach the threshold. I can develop that if you like, but you might want to ask another question. I am happy to continue with that.

You know as well as I do that the “unnecessary suffering” provision in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is perhaps key to today’s discussion. As far as I can see, “unnecessary suffering” is not significantly different in terms of cruelty from the animal affected in all the other areas of animal welfare and wildlife law. One thinks of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Protection of Badgers Act and the Hunting Act. We are talking about the same sort of serious offence and the same cruelty, so there is nothing to distinguish between the activities and the suffering caused in those areas.

That brings us to the obvious point, which is that different sectors of the same activity—animal welfare, animal care, animal husbandry—are treated differently. I cannot think of an area, although I am happy to be corrected and I might be wrong, where there is that difference in sentencing when it comes to the same offence. I am not an expert in the area, but one thinks about health and safety law and the same principal offences that apply. Obviously, the sectors are regulated differently, but it would be unusual in that and similar areas for the sentences to be significantly different for the same offence and the same mischief in one area than another.