Tougher sentencing for owners of dangerous dogs
New guidelines published today by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales promise tougher sentences on owners of dangerous dogs. Judges and magistrates will now be encouraged to deliver tougher sentences for anyone whose dog attacks another person. The guidelines [...]
New guidelines published today by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales promise tougher sentences on owners of dangerous dogs.
Judges and magistrates will now be encouraged to deliver tougher sentences for anyone whose dog attacks another person. The guidelines aim to reduce the amount of court discharges that offenders currently receive, instead concentrating on stringent jail sentences, community orders and fines. The offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place now carries a minimum term of 6 months in jail; judges have also been issued guidelines for more serious dog attacks, which can now carry a sentence of up to 18 months.
In publishing all of the guidelines concerning dangerous dogs, dog attacks and irresponsible owners in one single document, it is hoped that punishments for dog owners will become more consistent across England and Wales. The guidelines will also enable the courts to utilise their powers, so that any irresponsible owner can be banned from owning or breeding dogs, in addition to being ordered to pay compensation to the victims of a dog attack. Indeed, courts must consider compensation to be paid to all victims where a dog bite attack has resulted in personal injury, loss or damage. If the court does not decide to order compensation, they must give specific reasons for this. These provisions should hopefully make it easier for victims of dog bite attacks to claim compensation for their injuries.
The new guidelines have been welcomed by most, with Trevor Cooper, a legal consultant for the Dogs Trust, saying that the guidelines
‘Will encourage courts to focus on the key factors of culpability of the owner and the amount of harm to the victim’.
This is an important point: previously, the law has tended to focus too much on dog breeds, or types, when examining the issue of dangerous dogs. The 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, for instance, is centralised on the banning of four ‘dangerous’ dog types. The new focus on dog owners, rather than the specific breed of the dog, is a very positive step, suggesting that the law is slowly beginning to reflect the fact that any dog can be dangerous if it is not handled or trained correctly.
The guidelines illustrate this shift in attitudes, in stating that the tougher sentencing rules apply not only to owners of banned dogs, but also any dog that attacks another person. It is significant that, where the guidelines list factors that increase the seriousness of the dog attack offence, they include:
- Ill treatment or failure to ensure the welfare needs of the dog
- Allowing a person insufficiently experienced or trained to be in charge of the dog.
- Goading or allowing goading of the dog
- Dog used as a weapon to intimidate the victim
- Failure to respond to warnings or concerns expressed by others about the dog’s behaviour.
Equally positive is the new protection given to vulnerable individuals, including the elderly and the disabled. Previous guidelines had only offered tougher sentences where the dog attack involved a child; the new guidelines have ensured that offenders can be held accountable for attacks on adults as well as children.
Tougher sentencing will not, by itself, eradicate the problem of dog bite attacks: Steve Goody, speaking on behalf of Blue Cross, the animal welfare charity, has argued for the introduction of ‘useful, practical measures… to target irresponsible dog owners before an attack happens.’ With over 6,000 hospital admissions in England and Wales each year for serious dog bite attacks, the guidelines are an extremely important and positive step in tackling the issue of dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners.