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The new law comes following a series of sickening cases of animal cruelty Reuters

People subjecting animals to cruelty could now face prison sentences of up to five years.

Abusers have previously faced a maximum sentence of six months, and in a majority of cases the perpetrators are able to avoid serving time in jail.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs called for a change in the law following a series of sickening cases of cruelty to animals, which warranted tougher sentences.

In one shocking case a man appeared in court facing animal cruelty charges after it was found that he bought puppies in order to systematically beat, choke and stab them to death.

Gangs who organise dog fights will also be subject to the new law which will come into force next year.

Courts will retain the authority to ban offenders from keeping animals and hand out unlimited fines and community orders.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the new tougher sentences. "We are a nation of animal lovers and so we must ensure that those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals face suitably tough punishments," Gove said.

"These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts. This is one part of our plan to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead."

Earlier this year the Centre for Crime Prevention and animal charities such as the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home called for longer jail terms for offenders.

The RSPCA's David Bowles told The Guardian the longer jail term "should help to deter people from abusing and neglecting animals, and will finally mean that the sentence fits the crime".

The tougher sentences will bring the law in England and Wales in line with Australia, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.