The Animal Welfare Act 2006 came into force on 6th April 2007.
This means, any person responsible for an animal will have a legal duty to ensure that its needs are met as required by 'good practice'. Good practice guidelines are published by DEFRA and will be similar to those of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000. These include:
- the need for a suitable environment
- the need for a suitable diet
- the need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- any need to be housed with or apart from other animals, and
- the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Under The Protection of Animals Act 1911 it is an offence to cause unnecessary physical or mental suffering to an animal. Other offences under the new Animal Welfare Act 2006 include:
- the 'mutilation of animals', such as the docking of tails (other than for good medical reasons or an animal undergoing veterinary treatments).
- the selling or giving of a pet as a prize to anyone under 16 years of age
- Offences related to animal fighting.
Local Authority Inspectors and Police Constables will have enforcement powers and inspectors can serve an improvement notice on the person responsible for an animal if a welfare offence has been committed. To avoid prosecution, the terms of the notice must be complied with.
The Local Authority, Police or a member of the public (including the RSPCA) can undertake a prosecution which can be started up to 3 years after the offence (as long as it is within 6 months of the evidence becoming available).
Penalties will vary, but the most serious offences could incur a fine of up to £20,000 and/or 51 weeks imprisonment. Powers will be available to impose disqualification orders banning a person from owning or looking after animals and either dealing or transporting animals.
A change is likely to the Licensing or Registration of activities involving animals, such as, riding schools, pet shops and animal boarding establishments, which may involve risk-based inspections. Licensing of livery yards, racing greyhounds and animal sanctuaries is also currently being considered.