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Animal cruelty sentences to rise to five years in prison

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People in England who commit the most serious crimes of animal cruelty could face up to five years in prison, the government has said.

The move – an increase on the current six-month maximum sentence – follows a number of cases where English courts wanted to hand down tougher sentences.

Under the government’s plans, courts will retain the ability to hand out an unlimited fine and ban an offender from owning animals in the future. However, they would now also have the ability to sentence the worst cases more harshly.

The new legislation will also enable courts to deal more effectively with ruthless gangs involved in organised dog fights.

“We are a nation of animal lovers and so we must ensure that those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals face suitably tough punishments.”

At the moment the courts are limited by the law under which the strongest sentence for animal cruelty is six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine – but this rarely happens. About 1,150 people per year are convicted for animal cruelty – but fewer than five receive the current maximum sentence.

The government is expected to publish draft legislation for consultation at the end of the year.