I want to talk about my experience of the criminal justice system, and how the sentences I have seen being given are a reflection of society’s attitude to animals and an indictment of how we treat animals in my profession.
I cannot calculate the number of lower court cases in which I have acted, during which I heard the most harrowing details of animal abuse in interviews conducted by the RSPCA. However, I cannot remember one occasion when a perpetrator was sent to prison. Those cases rarely went to the Crown Court, because of the sentencing powers that we are talking about.
I pay tribute to the Minister and to any Government who have legislated to support animal welfare, but we must increase the punishment available to our courts to reflect the fact that animals are sentient beings, and that we value them as such. We must find a way to ensure that sentencing within the criminal justice system acts as a deterrent to the people who act in the most appalling manner, rather than most people being able to walk away from the justice system with, at worst, a community penalty.
I could tell you how much I love animals, Sir Roger, but you do not want to hear that. I know that this Government are committed to the highest possible standards of welfare for animals, and that they will bring forward the measures they think are reasonable and appropriate to achieve those aims. I know this is not in the Minister’s portfolio, but could she comment on any discussions she has had with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about giving guidance to the courts, the prosecution and the RSPCA, which mounts such prosecutions, to ensure that we have a rigorous attitude to animal prosecutions and that the courts provide harsh but fair sentences?