Empathy training for committing animal crimes to be explored

People who commit crimes against animals could be made to undertake empathy training under a proposed bill.

The Scottish Government will look into the effectiveness of empathy training for those who commit crimes against animals as proposed new welfare legislation faces its final vote.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill will be voted on at stage three on Wednesday and will look to strengthen penalties for offences against animals.

Ahead of the debate on the Bill, rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon announced plans to commission a research project into empathy training which could be used as a community sentence for some offences.

The project will soon be put out to tender, with the research due to last for six months.

Ms Gougeon said: “While the Animals and Wildlife Bill, if passed, will empower the courts to consider longer prison sentences for the most serious crimes, which are thankfully rare, it is right that we consider a range of ways to tackle offending in this area.

“Historically, many cases brought in front of the courts have been for neglect or a lack of understanding of how to properly care for animals.

“Providing opportunities to challenge and change attitudes, while ensuring an individual faces up to the impact of their crime, offers another tool in preventing reoffending and further harm to animals.

“We hope that this research will lead to further collaborative development of empathy or restorative approaches and enable them to be made available to the courts as an appropriate part of a community payback order, depending on the circumstances of the case.”

The Bill has a total of 64 amendments at stage three, which will be decided on as part of a late sitting in Holyrood on Wednesday.

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell tabled amendments to end the docking of dog’s tails along with curtailing the licensed killing of beavers while his colleague Alison Johnstone will push for more protections for mountain hares – for which a petition garnered 10,000 signatures.

Tory MSP Maurice Golden also proposed an amendment to ban shock collars, which electrocute dogs as a method of training.

Mr Golden’s amendment was backed by animal charities including OneKind, the Scottish SPCA and the Dogs Trust.

Scottish Labour also tabled amendments, aiming to hold landowners accountable when crimes against wildlife are committed on their property and giving courts the option of imposing restorative justice sentences.

Ahead of the vote, Scottish Labour environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said: “This is the SNP’s final chance to deliver a truly strengthened piece of legislation that is fit to protect our animals and wildlife.

“All of Scotland is poorer when our biodiversity diminishes and it is absolutely right that our wildlife, both land and sea, are offered better protections during a climate and environmental emergency.

“I urge the Scottish Government to improve its record on animal rights and agree to our holistic set of amendments to bolster deterrents for animal and wildlife abusers and to support the justice system in prevention.”

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