Woman wins appeal over dog cruelty case

Wed, May 16, 2012, 01:00

A WOMAN has won her Supreme Court appeal brought after she was convicted and prohibiting from keeping animals for 10 years by a District Court judge in proceedings brought over alleged cruelty to dogs.

Dona Sfar, Oaklawns, Dundalk, Co Louth, was fined €6,000 and prohibited from keeping any animals for 10 years by Judge Flann Brennan at Dundalk District Court in February 2008 after he was told of the conditions of 17 dogs found in March 2007 on her premises at Balbriggan, Kilcurry, along with sheep, goats and pigs.

An animal welfare inspector said the dogs were “living in absolute filth”. Their coats were matted, some had sores and there was no food or water evident, she said.

The dogs were later taken into the care of the ISPCA.

A qualified barrister, Ms Sfar conducted her own defence in the District Court and denied the charges.

She brought High Court proceedings arising from her conviction but Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill in October 2008 rejected her claims of breaches of fair procedures or of provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights Act in how the case was dealt with.

He also rejected her claims the seizure was unlawful.

The judge found for Ms Sfar on one point – that the District Court order prohibiting her keeping “animals” rather than “dogs” was in excess of the District Court jurisdiction under the Control of Dogs Act.

He said the matter should be returned to the District Court to alter the word “animals” in the order to “dogs” and stressed there was no need for a rehearing.

The problem with the wording of the order was first drawn to his attention by the State, not Ms Sfar, he observed.

During the hearing, Ms Sfar said she had only very recently seen the actual District Court orders.

She appealed the High Court decision to the Supreme Court which yesterday allowed her appeal.

Giving the Supreme Court judgment, the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, said the court was told that Judge Brennan had in July 2009 amended the District Court order.

That was done while Ms Sfar’s appeal was pending and no stay had been granted.

A hand-written document dated “2/7/09” with the word “animals” scratched out and the words “dogs” inserted had been handed into the court.

The second page of that document remained dated February 12th, 2008, the date of the original District Court order.

The District Court was a court of record which spoke through its record and not otherwise, Mrs Justice Denham said, and referred to the rules for the making of District Court orders.

In this case, the High Court had on October 16th, 2008, quashed the District Court orders so no orders were then extant, she said.

Those orders, having been quashed, were later purported to be amended by the District judge but no new order was made and the orders still bore the 2008 date.

It appeared the High Court order was misinterpreted and the situation now was that there were no District Court orders in proper form, the judge said.

There was no authenticated order of the full decision of the District Court and the Supreme Court would quash the District Court orders. The Supreme Court had not addressed the issue of a retrial, she added.

Costs were also awarded to Ms Sfar.