I’m referring to the UK but this argument may well apply to many other countries. Depending on the circumstances, in the UK, it is better for the prosecuting authorities to charge a person with criminal damage and not animal cruelty if that person or persons have been charged with serious animal cruelty offences.
The simple reason is that, in the UK, animal cruelty cases are tried in the Magistrates’ Courts and not the Crown Courts. In the hierarchy of courts, the Magistrates’ Court is lower than the Crown Court. Magistrates are lay people. They are not qualified lawyers. Crown Court judges are qualified lawyers, normally barristers.
The maximum sentence for animal cruelty, which is a summary-only offence, is six months in prison plus a fine. On conviction for criminal damage the Crown Court can punish the accused with a 10-year prison sentence. That’s the maximum sentence but you see it is far higher than the punishment handed down to criminals tried in the Magistrates’ Court.
It is this thinking which applied to the recent ‘Brighton Cat Killer’ case in which Steve Bouquet was convicted of killing or injuring 16 cats. This was a particularly nasty series of animal cruelty crimes which the Crown Prosecution Service decided would be better tried in the Crown Court under a criminal damage charge.
This takes me nicely to the next point. For a criminal charge to be brought the prosecution service has to work out the value of the damage. Don’t forget, that criminal damage is about damage to a person’s property. Domestic cats are treated as property as you probably know.
I find it interesting to read some examples of how they valued the damage to some of the 16 cats injured or killed in this case. For example, one cat whose name was Gizmo was valued at £384.40 p. Cosmo, in contrast, was also killed but the ‘damage’ perpetrated to him was valued at £5,056.44 p. The highest value was assigned to a cat called Samson who survived the stabbing which took place on November 18, 2018 in Ditchling Rise. The damage that he incurred was valued at £7,500. How were the valuations made?
They were calculated based on vets’ bills and some of the cats had autopsies carried out. These all increase the valuation of the damage. The actual value of a random domestic cat in monetary terms is small, perhaps around £35. This excludes the emotional distress the cat’s death caused the owner. Purebred cats are easier to value because it is their purchase price.
The fact that the Crown Prosecution Service has to decide between prosecuting under criminal damage or animal cruelty is perhaps a weakness in the animal welfare laws of the UK. The problem is that when you prosecute the killing of a cat under “criminal damage” the system is reinforcing the belief that cats are the mere property of a person and not a sentient being. Therefore, the law should be changed. The animal welfare law should be beefed up to allow the accused to be tried in the Crown Court with a Crown Court judge and jury and an appropriate but stiffer sentence handed down to the criminal if the crime is sufficiently serious as was the case with Steve Bouquet.
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