Causing injury to a cat is this animal cruelty or criminal damage?

21 April 2021

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

Could you please provide guidance as to whether a cat is property for the purposes of the criminal damage act?

A typical scenario would be a cat has been shot with an air rifle and vet fees are incurred, is this animal cruelty or criminal damage?

Answer:

Section 10(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides the definition of property for the purpose of the act, stating:

'In this Act property means property of a tangible nature, whether real or personal, including money and -

(a) including wild creatures which have been tamed or are ordinarily kept in captivity, and any other wild creatures or their carcasses if, but only if, they have been reduced into possession which has not been lost or abandoned or are in the course of being reduced into possession; but
(b) not including mushrooms growing wild on any land or flowers, fruit or foliage of a plant growing wild on any land.

For the purposes of this subsection mushroom includes any fungus and plant includes any shrub or tree'

Therefore, cats would amount to property for the purpose of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. As the legislation regards cats as property, an offence may be committed under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 if a person, without lawful excuse, kills or injures a cat belonging to another person.

In the alternative, deliberately using an airgun to injure an animal may also be covered by the offence of unnecessary suffering pursuant to section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Both offences discussed above have been prosecuted in similar circumstances, however the preference for one offence over the other appears to be down to the variation in sentencing implications carried by each particular offence.

For example, the offence under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is summary imprisonable with a penalty of 51 weeks imprisonment and / or a fine not exceeding £20,000. Whereas, criminal damage under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 is an either way offence that can carry higher sentencing implications, dependent on the value of the damage.

We have been unable to find a judgement for reference, however we have been able to locate a news article discussing the relationship between the offences, which may be of some assistance:

https://www.getsurrey .co.uk/news/surrey-news/surrey-cat-shooter-animal-cruelty-12465852

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