Tougher sentences for dangerous dog offences
A tougher approach to the way those convicted of dangerous dog offences are treated by the courts is contained in a new guideline from the Sentencing Council published today.
In recent years, there have been increasing numbers of convictions for offences involving dangerous dogs, and this new guideline helps ensure courts use their full powers when dealing with offenders.
It aims to provide clear guidance to sentencers so there is a consistent approach to sentencing and appropriate sentences are given to the owners of dangerous dogs.
The sentencing ranges mark an increase in sentencing levels from current practice. The top of the sentencing range for owners allowing their dog to be dangerously out of control injuring someone has been set at 18 months custody in order to encourage the courts to use more severe sentences when it would be appropriate to do so.
The top of the sentencing range for possession of a prohibited dog has been set at the legal maximum of six months custody to encourage courts to use the full range of their sentencing powers for the most serious cases.
The new guideline will mean more offenders will face jail sentences, more will get community orders and fewer will receive discharges.
The guideline will also help courts make the 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, such as 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 intending to injure them, the offender is likely to be charged with assault, rather than one of these offences.
The guideline has been published following a consultation which received more than 500 responses from members of the public, judges and magistrates, the police, animal welfare organisations and many others with expertise or interest in this issue. These responses have helped shape the final guideline in a number of ways.
- The Council has broadened the definition of vulnerable victims so that it applies not only to children but to others such the elderly, disabled and blind or visually impaired people.
- The guideline has also been extended to include injuries to other animals as an aggravating factor in the offence of allowing a dog to be out of control and causing injury. There was very strong support for this in a large number of responses including the Crown Prosecution Service, Association of Chief Police Officers and the Mayor of London.
- In addition, the problem of dog fighting has been taken into account in the offence of possession of a prohibited dog – training a dog to fight or possessing paraphernalia for dog fighting is now included as a factor increasing the seriousness of this offence. This follows concerns from the Mayor of London and the Police Federation about this issue.
Anne Arnold, district judge and member of the Sentencing Council, said:
“We are very grateful to all those who responded to the consultation and helped shape the final guideline. Our draft guideline was well received, but we have listened to respondents and made a number of changes as a result of the consultation to make it as effective as possible.
“Most dog owners are responsible and take good care of their pets, but we’ve seen more and more cases coming before the courts of owners who have put the public at risk or let their dog cause injuries – sometimes very serious – to people.
“As a result, this new sentencing guideline encourages courts to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate. It also 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.”
Trevor Cooper, Legal Consultant for Dogs Trust, said:
“Dogs Trust welcomes the Guidelines which will assist with the consistency of sentencing in this area. These new guidelines will encourage courts to focus on the key factors of culpability of the owner and the amount of harm to the victim. This tougher approach should serve as a stiff reminder to dog owners to keep their pets under proper control and to behave responsibly.”
Peter Chapman, Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association Sentencing Committee said:
“The Magistrates’ Association welcomes the new guideline as the Sentencing Council has listened and responded to many of our members’ concerns about sentencing these cases involving dangerous dogs. For the first time, magistrates will have all they need in one document to help them sentence the offender, disqualify him from future dog ownership if appropriate, order compensation to the victim and order destruction of the dog if necessary.”
Following publication today, the new guideline will be used in courts from 20 August 2012.