The main piece of animal protection legislation in the UK is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which came into force in 2007, and applies to England and Wales. Substantially similar legislation is in place for the rest of the UK; the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
These Acts are underpinned by secondary legislation in the form of Regulations and Codes of Practice, which are equally important. A key example is the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. Codes of Practice provide practical guidance in complying with the Animal Welfare Acts. While it is not an offence to fail to comply with these codes, evidence of failing to comply may be relied upon in establishing liability, or alternatively in negating liability, under the Acts.
The Acts contain various cruelty offences, the most significant being the offence of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal defined as “protected” under the Acts. Other offences include animal fighting and poisoning an animal. It is also an offence to fail to provide adequate care for animals for which a person is responsible. These duties of care concern domestic animals to include companion and farm animals. The list is not exhaustive, but includes consideration of an animal’s suitable environment, diet, housing and protection from disease.
Other important animal protection laws in the UK include: the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, the Hunting Act 2004 and the Zoo licensing Act 1981.