NEW legislation has been published to strengthen animal cruelty penalties.

The maximum penalties for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife offences will be increased to five years imprisonment under the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

Animals that have been taken into possession on welfare grounds will allow to be sold or rehomed quickly without the need for a court order.

Mairi Gougeon, Rural Affairs Minister, said: “Through increasing the maximum penalties, we are ensuring that those who carry out these heinous acts will rightly face the full force of the law, as and where appropriate.

“We also want to see more protection given to service animals such as police dogs and horses, so we will be enacting what has become known as Finn’s law.

“I believe it is only right that animals which work to keep us safe should be given the fullest protection we can give them in return.

“Animal welfare is a subject I feel very passionately about and call on stakeholders and parliament to support these bold steps to further improve Scotland’s high animal welfare standards.”

Kirsteen Campbell, chief executive of the Scottish SPCA, added: “These exciting changes have the potential to be transformational for animals across the country and the Scottish SPCA.

“The power to rehome animals without a court order would be of massive benefit to their welfare. They all receive incredible care from our expert teams, but this is no substitute for a loving home.

“We have long felt the penalties for animal cruelty are too lenient and inconsistent. We hope increasing the options available to sheriffs will lead to fewer people mistreating animals in the first place.”