Belfast Telegraph

Paisley demands a change in law over sentence given to man who starved this dog to death

Legal chiefs have no power to review lower courts' rulings

By Steven Alexander

An MP has expressed his fury after he was told that the authorities have no powers to review a man's sentence after he avoided jail for allowing his pet dog to starve to death.

Ian Paisley had raised serious concerns over the leniency of the sentence handed down to 46-year-old Portglenone man Jeffrey James Greer.

The North Antrim MP told the Belfast Telegraph last night that was "very disappointed" that a tougher sentence could not be imposed and called for a change in the law.

"Unfortunately, under the current law, only sentences passed down by a Crown Court can be reviewed by the Court of Appeal," he said.

"That needs to change in the future."

Greer walked free from Ballymena Magistrates Court with a conditional discharge on June 2 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the welfare of his rottweiler cross.

The dog, an eight-year-old called Bailey, was found dead at Greer's Hiltonstown Road property in November 2013.

A disgusted Mr Paisley wrote to Attorney General John Larkin earlier this month after reading a report of the animal cruelty case in the Belfast Telegraph.

"To treat an animal like that is utterly atrocious and it has to be dealt with," he said at the time.

"Most people would agree that someone who treats an animal under their care like that really needs to be made an example of."

He had hoped the sentence in this particular case would be overturned and replaced with a punishment that fitted the crime.

But now the Attorney General and Director of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), Barra McGrory, have written to the DUP MP to say that the current law doesn't allow them to refer unduly lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal if they were handed out in a magistrates court.

Mr Larkin wrote: "Unfortunately I am unable to seek a review of this case or any other case for that matter as the power to refer unduly lenient sentences now rests with the Director of Public Prosecutions as a result of the changes made upon the devolution of policing and justice in 2010.

"The present sentence was, I understand, imposed by a Magistrates Court and only sentences imposed by the Crown Court may be reviewed by the Court of Appeal."

The PPS confirmed in its letter that "under the relevant legislation, that power only exists in a limited range of offences and only where the sentence has been imposed in the Crown Court".

"This does not extend to any offence in a case, such as this one, where the sentence has been imposed by a Magistrates Court."

Earlier this month, the new Justice Minister, Claire Sugden, announced a review of sentencing in Northern Ireland.

It is poised to consider the appropriateness of the current laws covering the referral of sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency.

There will also be stiffer sentences for people convicted of cruelty under new measures that will come into force over the summer, Ms Sugden has said.

The minister also said recently that while Mr McGrory had been given stronger powers to fight animal cruelty, the new rules only cover cases from the Crown Court.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph