New sentencing proposals for dangerous dog offences - public consultation launched

New proposals about how the owners of dangerous dogs should be sentenced by the courts are being announced today, with the launch of a public consultation on the first sentencing guideline that covers dangerous dog offences.

With rising numbers of people being convicted for these offences, the Sentencing Council is responding to ensure that there is effective guidance for the courts. The aim is consistent and proportionate sentencing throughout England and Wales so that wherever owners of dangerous dogs appear in court, appropriate sentences are passed.  It does not propose any reduction in sentences for those convicted of dangerous dog offences.

The draft guideline also aims to ensure that sentencers make best use of their powers so that irresponsible owners who put the public at risk can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims.

The guideline covers the most commonly sentenced offences in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 including allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control causing injury and possession of a prohibited dog.

In situations where someone deliberately sets a dog on another person and injures them, the offender is likely to be charged with assault – the assault sentencing guideline refers specifically to the use of an animal as a weapon as a factor increasing the level of sentence.

The Council’s proposals take into account findings from research it conducted to explore the public’s views on sentencing for these offences and the guideline ranges largely reflect sentences suggested by the majority of respondents. The consultation now gives the opportunity for anyone to give their views on the proposals.

Anne Arnold, district judge and member of the Sentencing Council, said:
“The majority of dog owners take good care of their pets and keep their dogs under control but 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.

“This consultation provides an opportunity for anyone interested in this issue to give their views so we can make sure the guidelines are as effective as possible.”

John Fassenfelt, Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association said:
“Magistrates are seeing more dangerous dog offences coming before them, so we welcome the development of this guideline. It will help magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for both the normally careful owner whose pet gets momentarily out of control and the negligent owner who doesn’t care if their dog poses a risk to the public. It will also help magistrates decide if additional action to keep people safe is needed, such as banning someone from owning a dog.”

Trevor Cooper, dog law expert and dog law consultant for Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, commented:
“Courts often face the difficult task of deciding on appropriate sentencing in dog cases, which can be emotive and complex. These draft guidelines on dangerous dog offences will help to provide much needed clarity and consistency in assessing individual cases and this consultation will be considered with due diligence. This also presents a timely opportunity for dog owners to proffer their own views on this consultation and play a part in helping to shape the sentencing procedure.”

The consultation closes on 8 March 2012.