Animal cruelty law a victory for the public
This newspaper has consistently called for tougher sentences to be introduced to deter those who inflict cruelty on animals. It therefore welcomes the introduction of what has been described as the toughest laws in the UK to deal with such horrific crimes.
Scarcely a week goes by without a report of abuse of animals, whether it be neglected livestock or household pets subjected to cruelty or left abandoned by callous owners.
It was a notorious case two years ago that sparked the biggest outcry against what was seen as a lenient sentencing policy.
Four Belfast men, three of them from the same family, were given suspended sentences for what was said in court to be one of the vilest examples of premeditated abuse of animals ever seen here. That abuse included allowing a cat to be torn to shreds by dogs bred for fighting.
Even the PSNI said after the case that they were very disappointed that an extensive investigation had resulted in such a lenient sentence.
Now the Justice Bill at Stormont has introduced sentencing ranges which more accurately fit the crime. The maximum jail term has been increased from two years to five years, and the maximum fine from just £5,000 to £20,000.
It has to be said that those who abuse animals are but a tiny minority of the population here.
We only have to look at the generosity of the public in helping to support animal charities or who respond to calls from those charities to rehome pets to see that this is a province of animal lovers in the main.
Sometimes, the abuse can simply be the result of elderly people no longer able to adequately look after pets, or people who have fallen on hard times and who cannot afford the upkeep of their animals.
But there are evil people who breed dogs for fighting, or the equally odious badger baiting, and who may steal pets for live bait in order to blood the animals.
It is those abusers who need to feel the full weight of the law. Now that a wider range of jail terms and fines are available, there is a clear message sent to the judiciary to ensure that sentences passed act as a deterrent to those who engage in cruelty to animals.
These stiffer sentences show that the public can influence policy on important issues by raising their voices when they see injustice.