The Government has recently proposed amending the law in relation to Dangerous Dogs to reflect public concern that the legislation does not cover certain situations.
Owners and others responsible for dogs are under a duty to keep them under control in a public place. The current legislation is enshrined in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3) and allows the prosecution of people responsible for dogs when they are deemed dangerously out of control in a public place.
Dangerously out of control is defined (section 10) when “there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person, whether or not it actually does so, but references to a dog injuring a person or there being grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will do so do not include references to any case in which the dog is being used for a lawful purpose by a constable or a person in the service of the Crown.”
So, for example, if a person takes their dog out to a local park, and the dog acts aggressively, biting another dog, chasing a person or other dog or acting in a manner that could properly be described as dangerous then an offence may have been committed by the owner, or alternatively the person taking the dog out. This is the simple offence and the penalty to the owner would range from a fine to a maximum of 6 months custody.
If the dog was dangerously out of control, as above, and it further injures a person, then an aggravated offence is committed and the maximum penalty would be 2 years custody.
Problems with the Current Law
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 defines “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.
Changes to the Law
The proposals to be put before Parliament include the following:
- Allowing prosecutions to take place when a dog is dangerously out of control in a public and private place. There would be an exemption to this if injuries were caused to a trespasser in the private place (such as a burglar for example).
- The aggravated offence to include the scenario where injury is caused to an assistance dog.
The proposed changes would seem to be sensible when considered by the public. It will be interesting to see what happens if they take effect. They are being added to control the ‘chav’ with the aggressive ‘status pitbull’ that could savage a toddler. The changes would equally apply to the Daily Mail reader with a pet Labradoodle that bites a visitor to the house if accidentally stood on. We shall see who gets prosecuted in the future.