The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has been tasked with reviewing whether the current Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 legislation is fit for purpose. This follows recent statistics which suggests that the current legislation, aimed at reducing dog attacks, has monumentally failed, with figures from 2015 suggesting that hospital admissions related to dog attacks has risen 76% from the same period ten years previously.
The RSPCA has also reported that of the 37 people killed by dogs between 1991 and 2016, 28 had been attacked by dogs that were not banned (prohibited) under the legislation.
By way of background, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 creates a number of offences, the main ones being as follows:
• Possessing, breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a prohibited dog (s1 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991) - There are only 4 types of prohibited breeds: Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. This offence carries a sentence of up to six months’ imprisonment.
• Allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control (s3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991) - This offence is wide ranging; it applies to all breeds/types, not just prohibited breeds (a common misconception) and can be committed in a public or private space (including your own home or garden). It also applies to both the owner and the person in charge of the dog (if different). This offence carries a sentence of up to six months imprisonment and an unlimited fine, although if it is aggravated then the penalties are significantly higher: if death is caused, the penalty is up to 14 years’ imprisonment; if a person is injured, up to five years’ imprisonment; and three years’ imprisonment for an aggravated attack on an assistance dog.
There are also a number of ancillary orders that can be made following conviction, such as a destruction order. This is mandatory in a number of circumstances such as where a person is injured or killed or an assistance dog is involved, and discretionary in all other cases. The Court must conduct a Public Safety Test before making such an order. If the Court is satisfied that the dog is not a danger to public safety then a contingent destruction order can be made. The onus is on the defendant to satisfy the court that the dog is not a danger to public safety and this may involve expert evidence. If a contingent destruction order is made, the court may specify measures to keep the dog under control including but not limited to muzzling, keeping on a lead and exclusion areas.
There are also significant costs involved, including kennel fees, as dogs are often taken from their owners pending the trial.
The RSPCA is calling for more resources to be channelled into enforcing s3, which applies to all breeds/types and away from the breed specific section (s1). Dr Samantha Gaines, an RSPCA dog welfare expert, said breed-specific legislation had not achieved its objectives:
The police, the RSPCA and other animal rescue organisations have to deal with the consequences of this flawed law by euthanising hundreds of dogs because legislation is forcing us to due to the way they look, despite being suitable for rehoming.”
Following the recent publicity, it is likely that more use will be made of s3 and so dog owners/keepers will need to be very aware of their canine responsibilities.
Should you have any questions about the issues covered in this blog, please contact a member of our Criminal Law team.