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Prosecuting animal cruelty and neglect

If legislation to protect animals is to be effective, it must be adequately enforced.

Richard Martin MP, 1822 - co-founder of the RSPCA

Protecting animals

We often get asked why we prosecute people.

Wherever possible we offer advice and assistance to improve animal welfare, including giving people time to make improvements to their standards of care.

But this is not always possible or appropriate, for example if there has been a deliberate act of violence against an animal, where people won't accept assistance, or in extreme cases of neglect.

It is under these types of circumstances when we consider prosecution under laws such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006. You can read just some of our recent prosecutions stories in our prosecutions annual report 2013.

The power to prosecute

Everyone in England and Wales has the right to bring a private prosecution against someone who they believe has committed an offence.

Section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.

The law as a prevention 

RSPCA inspector on routine call holding cat indoors © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary

In most cases, we don't have to resort to prosecution because other prevention methods work, and this is our ultimate aim.

We want the law to work on behalf of animals - to protect all animals, give surviving animals a second chance, and prevent people from harming animals in the future.

We worked particularly hard for the Animal Welfare Act to be put into place, but without skilled RSPCA inspectors and animal welfare officers (AWOs), it would be a toothless tiger.

Without our officers, all the thousands of calls about animal concerns every month could not be answered.

Find out more

Learn more about how our inspectors investigate cruelty and when we have to consider prosecution.