HL Deb 13 April 1976 vol 369 cc2092-6

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 1st April 1976 be approved. In 1971 the Animals Act became law, and extended to England and Wales. That Act was designed to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission's Report on Civil Liability for Animals, issued in October 1967. The Law Commission recommended the imposition of strict liability in respect of damage done by animals belonging to a dangerous species or known to their keepers to have dangerous propensities, as well as liability for damage done by animals straying from unenclosed land on to the public road.

This Order in Council corresponds to that Act. It does not codify the law on civil liability for animals; much of the law rests on general bases of liability, like the law of negligence, the liability of an occupier for the safe condition of his premises or the law of nuisance. These remain unaffected except that there will no longer be any exception from the normal liability in negligence where an animal is allowed to wander onto the public road.

I would now turn your Lordships' attention to an Article by Article description of the order and what it does. Article 1 gives the order its short title and states that it will come into operation on 1st January 1977. This will leave adequate time to enable farmers, owners of animals and members of the legal profession to acquaint themselves with the new laws and to safeguard their interests. Farmers, for instance, will probably wish to consider the question of insurance and the erection or strengthening of fencing and gates. Article 2 defines expressions used, particularly in Articles 4 to 6 and Article 8, as well as dealing with the general interpretation of words used throughout the order. I consider that a key definition is "dangerous species", but you will notice that the word "animal" is not defined. This is because it is hoped that the order will have the widest possible application in relation to every creature that can in ordinary language be referred to as an animal. This would include fish, birds, reptiles and insects, as well as mammals, but would not include bacteria, viruses and other organisms of a similar kind, as different considerations apply to the keeping of bacteria than to the keeping of animals, and the word "keeper" would not be appropriate.

Article 3 introduces the rules in strict liability for damage done by animals which are set out in Articles 4 to 6, and specifies the rules and provisions of the existing law which are to be replaced by them. The effect of this Article in conjunction with the ensuing Articles is therefore to abrogate or repeal (a) the common law on liability for dangerous wild animals and other animals known to have vicious or mischievous propensities, (b) the common law rules on liability for damage done by cattle straying onto neighbouring land, and (c) the statutory provisions regarding civil liability for injury done by dogs to cattle and poultry.

Article 4 imposes liability irrespective of negligence for damage done by animals which belong to a dangerous species, or by animals which do not belong to a dangerous species but have dangerous characteristics known to their keeper. Unsatisfactory features of the present law, such as the test whether an animal is wild or domesticated, which may be determined by reference to circumstances prevailing outside the United Kingdom, are remedied by this Article. Article 5 imposes strict liability for damage to land or other property done by straying livestock. This liability replaces the existing liability for cattle trespass. Strict liability facilitates the settlement of day-to-day disputes over straying livestock without recourse to litigation.

Article 6 sets out the exemptions from the strict liability imposed by Articles 4 and 5. The list is exhaustive, and leaves no scope for the operation of any common law rules on exemption from liability. The uncertainties and anomalies of the present law about the availability of various defences are thus removed, and clear and simple principles established. There is nothing in the order to prevent a person from contracting out of strict liability.

Article 7 abolishes the exception which exempts persons from liability for negligence in respect of damage caused by animals straying onto the public road and lays down certain guidelines for the courts in determining whether there has been negligence in allowing an animal to stray. Apart from the strict liability for animals which has been dealt with in the preceding Articles, the keeper of an animal is under a general duty to take care that his animal does not act in such a way as is likely to injure other people or their property; that is, the general liability in negligence which attaches to every person's conduct and his use or control of things he owns or possesses. However, there is an exception to this general rule in its application to the control of animals. There is no duty to take care to prevent one's animals causing damage by straying on to the public road. Paragraph (1) of this Article now abolishes this rule. Article 8 lays down the new rule of strict liability for injury caused by dogs to livestock which replaces that under the Dogs Act 1906 and the Dogs Act (Northern Ireland) 1960. It provides for civil liability and a summary procedure for recovering the damage caused when a dog worries livestock on any land.

Article 9 gives the occupier of land on to which livestock has strayed the right to detain them, even if he knows who the owner is. The occupier must give notice to the police within 24 hours, and to the person to whom the livestock belongs, if he is known. If no steps have been taken to reclaim the livestock within 14 days it may be sold at a market or public auction. The detainer may then reimburse himself out of the proceeds and the rest will be returnable to the person who owned the livestock. The object of this Article is to provide a speedy remedy by self-help, while making it subject to certain safeguards.

Article 10 amends and consolidates Section 58(1) of the Summary Jurisdiction and Criminal Justices Act (Northern Ireland) 1935. That section amended Section 19 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act 1851, which empowered the police to put any animal found wandering on public roads into a pound. This, however, caused considerable difficulty as there were practically no pounds in Northern Ireland. Section 58(1) of the 1935 Act provided an alternative remedy. Section 19 of the 1851 Act, and Section 58(1) of the 1935 Act are repealed by Article 14 and the Schedule to this order. This Article will preserve the remedy under Section 58(1) in a more modern form of words.

Article 11 amends and re-enacts in modern form the penal provisions of Section 19 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act 1851 and Section 58(1) of the Summary Jurisdiction and Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1935. As pounds are now obsolete this Article makes it an offence to take any livestock or an animal out of the custody or control of any person entitled to detain it by virtue of Articles 9 or 10 of this order, or to prevent such a person taking it into his custody or control.

Article 12 ensures that the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Acts (Northern Ireland) 1846 to 1959, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1948 and the Limitation Acts (Northern Ireland) 1958 and 1964 apply to liability arising under Articles 4, 5 and 8. Article 13 applies the order to the Crown, and Article 14 introduces the Schedule of these enactments, including some which have become obsolete or unnecessary, which are to be repealed. My Lords, I beg to move that the Order be approved.

Moved, That the draft Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, laid before the House on 1st April, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)