23 April 2018

Kambah woman found guilty of breaching animal ownership ban after previous cases of animal cruelty

| Lachlan Roberts
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ACT Magistrates Court

In 2015, Ms Clarke was convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 1992 in the ACT Magistrates Court. File photo

A Kambah woman has been found guilty of breaching a court-ordered animal ownership ban after she was banned in 2015 from possessing any animal for three years.

On 16 April 2018, Stephanie Clarke was sentenced to 200 hours community service, a 12-month good behaviour order and 12-month animal ban after she was found guilty of breaking her previous court-ordered ban.

In 2015, Ms Clarke was convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 1992 in the ACT Magistrates Court and as a result was given a three-year animal ban to purchase, acquire, keep, care for or control any animal.

RSPCA ACT officers found dogs in Ms Clarke’s care that were malnourished, flea infested, suffering from conjunctivitis and untreated injuries. Ms Clarke was found guilty and sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond and 120 hours of community service.

On 20 October 2016, a search warrant was issued for Ms Clarke’s Kambah residence after RSPCA inspectors received a tip-off that the defendant was in possession of two dogs.

Inspectors seized eight cats, four dogs, one lizard, and one ferret.

In her court appearance last week, the 24-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours community service, 12-month good behaviour order and 12-month animal ban which will be served concurrently with her previous ban.

One of the dogs found in Ms Clarke’s care in 2015. Photo: Supplied by RSPCA ACT.

Magistrate Cush condemned the behaviour of Ms Clarke and said the defendant has been caught by the inspectors, having clearly disobeyed a court order.

“She was previously convicted of failing to provide food, water and treatment to an animal. This was an inappropriate number of animals in inappropriate conditions,” Magistrate Cush said.

“She had fourteen animals there, eleven months after the court order. The animals were found in conditions best described as disgusting and unhygienic.”

RSPCA ACT Chief Executive Tammy Ven Dange said the aim of the bans was to prevent animal cruelty in the first place.

“We believe that animals bans are the only really effective part of a sentencing in these case as it can actually prevent animal cruelty in the first place,” she said.

“It deters others from offending and prevents guilty parties from being in a position of hurting another animal for a period of time.”

The outgoing CEO said the current legislation had loopholes and challenges to enforce bans effectively.

“Unfortunately, right now, the legislation has too many loopholes, and the courts apply and enforce these bans unpredictably and inconsistently,” she said.

“We have been working with the ACT Government to fix these issues, and hope that we might see improvements to the legislation to be tabled and passed by the end of this year.”

This is also the first time that an animal ban breach has been successfully prosecuted in the ACT under the Animal Welfare Act 1992.

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There may be a very good reason why the magistrate was forced to give her such a lenient punishment, but to the average person it seems that she is being banned from owning animals when she has a history of ignoring such bans and the rest of the punishment is a slap on the wrist. The animal ban is also concurrent with her current one (though there may not be much of that left) so it appears that some of her punishment is in name only with no real effect.

If magistrates don’t want the community to force mandatory sentencing on them and override their powers to determine punishments then they really need to improve their sentencing.

With decisions like this, it isn’t the community’s fault that mandatory sentencing becomes popular, it is the magistrate’s fault.

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