O’Neill and Ford join forces to tackle animal cruelty

Date published: 29 February 2016

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and Justice Minister David Ford will today warn those who are cruel to animals that they will face much tougher penalties under the law.

The Ministers will together launch the Report of the Review of the Implementation of Animal Welfare Legislation in Belfast.

The report makes 68 recommendations aimed at enhancing communication between the enforcement bodies, improving processes and highlighting the Animal Welfare Service to the public. However, at its heart, it advocates tougher sentencing for the more serious offences and new powers for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to challenge sentences for undue leniency.

Speaking ahead of today’s event Minister O’Neill said: “I wanted to send a very clear message that we will not tolerate cruelty and that those individuals who neglected and abused animals would pay in court. This Review recommends an increase in the penalties available to the judiciary for the most serious animal welfare offences. Some offenders could now face up to five years behind bars for their actions. It is vital that no time is lost putting these measures in place.”

As Ministers were keen to see this achieved as quickly as possible, they accepted the recommendation before the final report was published. This allowed them to make the necessary legislative changes as early as possible. Minister O’Neill said she was grateful to Minister Ford for including them in the Justice Bill. They are now going through the Assembly and will shortly become law.
Minister O’Neill went on to say: “The Review also recommended that the most serious animal welfare offences be included in the Unduly Lenient Sentences (ULS) scheme. This will be enshrined in legislation within a few weeks and will allow the DPP to refer animal welfare cases to the Court of Appeal where the sentence handed down in cases heard by the Crown Court is considered to be unduly lenient.

“These changes mean we will have the toughest penalties for animal welfare offences anywhere on these islands. I firmly believe that they will be a real deterrent and show how seriously animal welfare is viewed. This is a clear message that we are tough on offenders to protect the welfare of animals.”

Minister Ford said: “Crimes against vulnerable animals are abhorrent and will not be tolerated in our society. In the past five years we moved from maximum penalties of just three months imprisonment to the five year maximum recently agreed by the Assembly. This shows how seriously we view animal cruelty.

“I am pleased to have been able to include the necessary legislation in the Justice (No2) Bill. Alongside the changes my Department is making to the Unduly Lenient Sentences scheme I believe this will significantly improve our ability to effectively tackle animal cruelty.”

The Ministers will also announce a new Animal Welfare Web presence. This will be a single source of information from all the enforcement bodies. It will assist members of public understand who to contact if they are concerned about the welfare of an animal. It will provide information about buying and caring for animals.


Notes to editors: 

1. The launch of the Report of the Review of the Implementation of Animal Welfare Legislation will take place in the Stormont Hotel, Belfast at 9.30am

2. View the full report here.

3. The Review compared sentencing options available in other jurisdictions and also looked at sentencing guidelines. The Review recommends increasing penalties available as follows:

  • Summary Offences - Increase the maximum penalty on summary conviction for the offences of causing unnecessary suffering (section 4) and animal fighting (sections 8(1) & 8(2)) to twelve months imprisonment, a fine not exceeding £20,000, or both.
  • Indictable Offences - Increase the maximum sentence for conviction on indictment, from two years imprisonment to five years.

4. The Review also recommends that the following summary only offences be amended to make them hybrid, which will allow the most serious cases to be heard in the Crown Court:

  • Supplying, publishing, showing and possessing with intent to supply photographs, images or video of an animal fight;
  • Breaching a disqualification order; and,
  • Selling or parting with an animal pending the outcome of an appeal to a deprivation order.

5. Finally, the Review recommends that the range of ancillary post-conviction powers available to the courts following conviction for animal fighting offences be extended to be available following a conviction for supplying, publishing, showing and possessing with intent to supply photographs, images or video of an animal fight. This would, for example, give courts the power to confiscate an animal from an owner convicted of supplying images or video of an animal fight, and to disqualify such persons from owning or keeping animals.

6. All media queries should be directed to the DARD Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email DARD Press Office. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.

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