‘Momentous’ New Bill To Transform Animal Welfare In Scotland

The Scottish SPCA has welcomed the Scottish Parliament’s decision to vote in favour of a new law which will transform animal welfare.

Scotland’s animal welfare charity, which is reponsible for investigating animal cruelty and rehoming animals seized on welfare grounds, says the law will be game-changing for both animals and the organisation. It received cross-party support in Holyrood.

The Animals and Wildlife (Scotland) Bill will increase the maximum sentence for the worst animal cruelty or wildlife crime offences from one year to five and/or an unlimited fine. The Bill will also remove the need for the Scottish SPCA to obtain a court order to rehome an animal involved in legal proceedings which has not been signed over in to their care. In 2019, the Society spent over £650,000 providing refuge to animals caught up in such situations. On average, these animals spent 203 days in the Society’s care. Under the new law, these animals could be rehomed after three weeks subject to veterinary advice.

The Bill will also introduce greater protections for service animals and the ability to issue fixed penalty notices for some offences.

Responding to the vote to pass the Animals and Wildlife (Scotland) Bill, Scottish SPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell said: “This is a momentous day for animal welfare in Scotland. The proposals which will be enshrined in law will deliver wholesale, transformational change for animals nationwide.
“Every day the Scottish SPCA experiences first hand how existing legislation can fail animals and we’ve long campaigned for many of the reforms contained in this Bill.
“The inconsistency of sentences handed out to those guilty of animal cruelty has long been a frustration. We are hopeful increased sentencing and unlimited fines will act as a greater deterrent to people in mistreating animals and ensure the punishments befits the crime for the worst offences, such as animal fighting and puppy farming.
“At the moment, any animal involved in legal proceedings cannot be rehomed unless it is signed over in to our care or we obtain a court order. On average, an animal caught up in such a situation spent 203 days – or almost seven months – in one of our rescue centres before being rehomed. Now, we’ll be able to rehome these animals within weeks. This will free up space in our centres for more animals in need. The Society has spent over £2.1m providing refuge to these animals since 2016, so this will bring us signficant cost savings.
“Most importantly it is in the best interests of every single animal we are able to rehome faster because, despite the first class care and attention of our great team, a rescue centre is not a long-term substitute for a loving home.
“Looking ahead, we welcome the Scottish Government’s pledge to set-up an independent taskforce to explore the potential to extend our powers to allow us to investigate wildlife crime. We have a nationwide network of inspectors with the expertise to do this who would gladly take up the opportunity to help even more animals.”
“We also welcome the commitment to commission research into empathy training as part of restorative justice and look forward to being part of this inititiave.”

A late amendment means a licensing system will be introduced for the killing of mountain hares. Concerns had been raised about the mass killing of mountain hares.

Kirsteen said: “The only circumstances under which the Scottish SPCA will accept mass killing or culls of any species is when it is in the interests of the wider health of the species or if there is a serious threat to human health or safety. Bloodsport is no excuse for the widespread slaughter of any animal, and that includes those who slaughter mountain hares to boost estate income.”