Changes and Progression in the Law (England and Wales)

Cruel of Cattle Act 1822

In 1822 UK government implemented the first law that offered limited protection against cruelty to cattle (Cruel of Cattle Act 1822). Bulls were excluded from this legislation. It represented the first change in the law on animal welfare. In 1839 the Cruelty to Animals Act was enacted. This change in the law made it an offence to ill-treat cattle (beating, abuse and torture – including bulls) engage in or promote bear-baiting and cockfighting.  Such offenses carried a maximum penalty of £5 (= £497 in 2016)

Protection of Animals Act 1911

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More substantive legislation to protect animals was introduced in 1911, The Protection of Animals Act. The main offences that were set out in this legislation included the following:

  • Beating, kicking, ill-treating, over-riding, over-working, torturing or frightening any captive animal:
  • Causing unnecessary suffering by doing or omitting to do any act;
  • Conveying or carrying any animal in a manner which may cause unnecessary suffering;
  • Performing any operation without due care and humanity;
  • Allowing the fighting or baiting of any animal or the use of any premises for such acts;
  • Administering any poison, injurous drug or other substance to any animal.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

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75 years later the legislation was changed again when the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was introduced.  This new act included the provisions of the previous welfare laws as well as introducing a duty of care on all animal owners to provide essential basic needs, nutrition and health care, - to provide the animal with a suitable environment, diet, shelter and protection from pain, suffering, disease and injury. Cosmetic surgery also became an offence (e.g. tail docking of dogs), with the exception of working dogs. It also requires that the animal is allowed and permitted to exhibit normal behaviour.

The act can be broken into a number of different parts, which include:

  • Prevention of harm
  • Promotion of welfare
  • Codes of practice
  • License and registration
  • Rights of access by an inspector or police to enter premises and to take steps if necessary to alleviate animal suffering.
  • Breach of the Act and successful conviction may result in imprisonment up to 51 weeks or a fine up to £20,000 or both.

The Laws protecting animals used for research, including vivisection

The Animal Welfare Act 2006, described above, defines an ‘animal’ as a ‘vertebrate’ only. In other words this law does not protect against the use of animals such as the common octopus, which has a large and sophisticated brain and neural network.

Introduction of ASPA

The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986  (ASPA) is an additional act that was introduced to protect certain invertebrates including the octopus. It has been revised several times since 1986. It includes a list of defined and protected animals, including invertebrates, that are used for scientific research.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)

A statement from the RSPCA on the use of animals for medical and pharamceutical research:

“We know that animals can experience pain and distress in experiments and that this can be severe. The way that animals are bred, transported, housed and handled may also cause suffering. We take a constructive, practical approach, liaising with people involved in animal use in government, industry and science to ensure that: 

  • the necessity and justification for using animals is always critically reviewed 
  • everything possible is done to speed up the development of humane alternatives  
  • every possible step is taken to reduce the numbers of animals used, and to significantly reduce their suffering and improve their welfare.”

This statement acknowledges that the RSPCA recognises a necessity for using animals in research, but not at any cost to the suffering of an animal.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was founded in 1824 by a vicar, Arthur Broome, in London.  During the first year of its formation 63 offenders, mainly from Smithfield Market, were charged with animal cruelty. It was given the “Royal” title by Queen Victoria in 1840.