Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what date the decision was taken to stop the development of a register of banned animal cruelty offenders; and to detail the reasons behind the decision.
Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: The Department of Justice holds the information that would be needed to establish such a register. However, as any register would be animal welfare related, it indicated that my Department should lead on exploring whether or not establishing one is feasible. Following detailed consideration of advice from my officials, I reluctantly accepted that creating a register of animal cruelty offenders was not feasible on 23 March 2022. I took this decision because the relevant reoffending rates are low and do not suggest a clear evidential need for a register, the costs of establishing and maintaining a register would be significant and the data protection implications involved are prohibitive.
During the period from 2016 until 2020, the rate of re-offending in respect of animal welfare offences was 3.35%, with only three breaches of court disqualifications on the owning or keeping animals during that period. As such, I am satisfied, based on the number of instances those convicted have regained access to animals, that there is no overwhelming need for a register to be created and that it would not deliver value for public money.
Under data protection law, any information about criminal convictions is considered sensitive personal data. This means that it enjoys enhanced legal protection and can only be shared if certain conditions set out in law are met. The analysis undertaken by my officials has confirmed that, without the consent of the person convicted, the disclosure of animal cruelty convictions to any non-statutory bodies and or the public would not meet any of the relevant conditions.
No register of animal welfare offenders exists in any other part of the British Isles and there are no plans to create one. Indeed, a Task and Finish Group established by the Welsh Government, and led by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to examine the establishment of an animal cruelty register in Wales was unable to identify any evidence to prove that such registers are effective or identify a way to overcome the data protection and costs barriers identified by my Department.