Raft of new powers to stamp out animal cruelty are revealed
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been given stronger powers to fight animal cruelty, Justice Minister Claire Sugden confirmed yesterday.
DPP Barra McGrory now has the right to refer sentences seen as lenient to a higher court, Ms Sugden said.
There will also be stiffer sentences for people convicted of cruelty under new measures that will come into force over the summer.
"Legislation brought forward by my department, the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, which recently received Royal Assent, increases the maximum penalties for animal crime," Miss Sugden said.
"In consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, which has policy responsibility for animal welfare, I hope to bring the relevant provisions into operation over the summer.
"My department has also recently provided additional powers to the DPP, which will allow him to refer animal cruelty cases to the Court of Appeal if he deems that the sentence handed down in certain Crown Court cases is unduly lenient."
The move follows a review sparked by suspended prison sentences given to four east Belfast men who trained and kept dogs for fighting. Evidence in the case included a video of a dog being attacked and killed by other dogs.
After the hearing, police said a custodial sentence would have acted as a stronger deterrent.
The new powers come on top of proposals drafted by Miss Sugden's predecessor, David Ford, to increase the maximum penalties in animal cruelty cases.
The provisions, drawn up in conjunction with the former Department of Agriculture, come into force soon.
The measures were revealed in an Assembly written answer to Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer, who called for tougher sentences after a tabby cat was set on fire in Hillsborough.
"There is something badly wrong with anyone who could inflict such suffering," the Lagan Valley MLA said.
"Clearly, whoever is responsible for such cruelty needs to be caught and punished to the maximum extent."
Northern Ireland has had a number of high-profile animal cruelty cases that have caused public outcry.
One was the case of Cody the border collie, who was set on fire in 2012 and later had to be put down. The Co Antrim man responsible was jailed for 10 months after admitting animal cruelty.
Earlier this week, questions were asked after the owner of a pet rottweiler escaped a jail term after the dog died from starvation. Jeffrey James Greer from Portglenone was given a conditional discharge at Ballymena court after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the welfare of the animal.
A report this year made 68 recommendations to strengthen animal welfare laws.