People who breed dogs to be aggressive or used as weapons could be among those most severely punished under new dangerous dog sentencing guidelines.
The Sentencing Council has drafted new guidance for courts following amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 which were enacted in May 2014 through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014,3 which made such substantial changes to the offences and the maximum penalties. The amendments significantly increased maximum sentences and introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs. It also extended the law to cover offences on private property, which could include attacks on postal workers while delivering mail.
The Council has drafted sentencing guidance with five sub-guidelines to cover the following scenarios :
• Dog dangerously out of control in any place causing the death of a person.
• Dog dangerously out of control in any place where a person is injured.
• Dog dangerously out of control in any place where an assistance dog is injured.
• Dog dangerously out of control in any place.
• Possession of a prohibited dog, breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a prohibited dog.
In England and Wales in the last 10 years, at least eight adults and 13 children have died from dog attacks. In the 12 months to January 2014, some 6,740 people required hospital treatment as a result of dog attacks, an increase of six per cent from the previous 12 months. More than 200,000 people a year are estimated to be bitten by dogs in England.
Judge Julian Goose, a member of the Sentencing Council, said:
“Most dog owners are responsible, care for their pets properly and keep them under control but some irresponsible owners put others at risk of injury or death and we want to ensure that the courts have the guidance needed to help them sentence offenders appropriately.
“In drawing up our proposals, we have been very aware of the potentially devastating impact of these offences on victims. Long sentences are available for the most serious offences.”
The top end of the sentencing ranges could involve someone who has bred or trained a dog to be aggressive, used it as a weapon or to intimidate people, or owns a dog which carries out a fatal attack. However, the guidelines also cover incidents where the dog owner was less culpable. This could include someone who has been a responsible dog owner and taken safety precautions but whose dog escapes from their house and kills someone in the street.
Trevor Cooper, dog law specialist at Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, said courts often faced the “difficult task” of deciding on appropriate sentencing in dog cases, which could be “emotive and complex”. He said the guidelines would provide “much-needed clarity and consistency” in assessing cases.
The proposed guidelines for England and Wales will now go out to experts and the public for consultation. The consultation closes on 9 June 2015 During the consultation period, the Council will host a number of consultation meetings to seek views from groups with an interest in this area as well as with sentencers. Once the consultation exercise is over and the results considered, a final guideline will be published and used by all adult courts. . The Sentencing Council said it wanted to hear from people with “expertise or an interest in the issue”.
Written by Ruth Peters of Olliers Solicitors.