Cruelty to animals could now land a person in prison for a maximum of five years.
The new law in Scotland comes into effect today after receiving Royal Assent – the process whereby the Queen formally approves a bill to become an Act of Parliament.
Those guilty of animal cruelty previously would face a maximum of 12 months, but now the country has raised the sentence significantly to five years.
MSPs at Holyrood voted unanimously last month in favour of the Scottish Government’s change in law under the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.
Animal charities have welcomed the new law, including organisation Battersea, in London, which has spent many years campaigning to raise the UK’s maximum sentences to five years, in line with many other countries in Europe.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: “We’re really grateful to all of our supporters who wrote to MSPs to call for a change in the law.
"The Scottish Government has sent out a clear message that Scotland will not tolerate the most heinous animal cruelty crimes and will respond accordingly.
"We believe that this change will help protect innocent animals and act as a proper deterrent to those who abuse and mistreat animals.
"The focus now shifts to Westminster and the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which was introduced in February. The Second Reading date for the Bill has been postponed a number of times and is not scheduled to take place until 23 October 2020. This is despite the Bill having huge cross-party support, and the Government first pledging its support for a change in the law in England and Wales three years ago.
“The Bill has been published twice before but fell during the prorogation of Parliament in October 2019, and a second time when a general election was called last December.
“Together, we’ll make sure that Westminster follows Scotland’s lead. We know the political support is there - it's time to get this over the line.”
SPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell said: “This is a game-changing law for animal welfare in Scotland.
“Every day the Scottish SPCA experiences first-hand how existing legislation can fail animals and we’ve long campaigned for many of the reforms contained in this new Bill, including harsher punishments for animal cruelty.
“The inconsistency of sentences handed out to those guilty of animal cruelty has long been a frustration. We are hopeful increased sentencing and unlimited fines will act as a greater deterrent to people in mistreating animals and ensure the punishments befits the crime for the worst offences, such as animal fighting and puppy farming.”
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