Mode of trial and maximum penalty for certain animal welfare offences

Part of Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 2:00 pm, 23rd July 2019

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Redcar. No one has done more than she has to advance this legislation. I entirely endorse the spirit and intention behind what she proposes, and simply want to volunteer some thoughts by way of context.

It is important to note that the recording of an offence is already set out as an aggravating factor in certain other criminal offences such as rape and sexual assault. As we know, the Sentencing Council publishes guidelines that the court is obliged to take into account. It is therefore important to ensure that the Sentencing Council has the widest possible rein to reflect the full spectrum of aggravating features in respect of this offence, as it has done with other offences.

My only question mark relates to whether there is a risk that, if we legislate for one particular aggravating feature, the Sentencing Council might not have as broad a remit as it might like. I say that because its guideline on the Animal Welfare Act 2006 lists “Other aggravating factors”, including “Use of a weapon” and “Use of another animal”. My rhetorical question is whether, in focusing legislation purely on one aspect, however heinous an aggravating feature it is, we risk inadvertently downplaying other aggravating features.

While I respectfully and entirely endorse the hon. Lady’s intention and the spirit of her amendment, I venture to suggest that the Sentencing Council has shown itself well capable of reflecting the issue of degradation through publication, and well attuned to the need to do so. Inevitably, I think it would include that factor, but it would also include other aggravating features such as use of another animal, use of a weapon, or whether the victim—so to speak—was a public service dog. That would ensure that the offending received the condign punishment it deserves.