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Explanatory Memorandum to Dangerous Wild Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 2004

Consultation

7.A consultation paper was issued in February 1999 (prior to devolution) based on proposals to introduce legislation that would follow the broad principles of the 1976 Act. A total of 250 interested organisations and individuals were consulted, including district councils, and 37 responses were received. Overall, there was a broad welcome from respondents for the introduction of legislation, while some responses raised concerns about some of the detailed proposals.

8.A number of respondents advocated that there should be a central panel of experts or an ‘Inspectorate’ to support the necessary licensing, inspection and enforcement functions. The Order makes provision for the Department to seek the support of ‘suitable expertise’ to assist in the operation of the proposed regime, as it may consider appropriate.

9.Some concern was expressed that exempting zoos, circuses and pet shops from the legislation could create a significant loophole. It is not considered appropriate to include such establishments because the keeping of DWAs in private collections is regarded as the key source of unregulated risk to public safety that must be addressed and adequate regulatory controls already exist in respect of these other establishments.

10.The responses indicated divergent views about the content of the Schedule to the Order, which identifies those animals that are deemed dangerous and therefore come within the scope of the legislation. While gaining broad support from some respondents, others were critical of it, believing that many of the DWAs listed (particularly the smaller species) do not present a real risk to public safety and are only included to satisfy animal welfare concerns. This is a complex and technical area. With one exception, it has been decided to replicate the Schedule that operates in GB relying on the expert advice and guidance that underpinned it. The one exception is to provide the Department with power to exclude farmed species from the Schedule (for example ostrich or wild boar) as it is considered that the issue of risk to public safety is not significant and the welfare of such animals on farms is adequately protected. However, the Order will provide powers to amend the Schedule by subordinate legislation, should experience in NI, changes to the GB schedule or other factors indicate a need to do so.

11.Some respondents were concerned that the powers of entry, inspection, seizure and disposal proposed were excessive. These views were accepted on the basis of the need to achieve an appropriate balance between ensuring effective enforcement of the legislation and avoiding an unnecessary breach of individual rights. It was therefore agreed that the authority of a warrant issued by a Justice of the Peace would be required to support power of entry to any premises where it is suspected that a DWA is being held illegally. In addition, it was also decided that a keeper or licence-holder, whose DWA has been seized, would have a right of appeal to a magistrate’s court against seizure.

12.As the consultation exercise was conducted prior to devolution, further consultation with the Assembly’s Environment Committee about the policy proposals occurred in late 2001. While giving broad support for the introduction of legislation, the Committee expressed concerns about a core element of the proposals i.e. that operational responsibility for the regime should be allocated to the district councils in Northern Ireland. The Committee was concerned that councils would not have sufficient experience or expertise to operate the scheme effectively and that they may face excessive financial burdens arising from potential enforcement cases.

13.The case for a centralised regime has been accepted and the Order makes provision for the Department to operate the proposed licensing, inspection and enforcement regime.

14.A further consultation exercise was carried out between October 2003 and January 2004. A total of 425 organisations/individuals were consulted and 23 responses were received – all welcomed the introduction of the legislation. Meetings were held with both the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with regard to their proposals to allow owners to surrender their animals and to make it an offence for any person to sell or give a DWA to someone who did not possess a licence for it. The Order now contains provision for this new offence and authorises the Department, as a transitional measure, to accept without compensation payment, DWAs voluntarily surrendered by their owners.

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