In the last few years there have been a number of high profile cases where dogs have been left in households with young children and the dog has seriously injured and in some cases killed the child. The public would have expected a prosecution under the Dangerous Dogs Act but this would not apply as the incident did not take place in a public place.
Section 10 of the legislation defined “public place” as any street, road or other place (whether or not enclosed) to which the public have or are permitted to have access whether for payment or otherwise and includes the common parts of a building containing two or more separate dwellings.
There were also occasions when public servants, including postal workers, ambulance staff and police officers were attacked by dogs on private property. Again, no prosecution could follow for the same reason. Another concern that was raised was that the aggravated offence only applied when a human received injuries. On a number of occasions ‘assistance dogs’, namely dogs that assisted people with day to day activities such as blind dogs, were attacked and killed by dangerous dogs. This led to the quality of life of its owner being negatively affected.
New powers introduced this week (Tuesday 13 March 2014) see the legislation extended to include all private property. This means that for the first time dog owners will no longer be immune from prosecution if their dog attacks somebody in the home.
The maximum sentence for the owner of a dog who kills somebody has been raised from two years to 14 years. If a person is injured from a dog attack the owner faces up to five years imprisonment.
The change in legislation will also provide additional protection to people who visit homes offering essential services, including health visitors, postal staff and utility workers.
Deputy chief constable Gareth Pritchard, who has national responsibility for dangerous dogs, said:
“While this new legislation cannot be enforced retrospectively, I hope it is of some small comfort to the families of the 12 children and eight adults who have lost their lives in dog attacks.
“The increase in sentencing for the owner of a dog who kills a person from two to 14 years recognises the gravity of these offences.
“My fellow police officers have reported being extremely frustrated with their lack of powers to investigate dog attacks in private places resulting in serious injuries.
“This new power will protect workers who visit people’s homes to provide essential services such as; health visitors, midwives, utility workers and postal staff, all who have to date been unprotected.
“This new law is not designed to penalise owners of overexcited dogs who nip or homeowners protecting their property from intruders. It is about preventing and appropriately punishing those who do not take responsibility for their animal.”
Attacks on assistance dogs have also been recognised in the new legislation and will be subject to a maximum sentence of three years..Richard Leaman, chief executive of the Guide Dogs charity, said:
“An attack on a guide dog can be devastating. It can rob someone with sight loss of their independence and freedom, leaving them virtually housebound.
“We’re delighted that irresponsible owners can now be given tougher sentences if their dog attacks an assistance dog.
“With an average of ten guide dogs being attacked every month, we’re looking to the police to fully use their new powers to protect vulnerable people from these sometimes life-changing attacks.”