A patchwork of dog control laws, including some that date back 150 years, is causing unnecessary confusion about liability, MPs have warned. The House of Commons select committee on environment, food and rural affairs has told the government to consolidate the 'disparate pieces' of legislation into a 'single coherent' Dog Control Act.
Over 200,000 people are attacked by dogs in England every year. Children under nine are statistically most at risk.
MPs focused their inquiry on section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which includes so-called 'Breed Specific Legislation' restricting ownership of certain types of dogs deemed to be dangerous. In the UK, the ban covers Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Pit Bull Terrier and Japanese Tosa.
The committee was told by the UK Centre for Animal Law that the current focus on prohibiting certain breeds offers false assurances to policymakers, and distracts attention from investigating alternative and potentially more effective methods of dog control.
In its written evidence, the centre says it 'cannot do justice to the full complexities of the law in this area, including potential law reforms that would potentially protect the public better and avoid the animal welfare detriments. While there are important policy questions to be addressed, we also reiterate our support for the Law Commission to conduct a review into potential law reform, better targeting the behaviour of individual dogs and/or owners'.
The centre also recognises the importance of non-legal approaches, such as public education, robust investigation into the cause of dog bites and steps to reduce the time dogs spend in kennels during the court process.
Despite a 'fairly comprehensive' legislative framework to prevent dog attacks, the committee says the number of bites and strikes has steadily increased. An initial view of the Dangerous Dogs Act, published five years after the law's introduction, showed no significant reduction in bites.
MPs were concerned to hear that the government considered the Dangerous Dogs Act to be successful on the grounds that it was impossible to tell how many attacks would have occurred without the law: 'This is not convincing. Children and adults are suffering catastrophic injuries. The increase in attacks - most of them from legal breeds - clearly indicates that the current approach is failing to protect the public adequately.'
The committee wants the government to commission an independent review of the Dangerous Dogs Act, as well as wider dog control legislation, which should begin by January 2019.