New measures to increase the maximum available penalties for the worst cases of animal cruelty have come in to force.
The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, which was passed by MSPs in June, increases the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines.
These tougher penalties will be available to courts when convicting those who are involved in animal fighting, causing unnecessary suffering to animals or committing a wide range of serious crimes against wildlife.
In addition, the new ‘Finn’s Law’ will prevent those who attack or injure service animals in the course of their duties from claiming they did so in self-defence. The law is named after a police dog called Finn who was injured whilst pursuing a suspect with his handler in England in 2016 and sustained serious injuries.
Other parts of the Act will create flexible new powers to allow various Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) regimes to be developed for a wide range of less serious animal health, animal welfare and wildlife offences, outwith the court system. These will be introduced in future secondary legislation.
Changes to restrict the licensed killing of seals are due to take effect from 01 February 2021.
The Scottish Government is also preparing a report to be laid before the Scottish Parliament by 01 March 2021 on the use of acoustic deterrent devices on fish farms.
The reclassification of mountain hares as endangered animals, which will protect the species from being killed, injured or taken (except under licence for certain limited purposes) at any time of the year is expected to come into force on 01 March 2021, subject to certain permitted exceptions.
The introduction of new powers to deal more quickly with animals seized to protect their welfare will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity in 2021.
Kenneth Gibson MSP said:
“The thought of anyone harming or killing an animal is beyond most of us, but sadly there are people out there who have no qualms about doing something so heinous.
“The SNP Government is committed to ensuring Scotland’s animals have the best possible protection, including our dedicated service animals.
“I was pleased to vote for this legislation to help protect our animals and wildlife and hope perpetrators will think twice given the consequences introduced – if for no other reason.”
Finn’s handler PC Dave Wardell said:
“Every day in Scotland our brave police dogs and horses put themselves in harm’s way to look after us and protect society. To see these amazing animals receive the protection in law that they so rightly deserve is a great moment in my life. Thank you.”