Those who are cruel to animals will face much tougher penalties following a review of how animal welfare law is enforced in Northern Ireland’s courts.
Sentencing in some past cases has caused public outcry when those found guilty of some unthinkable acts of cruelty were given ‘unduly lenient sentences’.
But the Agriculture Minister and Justice Minister have today [Monday, Feb 29] made 68 recommendations aimed at enhancing communication between enforcement bodies, while advocating tougher sentencing for more serious offences.
The new powers will make Northern Ireland’s animal welfare laws the strictest in the UK and make it possible for the Director of Public Prosecutions to challenge sentences for undue leniency within the next few weeks.
Offences included in the review take in animals fights as well as the publication of photos or videos of such fights.
It will also recommend increasing penalties for causing unnecessary suffering to twelve months imprisonment, a fine of up to £20k or both.
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.”
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 Ford added: “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.”
A new website will also be launched on the issue, with information from all the enforcement bodies. It will help members of public understand who to contact if they are concerned about the welfare of an animal and provide information about buying and caring for animals.