Sentencing guidelines on dangerous dog offences must reflect changes in the law, specialist lawyers have said.
The Sentencing Council announced yesterday that it is consulting on proposals for how courts should sentence people convicted of dangerous dog offences following changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which came into force last year.
These include extending the law to cover offences on private property and a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs.
Trevor Cooper, dog law specialist at welfare charity Dogs Trust, predicted that last year’s legislative changes will lead to an increase in the number of cases coming before the courts, but magistrates and judges currently had little sentencing experience in relation to dog-related cases.
Around 800 such cases come before the courts in England and Wales a year, he said.
Cooper, principal of dog specialists Cooper & Co Solicitors, said some owners found it surprising that they could be convicted for the actions of their dogs. He said: ‘Some people think dogs are entitled to one bite. No. And some think the Dangerous Dogs Act is just about pitbulls. No, it is not.’
However, Cooper said lawyers should not adopt a ‘blinkered approach’ to prosecutions and consider alternatives. He cited an ‘often overlooked’ 1871 act that could be used for cases of lesser severity. Although dealt with by a magistrates’ court, the matters are treated as a civil complaint.
Magistrates’ Association chairman Richard Monkhouse said the association was pleased the new guidelines were being introduced following the ‘significant’ changes in the law.
The proposed guidelines allow a wider range of sentence lengths than are possible under existing guidelines.
They also cover incidents which happen on private property as well as in public spaces – such as incidents when a postal worker is attacked by a dog in someone’s front garden, or when a guest at someone’s house is injured.
The guidelines also award compensation to victims or ban irresponsible owners who put the public at risk.
The consultation closes on 9 June.