File pic of Xinhua. (Xinhua/Zeng Yi)
LONDON, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- The maximum prison sentence for people convicted of animal cruelty in Britain is to be increased from six months to five years under plans announced Saturday.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said animal abusers who commit the most heinous crimes will face the harsher punishments.
Gove said the government is to bring forward new legislation that will increase the current punishment tenfold to send a clear signal to potential offenders that there is no place for animal cruelty in England.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "There have been a number of recent shocking cases where courts have said they would have handed down longer sentences had they been available, including a case in April last year when a man bought a number of puppies just to brutally and systematically beat, choke and stab them to death. The new legislation will also enable courts to deal more effectively with ruthless gangs involved in organized dog fights."
Secretary Gove said: "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. These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts."
Defra said the number of people convicted of extreme animal cruelty in Britain averages 1,150 people a year.
Under the government plan, courts will have the ability to hand out unlimited fines and ban offenders from ever owning animals in the future, but they will also have the ability to sentence the worst cases appropriately.
The move has been widely welcomed by animal welfare groups and follows dedicated campaigning from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home and the RSPCA.
Claire Horton, CEO at the famous Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, in London welcome the move.
She said: "Since we launched our campaign calling for five year sentences in February, the momentum has clearly been building and the response has been tremendous, with close to 62,000 members of the public across the UK calling on their MPs to back this change."
David Bowles from the animal RSPCA said: "Our inspectors regularly rescue animals from horrific circumstances of mistreatment, brutality and neglect."
Last month Defra announced plans to make closed circuit cameras mandatory in all slaughterhouses and committed to take steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.