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Government “Passing The Buck” On Animal Cruelty

Government “Passing The Buck” On Animal Cruelty

The Royal New Zealand SPCA is concerned over the financial cost of securing adequately rigorous sentences in cases of animal cruelty.

In August, the society wrote to the Justice Minister, the Hon. Phil Goff, complaining about a tendency for courts to impose soft sentences in such cases.

Mr Goff subsequently told TV3 News that there was a need for a higher court to look at the penalties being imposed.

“The proper way of doing that is for the prosecuting agency to appeal a district court case to the High Court,” he said.

Royal New Zealand SPCA President, Peter Mason, describes the Minister’s response as effectively “passing the buck” back to a charitable body which receives no government or lottery funding, and which could only with difficulty find the funds needed for appealing excessively lenient sentences.

“We fully understand that judges are independent of government and that Mr Goff can’t simply tell them to impose harsher sentences. But there’s a pervasive pattern of leniency in animal cruelty cases and this pattern needs to be addressed.

“Some of the sentences handed down make a mockery of animal welfare legislation. Is the SPCA now expected to divert donated funds from its own over-stretched animal welfare services to ensure Justice is done?” Mr Mason asks.

“Perhaps it’s about time that the government came to the party and helped us with some of the costs involved in prosecuting people who are cruel to defenceless animals,” he adds.

Mr Mason’s call for government funding to assist prosecutions has been endorsed by Auckland barrister Barbara McCarthy, who has successfully prosecuted a large number of animal cruelty cases over the last twelve years.

“Appropriate sentencing might be easier to achieve if the prosecuting agency had legal representation when dealing with guilty pleas. This could help ensure that all relevant considerations under Sections 8 and 9 of the Sentencing Act 2002 are brought to the attention of the sentencing Judge.

“Due to cost restraints, SPCA prosecutions currently only involve trained lawyers when a not-guilty plea is entered. The absence of counsel in other cases can place a huge burden on the society’s inspectors, who do a fantastic job but who don’t always have the training required for coping with the complexities of the legal system,” she says.

Barbara McCarthy points out that appealing a sentence is not just expensive in itself but, for a private prosecuting body such as the SPCA, also involves seeking leave to appeal from the Solicitor General.

“Leave to appeal isn’t granted automatically and, in any event, the application for leave involves additional expense for the prosecuting body,” she says.

According to Peter Mason, another way in which the government could assist in raising sentencing levels for animal cruelty would be for its own agencies to appeal excessively lenient court decisions.

“Both the police and MAF prosecute animal welfare cases and come up against the same soft sentencing approach. Perhaps the government could direct them to appeal some of these sentences,” he says.

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