Dangerous dogs sentencing guidelines proposed

Muzzled pit bull terrier Pit bull terriers were one of the types of dog banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act

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Judges have published the first proposed sentencing guidelines for people convicted for dangerous dogs offences in England and Wales.

The proposals come 20 years after the controversial Dangerous Dogs Act became law in the UK.

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales says it hopes the guidelines will ensure consistent and proportionate sentencing.

More than 1,700 people were prosecuted over dangerous dogs in 2010.

Ministry of Justice figures show that between 2009 and 2010 the number of people sentenced for dangerous dog offences rose from 855 to 1,192.

The government estimates that treating dog injuries costs the NHS more than £3m a year.

The Sentencing Council, which advises courts on the appropriate punishments within the range set out by Parliament, said it was proposing a starting point of a community order for people who allow a dog to cause injury while it is out of control.

Dangerous dogs banned in UK

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro

However, it said there should still be a wide degree of discretion.

The maximum sentence is two years.

People convicted of the lesser offence of possessing a banned dog should face a fine, said the council, with jail reserved for only the most extreme cases.

The council said that courts should order a dog's destruction unless it is satisfied that the animal would not pose a risk to the public, such as through muzzling and control at all times. Courts need not automatically consider destroying a dog in minor cases.

Case study

Kelvin Hopkins, Labour MP for Luton North

"I was delivering leaflets in an election campaign and put my hand through a letter box and got my finger bitten. It broke the skin and I had to have an injection for tetanus but otherwise I was alright. But my friend Joe Benton, the MP for Bootle, had the top of his finger bitten off in the last election.

"I suspect the dog that I was bitten by was a weapon dog - a guard dog of some sort but I didn't pursue it.

"I do believe that the legislation is inadequate. The RSPCA, the Police Federation and lots of other organisations have put forward a manifesto of six measures - the first is all dogs should be chipped with the owner so you can tie the dog to the owner.

"They put forward a lot of sensible proposals which I think would avoid getting to the situation where people go to prison.

"Overall dog owners are very good people and they have very well-behaved dogs but there is a minority who deliberately own and even breed dogs for aggressive purposes and those are the ones we've got to target."

The guidelines do not cover people who deliberately use dogs to attack because those incidents should lead to prosecutions for assault or more serious violent crimes.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has long been one of the most controversial pieces of legislation on the statute book.

Critics accused the then government of rushing it into law under media pressure and that it has failed to achieve its aims.

A government consultation in 2010 revealed the public to be still sharply divided on the law.

The key offences under the Act are: a dog dangerously out of control, causing injury; a dog dangerously out of control; possession of a banned dog; breeding, selling or exchanging a banned dog.

But the Sentencing Council said its proposals, which would not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, would help magistrates who have to deal with the vast majority of cases brought before the courts.

Anne Arnold, district judge and a member of the Sentencing Council, said: "We want to ensure that irresponsible dog owners who put the public at risk are sentenced appropriately.

"Our guideline gives guidance to courts on making the best use of their powers so that people can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims."

The Sentencing Council's consultation closes on 8 March 2012.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    59. Alan Walker This is about dogs and dog control. Try elsewhere for Nerds and chavs.

    58. feciko . Absolutely. I am all in favour. But how do you check at a glance? Police/authorities have to have a reason to act. A muzzle or lead would be an obvious indicator. Failure to comply can be easily seen and a check then made. It always comes back to enforcement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The existing laws have adequate means and penalties for dealing with dog offences, as witnessed by the fact that more than 1,700 people were prosecuted over dangerous dogs in 2010.

    That's more than 5 a day.

    The main problem is that most of those with dangerous dogs WANT them for either status, image or perceived need for protection.

    Irresponsible dog owners are unlikely to obey any new laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Something does need to be done about who can own a pet, here in london a couple of years ago my then housemate a very nice guy, was mugged at dog point, for some they are seen as an alternative to using a knife and even trained aggresively, perhaps musling all dogs would not be a bad idea and giving dog curfews and it is fair as owning a dog is a choice not a right (unless blind).

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The dog licence brigade will be signing on here. Dog tax, more for the Treasury as it will not be ring fenced for animal welfare. Licences only bought by responsible people who would look out for their dogs anyway. The criminals, people with dangerous dogs, won't pay, and the law will not chase them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @44 matthewlliwell "... they are staffies ..."

    No, most seem to be crosses of various degrees, and I have seen some large animals that are picture perfect American Pitbull Terriers.

    Brighton has some rough neighbourhoods.

    I think the breeders must be crossing them to get around the law and offer owners as much excitement as they desire. "This one is 75% American/ 25% Staffie ..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    One of the funniest sights there is to see on Britains streets these days are shaven headed hoodie wearing idiots + trousers with the crutch around the knee area & a virtually bare backside strutting their stuff down the street, then add in a brutish looking mutt on a studded collar & lead.
    Sorry "tough" guys, if this is you and someone walks past laughing out loud, it's me. You look SO funny

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    i see i'm not allowed to post any anti-chav and anti-ned comments on here, thank you moderators for ensuring that we as a society have the right to freedom of speech

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    All dogs should be licensed, chipped to a registered responsible owner. Anyone breeding dogs should be licensed also. Dogs should also have a 12 month health check up, that the owner pays for and ensure it is inoculated against Parvo etc. We do this for horses in this country so why not dogs ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Ok. We all agree it is the owners. Problem is enforcement is difficult. There can't be a law that makes it illegal to have a dangerous animal on one end of the lead and a dog on the other. Strutting around like a complete prat sadly is not an arrestable offence.
    How do you recognise an offence? I cant look at a dog and say 'illegal'.
    All dogs muzzled in public? All dogs on lead? This I can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Several commentators, presumably not dog owners, suggest that paying hundreds of pounds for a dog licence will stop the problem of dangerous dogs, but fail to say how. Any responsible dog owner will comply with the law requiring the dog to wear an id disc in public and will most likely have it microchipped and registered on a national database so it is identifiable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's not just aggressive dogs that are a danger. Here in the Lake District we have lazy, idiotic owners who bag pooch's poo and then just leave the stuff lying around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    All dogs should be muzzled when out..even the little ones !

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    How about dog on dog attacks?...I feel so sorry for people who have had their lovely pets killed or maimed by out of control dogs!....bring back registration,enforce the law and educate !

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Ewan@25 - I have 3 pet dogs who are friendly, properly socialised, and with immediate recall. You have a dog who is so out of control that you have to "scream" at people for their own safety (in itself a form of aggression). Exactly who has the problem here? Why are you exercising it in areas where other dogs are free running? As usual the problem lies not with the dog, but with the handler.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    @radarman "Dogs are just a penis substitute.". Oh dear, I've got a Pomeranian that looks like a feather duster on legs and suffers from small-dog-doorbell-replacement-syndrome. I'm not sure what thay says about me in that case!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It's a practical matter.

    These days owners will not be training their dogs, so you can stop dreaming about that - that is fantasy land. People buy these muscular dogs out of sense of insecurity or for fashion reasons ... not because they are responsible dog owners.

    At some point you have to be practical and draw a line and we are well beyond that point.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Ive worked with dogs for the last 45 years and there are dogs and dogs. There also owners and owners. When the two do not marry then there will be a problem. It might just be the dog owns the owner or the owner really owns the dog. In either case the dog will defend the owner. So my argument would be the DDA law does not cover all dogs. A Terrier breed can be just as dangerous as a Pit bull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    39. gururob1 Owners... should also be put down.

    Possibly a bit extreme though it would get my vote! However a few more prison sentences should help.

    Bans are fairly unenforceable - "Well Guv' its not my dog. It belongs to me cousin" and fines have little impact. I am also in favour of community sentences - a few weeks clearing up dog sh*t in parks seems a good starting place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    As chav dogs are banned, can we also ban chavs?


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