N. Ireland Politics

Justice Bill: 'Revenge porn' and animal cruelty laws passed by MLAs

MLAs spent more than 12 hours debating changes to the Justice Bill concerning animal cruelty laws and protection for workers in the emergency services
Image caption MLAs spent more than 12 hours debating changes to the Justice Bill, including animal cruelty laws and protection for workers in the emergency services

Northern Ireland Assembly members have voted to make so-called 'revenge porn' a criminal offence and to tighten animal cruelty laws.

The proposals were part of 86 amendments to the Justice (No.2) Bill, but media coverage of Wednesday's debate was dominated by failed attempts to reform abortion laws.

The debate on the mammoth bill lasted more than 12 hours.

MLAs also voted to make it a crime to attack staff in the emergency services.

The DUP chair of the justice committee, Alastair Ross, had proposed bringing in laws to deal with so-called 'revenge pornography'.

'Online almost instantly'

England and Wales already have legislation making it a criminal offence for someone to publish explicit sexual images or videos of former partners.

Mr Ross said Northern Ireland needed to catch up, adding: "Nobody envisaged the type of world we'd be living in today where we all have smartphones capable of taking videos or photographs.

Image caption The 'revenge porn' law in England and Wales covers content posted online, as well as on social media and text messaging

"They're all capable of being shared online almost instantly."

The Justice Minister David Ford had brought forward the amendment seeking to reform the Welfare of Animals Act. He said it had been sparked after the case of Cody the dog, who had to be put down after being set on fire in 2012.

Andrew Richard Stewart was jailed for 10 months after admitting the offence.

'Clear message'

The amendment means the maximum sentence handed down in the Crown Court for animal cruelty crimes will increase from two years to five.

Someone found guilty of unnecessary suffering to animals or causing and attending an animal fight will face up to 12 months' imprisonment instead of six, and the maximum fine for conviction will rise from £5,000 to £20,000.

Image caption The ambulance service has previously called for its staff to get better protection

The minister said it was a "significant advancement of sentencing" intended to "send out a clear message" to those convicted of harming animals.

When the Justice Bill is given royal assent, Northern Ireland will have some of the strictest penalties for animal cruelty offences across the UK.

'Good enough'

DUP MLA Paul Frew brought a further amendment to the bill, hoping to make it a statutory offence to assault paramedics.

Last year, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) called for better protection for its staff and said paramedics would be given PSNI riot gear when called to disturbances, due to the rising number of "risky situations" staff were facing.

Paul Frew said "if it is good enough" to have specific legislation protecting police officers and members of the fire and rescue service, then there should be similar provision for ambulance workers.

The proposals were passed in the assembly and it is hoped they will take effect soon after the Justice (No.2) Bill becomes law.

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