The Animal Welfare Act 2006

The stated aim of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (AWA 2006 ) is ‘to make provision about animal welfare; and for connected purposes’.

To which animals does AWA 2006 apply?

Certain provisions of AWA 2006 apply to all ‘animals’, which are defined as ‘a vertebrate other than man’. Other provisions apply only to ‘protected animals’, which are defined as being ‘of a kind which is commonly domesticated in the British Islands, it is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis, or it is not living in a wild state’.

AWA 2006 does not apply to animals while they are in their foetal or embryonic form, but it does allow an ‘appropriate national authority’ (the secretary of state in the case of England and Wales) to extend by regulation the definition of ‘animal’ to include invertebrates of any description.

Who does AWA 2006 apply to?

AWA 2006 applies to anyone who is responsible for the care of an animal, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, including persons who are in charge of an animal. It provides that the owner of an animal shall always be regarded as being a person who is responsible for the animal. Where a person has actual care and control of a person under the age of 16 years, that person shall be treated as being responsible for the animal.

Prevention of harm

AWA 2006 makes it a criminal offence to allow a protected animal to suffer unnecessarily. This applies to both specific actions taken by a person and to situations where an animal suffers unnecessarily as a result of a person’s failure to act where that person knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the animal would suffer unnecessarily or that there was a likelihood that it would.

There are also specific criminal offences in relation to acts of mutilation carried out on protected animals (medical treatment is excluded) and relating to the docking of dogs tails (docking for medical purposes and the docking of certain working dogs is excluded by AWA 2006).

It is a criminal offence to knowingly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse administer or allow another person to administer poisons, injurious drugs and substances to protected animals.

A number of offences relating to the fighting of protected animals are also created by s 8 of AWA 2006.

Promotion of welfare

It is a criminal offence under s 9 of AWA 2006 if a person responsible for an animal fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of the animal for which they are responsible are met to the extent required by good practice. This includes the animal’s need:

  • for a suitable environment,
  • for a suitable diet,
  • to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and
  • to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Where an inspector takes the view that a person is failing to take such reasonable steps, s 10 of AWA 2006 allows for the service of an ‘improvement notice’ on the person responsible for the animal. This sets out the steps the person is required to take and specifies a timeframe for these steps to be undertaken.

It is also an offence under s 11 for a person to sell or, in certain circumstances, give away an animal as a prize to a person whom they have reason to believe to be under the age of 16 years. Under s 12 of AWA 2006, the appropriate national authority can make regulations to promote the welfare of animals for which a person is responsible, or their offspring.

Licensing and registration of activities involving animals

Certain activities involving animals require a licence or the registration of the activity and s 13 of the Act makes provisions as to licences and registrations. AWA 2006 itself does not, however, specify the activities to which a licence or registration is required. These are specified in a number of separate regulations.

Codes of practice

Under s 14 of AWA 2006, the appropriate national authority has the power to issue and revise codes of practice for the purpose of providing practical guidance in respect of any of the provisions of the Act. AWA 2006 also allows a code of practice to be revoked.

Failure to comply with a code of practice is not in itself a criminal offence. However, if a person fails to comply with a code of practice then such failure may be used to establish that person’s liability for one of the offences specified under AWA 2006.

AWA 2006 sets out procedures for the making and approval of codes of practice in England and Wales and the revocation of codes of practice.

Animals in distress

Under s 18 of AWA 2006, an inspector or a constable has certain powers – including the power to enter premises – where they reasonably believe that a protected animal is suffering, to alleviate the animal’s suffering.

Enforcement powers

AWA 2006 gives powers of enforcement to certain people. Specific provisions are made relating to the seizure of animals involved in fighting offences and relating to the entry of premises where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has, or is being, committed or to enable a person to be arrested for an offence.

Inspectors have the right to inspect any records which a person is required to hold in relation to activities for which a licence is required and gives inspectors the power to carry out an inspection of any activity for which either a licence is required or which is required to be registered. Specific powers are given in relation to the inspection of farm premises and in relation to ‘community obligations’.


Under s 30, local authorities have the power to prosecute proceedings for any offence committed under AWA 2006 and sets out time limits for prosecutions.

Post-conviction powers

Where a person has been found guilty of an offence under AWA 2006, there are a number of provisions under the Act relating to the punishment of that person and the welfare of the animals concerned.

  • A person can be fined or imprisoned. A court can also make orders depriving a person of ownership of an animal, and any dependent offspring it may have, and for its disposal and that of any dependent offspring.
  • A court can disqualify a person from owning, keeping or participating in the keeping of animals, or being party to an arrangement under which he is entitled to control or influence the way in which animals are kept. AWA 2006 makes provision for the seizure of animals in connection with disqualification.
  • A court has the power to order the destruction of an animal where the destruction is in the interests of the animal or where an animal has been involved in fighting offences. Where an animal has been involved in a fighting offence, courts also have the power to order the reimbursement of any expenses incurred by the police in connection with the keeping of the animal.
  • Any equipment used in the commission of an offence can be forfeited and destroyed.
  • In some cases, certain enforcement action cannot be taken pending an appeal or during the period in which the person has to make an appeal.
  • Where an offence was committed by a person who had, or was required to have, a licence then the court may cancel the licence or make an order disqualifying the person from holding a licence.
  • Where a person is disqualified from owning, keeping or dealing with animals or where they are disqualified from holding a licence, AWA 2006 makes provision for such person to apply to the appropriate court for the termination of the order.
  • Where an order for reimbursement of certain expenses is made, such expenses shall be recoverable as a civil debt.
  • Where an order for reimbursement is made against a person who is not a person subject to disqualification or an offender, such person can appeal against the order.
  • Further provisions are made in relation to disqualification, deprivation, seizure and interim orders relating to Scotland and appeals against deprivation and seizure orders in Scotland.

General provisions

AWA 2006 also contains a number of general provisions. These include provisions which govern:

  • inspectors;
  • conditions for the grant of a warrant;
  • supplementary powers of entry, inspection and search;
  • the power to stop and detain vehicles;
  • the power to detail vessels, aircraft and hovercraft;
  • the obtaining of documents in connection with the carrying out of orders;
  • offences by bodies corporate;
  • scientific research;
  • fishing;
  • the application of AWA 2006 to the Crown;
  • the making of orders and regulations.
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.