During Question Time the Minister of Justice answered question regarding animal cruelty, delays in the justice system, drugs and rural crime.
In the light of the recent horrific case of animal cruelty, Justice Minister David Ford was questioned by Robin Newton on the sentencing options available following convictions for animal cruelty. While pointing out that the Agriculture and Rural Development Minister is responsible for legislation regarding cruelty to animals, Mr Ford agreed that the recent example of cruelty is “abhorrent and to be totally condemned”. As such he sees the sanctions set out in the 2011 Welfare of Animals Act as appropriate and assured that his department will play their part in upholding them. However Mr Newton viewed the seven custodial sentences resulting from the 124 convictions in the last seven years as not enough of a deterrent, fearing that punishments are being viewed as little more than “a slap on the wrist”. The Minister agreed that there is a wide level of public concern and that the issue would be a pressing matter for the Lord Chief Justice in his sentencing guidelines.
Karen McKevitt then asked the Minister about procedures in place for dealing with prisoners found to be in possession of drugs. The Minister acknowledged that there is a problem within the prison system with drugs being smuggled in and with prescription medication being found in possession of prisoners not entitled to it. Procedures such as passive drugs dogs, cell searches and ‘supervised swallowing’ are in place to help the problem and the Health and Social Care Trust is on hand to offer support. Any prisoners found in possession of drugs are referred to the police for disciplinary action.
The Minister was also questioned on the impact the recent Haass proposals will have for his department. Mr Ford highlighted that the issues of the past have proved toxic in forming trust in the justice system, saying that “we simply cannot afford not to deal with our past”. The Minister also agreed with Kieran McCarthy on the importance of justice for victims of the past concluding that it is a “vital necessity on moral grounds”. When pressed on his view of the final Haass proposals document the Minister feels that it is “close to what is required” and confirmed his commitment to making sure any agreed proposals are successfully implemented. He also pointed out that both the British and Irish Governments will be required to step up when it comes to funding the budget that will be required to ensure that the past is positively dealt with.
During topical questions the main topic was the Minister’s decision to change the job criteria for the new Chief Constable. He also answered questions on the pipe bomb attacks in Portglenone and Ahoghill and on the compensation payments to police officers who suffered from hearing loss.
You can read the full transcript on our website.