New Sentencing Guidelines for Dangerous Dogs
by Peter Rolph, 01 July 2016
In the light of another series of serious dog attacks, including tragic fatalities, the sentencing council has issued some new clear guidelines for sentencing offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 where a dog is dangerously out of control. This applies to all dogs as every dog in this country is covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 however placid or small so these guidelines affect every dog owner who is involved in any incident.
The Dangerous Dog Act 1991 Guidelines
The guidelines are divided into sections depending on the seriousness of the incident. At the most serious end the guidance deals with where an owner or person in charge of a dog is dangerously out of control in any place where death is caused to where there is an incident but no injury occurs.
Within each category the guidelines give examples of the level of culpability within the ranges of high, medium or low. At the high end of culpability there is, for example, where a dog is used specifically as a weapon or as a means to intimidate a person and at the lesser of culpability this will include events that show the incident could not have reasonably been foreseen or show only a momentary lapse of control.
The guidelines then show the starting point for sentencing for each band of culpability which then lists factors which increase seriousness and reduce seriousness within those bands. For example, an offence is most serious if the victim is a child or vulnerable person, and less serious if there are no previous convictions or no complaints regarding the dog.
The Court must also consider important ancillary Orders including compensation Orders and disqualification Orders. A Court may make a destruction Order if the Court is satisfied the dog would constitute a danger to public safety and that would involve the Court considering the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour.
Other Orders such as keeping the dog muzzled in public or keeping on a lead, neutering in appropriate cases and excluding it from specific places can also be imposed by the Courts.
Severity of the offence is key
In most serious offences where the dog causes death with high culpability a sentence starting point of 8 years custody with a range of between 6 – 14 years custody is recommended.
For less serious offences where no injury occurs the starting point is a fine at bands A or B (50% - 100% of relevant weekly income), but can also include low level Community Orders or discharge. In those cases ancillary Orders to muzzle, neuter or have the dog on a lead are also likely.
The factors increasing seriousness and reducing seriousness or reflecting personal mitigation are now detailed which will enable a much more consistent sentencing policy for offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and give greater certainty in advising clients on the likely penalty and sentence of any such prosecution.
Separate guidelines with similar guidance set out the sentencing policy for possession, breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a banned dog or where a guide dog or other assistance dog is injured or killed by another dog.
These new guidelines come into effect on the 1st July 2016 and while they provide welcome guidelines for consistent sentencing across England and Wales they do serve as a timely reminder that there are serious legal responsibilities in owning any dog, large or small, and if a dog is out of control in a public place that remains a criminal offence for which prosecution and an appearance in Court awaits the unwary, inattentive or the sad individuals with their trophy, aggressive dogs. The sentencing guidelines serve as a reminder as to the seriousness of any incident involving your dog and the increasing penalties for dangerous dogs.