Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dog Days

There was a news item this week about the sentencing of some people who organised dog fights, with large sums wagered on the result. I saw one such case a few years ago, and it needed a strong stomach to look at the evidence. The fight took place in an abandoned farm building and at the end the whitewashed walls were heavily bloodstained. We simply remanded the two defendants, and my colleagues sentenced them a few weeks later after reports were prepared. The aggravation was considerable; organised for money, dogs had to be destroyed, and so on so. They received the maximum six months each and were banned from keeping animals for ten years. In this latest case numerous social-media comments have complained that the six month sentence was not enough, but as usual that raises the question of just how long is enough? All sentences have to fit into the scale somewhere; for example can it ever be right to impose a higher penalty for cruelty to animals than to people?

Here's the Guideline:-


  1. You're right, of course, about the need to place offences on a scale of seriousness. Is keeping an animal whilst banned from so doing particularly high on this scale?

    Are you able to produce a list of the sort of offences that attract sentences of different lengths?

  2. Nik - Have a look at the guidelines:-

    They are not confidential and are available to anyone to look at.

    Assuming what Bystander is referring to was charged as Animal Cruelty go to Search Offences in the list and search on Animal Cruelty. It can only be tried in the magistrates' court and the maximum is 6 months, which is the maximum we can give on any single offence.

  3. I think a bit of spleen when sentencing would be beneficial. A knowledge that hizhonour is in a particularly bad mood today might add a bit of extra tension. The addition of a sentencing roulette wheel that offered the potential for an extra 6 months for any offence might encourage potential miscreants to keep well away from the mags court.

    1. I have long thought that a wheel would add drama, piquancy, and perhaps even a little deterrence to misdemeanour sentencing.

  4. It's not just self-indulgent to let your own mood or feelings show, but it's counter-productive. Your average criminal doesn't expect to get caught, and deterrence is meaningless to most.

  5. Dear Magistrate-

    The following items seem important to consider in fashioning suitable sentences for such cases:

    - Why do we have a huge divide between the available penalties for those involved with dog fighting, versus those in the meat industry inflicting untold suffering and cruelty on captive and slaughtered animals, in the name of keeping costs down and ultimately inflicting the suffering necessary to produce meat?

    - It is anything but disingenuous to carve out legal immunization from the animal cruelty laws for the meat industry's actors, when their animals suffer greatly in captivity and when slaughtered?

    - How do we create legal definitions for animal cruelty in the meat industry, to address those who beat and otherwise mistreat animals who refuse to move to slaughter (or to a new location) quickly enough, who cause suffering and injury to animals while being transported, and who deprive them of medical care, seeing that they will be slaughtered anyway?

    Your last sentence is a good time to add a discussion of species-ism as well. If we justify killing animals for food based on some sort of made-up hierarchy, what justifies not killing a human born a vegetable (of course that human should not be killed) but killing a much more intelligent and aware cow for food?

    Be well.

    Jon Katz

    1. Jon: unless you are going to make meat illegal the production of it is going to be a nasty business. And banning meat would make the disaster of Prohibition look like a (vegetarian) picnic, because the trade would go on under cover and with no legal restraint at all.

      There is no comparison with the organised dog- or cock-fighting business. Please keep King Charles's Head out of it.

  6. In all my years as a prosecutor, the only cases that have generated concern from strangers have been animal cruelty or neglect charges.

    Multiple murders, child abuse, serial rapes, violent robberies- nothing. But let someone be charged with starving a dog or beating a horse, and my email and real mail blow up with petitions and demands for vigorous sentencing.

    Congratulations on your retirement by the way!


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