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1.0 Your role as prosecutor for the RSPCA

There is a gap between the high maximum penalties found in the Animal Care and Protection Act (of 2 years imprisonment or $75,000 fine) which reflect society’s high moral regard for animals and the realities of enforcement.  Inadequate enforcement of the legislation has typically hindered the RSPCA in enforcing appropriate sentences for crimes against animals.  The success of the legal regime relies on an ability to prosecute.  The role of BLEATS lawyers is to provide the RSPCA with the legal skill to successfully prosecute animal cruelty offenders by enforcing the current legislation.  In time justice will follow, as skilled lawyers are able to provide adequate legal representation, raise the current low sentences in precedent law and help raise public awareness and public opinion.

There are some things to keep in mind when you act as a prosecutor for the RSPCA.  The role of the prosecutor is to assist the magistrate or judge in reaching a fair and appropriate sentence, which reflects all the mitigating and aggravating factors of the case.  It is the prosecutor’s job to supply the court with the facts and circumstances of the case (for example injuries suffered, and veterinarian reports) and the offender’s criminal history.  In normal circumstances a prosecutor may provide the magistrate or judge with a schedule of other animal cruelty cases and the penalties that were handed down in these cases, but in the current times, where there have been very low sentences awarded to animal cruelty offenders, this would have the effect of entrenching low sentences.  If there is a precedent reflective of an appropriate sentence, then it is certainly appropriate for you to provide this as a reference for the judge or magistrate.  The magistrates and judges may also be unfamiliar with this relatively new area of law and it is the prosecutor’s job to refer the judge or magistrate to the correct sections in the Act.

 2.0 In achieving appropriate sentences prosecutor should refer to-

-The maximum penalties in the Act.  Maximum penalties are not necessarily reserved for the worst case possible but are an indication of what parliament and the people think is a reasonable penalty for a range of the worst cases.

-The principles behind the punishment.  It may be appropriate where there is a single offence with no intent, and little harm inflicted on the animal that the offender receive a penalty to deter them from doing it again (like a community service sentence or a fine).  If the offence was so serious that the animal or animals suffered greatly and the defendant acted with intent and malice, the sentence should be one which firstly deters the offender for doing such a crime again, secondly protects the community from more harmful acts, and thirdly tries to rehabilitate the offender.  In this circumstance an appropriate sentence would be a longer term imprisonment.  A prosecutor should consider what principles they are trying to invoke in advocating for certain sentences and may consider sentences that achieve for example ; protection, deterrence, retribution, denunciation, rehabilitative, reparation, and or restoration.

-consider that animals are sentient beings and are vulnerable and dependant on owners/humans.

-When considering animals that are primarily used for commercial reasons- the penalty needs to be more than a fine that the farmer, for example is willing to take in order to make higher economic profits.  If treating the animals inhumanely saves the farmer $500,000 per year and the fine is only $5,000 the farmer may make an economic decision to commit an offence and bear the fine.


Some of the relevant aggravating factors-

-The defendant acted with intent or malice

-Where there is a severe degree of harm, multiple animals suffered, and/or the suffering was for a long duration.

-Failure to heed RSPCA warnings or advice

-No mitigation of pain (especially where it was reasonable, or not impractical for the harm to be mitigated or avoided.)

-The defendant acted with extreme violence, weapons, convicted multiple or prolonged attacks and/or attacked the animal’s head.


Some of the relevant mitigating factors-

-The defendant entered guilty plea early in proceedings

-The defendant usually has good character (look at job, family, societal status, volunteer work, friends, usual behavior is inconsistent with the conviction).


-Mental capacity

-The defendant was not directly involved in the offence and was not primarily responsible for the harm suffered.

3.0 Examples of sentences-

-A fine or good behavior bond.  This is the least severe and most common sentence that are applied to animal cruelty offenders.

-Community service or work orders.  More severe orders and not as common as fines.

-Rehabilative sentences- for example gaol sentences are rarely applied to animal cruelty offenders (even in the worst cases of cruelty where the maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment should be applied.)


Sentencing Range in the United Kingdom

Finally as a prosecutor you may like to keep in mind movements from around the globe.  The United Kingdom is currently reviewing the animal cruelty system they have in place to prosecute offenders.  The new system will give judges more guidance in handing down sentences and this will pioneer higher precedent sentences for later judges to refer to.  The new system will implement a range into the legislation-giving appropriate minimum standard orders in each range.   The least serious cases of cruelty (for example an impulsive act, short term neglect, where there is little of no injury to the animal) the sentence is a community service or substantial fine.  Where the defendant has committed a more serious act of cruelty (for example ill treatment, or medium term neglect) the order is to be a longer term community service, fine, or small term gaol sentence.  In the worst cases of animal cruelty (for example where the defendant has killed, tortured, or committed prolonged neglect, or where there were multiple animals effected, or multiple malice attacks, causing significant pain and suffering) there is a minimum standard order of long term imprisonment.