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Under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to inflict unnecessary suffering on an animal. In determining whether an offence has been committed, it must be considered whether suffering was for a “legitimate purpose”, such as protecting a person or property. The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill is a private member’s bill which would disregard this consideration in cases related to police dogs and horses, making prosecution easier. The exemption proposed by the bill would only apply if the animal is under the control of a relevant officer and was being used appropriately at the time of the incident; it would not apply if the defendant is the relevant officer.

The bill was presented in the House of Commons on 13 June 2018 by Sir Oliver Heald (Conservative MP for North East Hertfordshire) and gained official Government support shortly after.  The bill passed second reading on 6 July 2018 without debate and received cross-party support at committee stage on 16 January 2019. It completed its Commons stages on 8 February 2019, passing through the House without amendment. The bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 11 February 2019, sponsored by Viscount Trenchard (Conservative), and is scheduled for second reading on 1 March 2019. Although it is not a government bill, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has produced the bill’s explanatory notes, with the consent of Viscount Trenchard.

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