Mr Paul Frew
Democratic Unionist Party
Tabled Date: 21/01/2014
Answered On Date: 05/02/2014
Priority Written: No
To ask the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail the number of people that have been given custodial sentences under the sentence guidelines detailed in the Welfare of Animals Act 2011.
My Department brought forward the Welfare of Animals Act in 2011, which significantly increased the penalties for animal welfare offences to a maximum of 6 months imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of £5,000 on summary conviction; and on conviction by indictment to a maximum of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. These penalties reflect the fact that causing unnecessary suffering to any animal is a very serious offence. Under the Welfare of Animals Act 2011, my Department is responsible for investigating welfare cases in respect of farmed animals. Since April 2012 local Councils are responsible for investigating non-farmed animal welfare cases and the PSNI has responsibility in respect of wild animals, animal fighting, and welfare issues where other criminal activities are involved.
As sentencing within the legislative framework is a matter for the Judiciary, input on the number of custodial sentences awarded under the 2011 Act was sought from the Department of Justice. I am advised by the Department of Justice that sentencing and conviction datasets are currently available only up to 2009. The Welfare of Animals Act came into force on 11 July 2011. Therefore, it has not been possible for the Department of Justice to provide the information requested.
However, I can advise that in respect of farmed animals, two cases taken by my Department under the 2011 Act have resulted in convictions, one defendant receiving a conditional discharge for 12 months and the other receiving a £250 fine. In addition, a successful prosecution was taken under the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Regulations 2006 that resulted in the handing down of a custodial sentence of 2 months imprisonment and a £5,000 fine for animal welfare offences during transportation. On appeal the sentence was reaffirmed, however the fine was reduced to £3,500.
I am also aware that since April 2012 Councils have taken four forward cases for non-farmed animal welfare prosecutions, which has resulted in a range of convictions, from suspended sentences to payment of fines and costs. There are also a number of cases currently being prepared by Councils for prosecution.