[In 2006 the U.K. adopted a new Animal Welfare Law, therefore the following analysis may not apply to existing law and should be considered historical.]
The main offences of cruelty to captive and domestic animals are set out in section 1(1) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 as respects England and Wales. Similar legislation covers Scotland and slightly less similar legislation is in force in Northern Ireland.
The maximum sentence for an offence of cruelty is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding £5000.
The animals protected by the legislation
The offences of cruelty protect only animals that are either domestic or captive. As to the type of animals that, if domestic or captive, are protected, “any animal … of whatsoever kind or species, and whether a quadruped or not, including any bird, fish or reptile,” is included.
The offences of cruelty under section 1(1) of the 1911 Act
Section 1(1) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 makes it an offence of cruelty to do, or cause or procure to be done, or, in the case of the owner, permit, any of the following:
(1) Cruelly beat, kick, ill-treat, override, over-drive, overload, torture, infuriate, or terrify any animal
(2) Wantonly or unreasonably do or omit to do any act causing unnecessary suffering to any animal
(3) Convey or carry any animal in such a manner or position as to cause it any unnecessary suffering
(4) Cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal; or to provide premises for that activity
(5) Willfully, without any reasonable cause or excuse, administer any poisonous or injurious drug or substance to any animal
(6) Subject any animal to any operation which is performed without due care and humanity
(7) Tether any horse, ass, or mule under such conditions or in such manner as to cause the animal unnecessary suffering.
Three of the seven above categories of conduct expressly relate to conduct the result of which is to cause an animal unnecessary suffering. The actual number that do so is four, because the courts have held that the word “cruelly” (used in the first category) means ‘causing unnecessary suffering’.
“Unnecessary suffering” refers to abuse of an animal that, judged by the standards of a reasonably humane person, was inflicted without good reason. Where no legitimate object exists in pursuit of which the suffering was inflicted, the suffering is clearly not necessary. Where, however, the suffering was inflicted in the pursuit of a legitimate object, there must be proportionality between the suffering caused and the benefit sought.
The offences of cruelty under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960
Section 1 of the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 makes it an offence to abandon an animal without reasonable cause or excuse, whether permanently or not, in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering.
Overview of the Offences of Cruelty to Domestic and Captive Animals (UK)
Detailed Discussion of the Offences of Cruelty to Domestic and Captive Animals (UK)
Protection of Animals Act 1911
Abandonment of Animals Act 1960