On 1 July 2016, the Sentencing Council’s revised definitive sentencing guidelines for dangerous dog offences came into force. With these changes, pet owners will now face much harsher punishments should they be found guilty of an offence contained within the Dangerous Dogs Act 2014 (the “Act”).
Under the Act it is illegal to own, breed, sell or give away the following breeds of dog:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasileiro
The following offences are covered under the revised guidelines:
- A dog dangerously out of control in any place causing death of a person;
- A dog dangerously out of control in any place where a person is injured;
- A dog dangerously out of control in any place where an assistance dog is injured;
- A dog dangerously out of control in any place; and
- Possession, breeding, selling, exchanging or the advertising of a prohibited dog.
The changes to sentencing have come following amendments to the Act which saw the introduction of the offence of attacks by dangerous dogs against assistance dogs such as guide dogs. The amendments have also sought to address a wide range of offending behaviour, for example, the offence of a dog being out of control and injuring a person can cover situations where a minor injury has been inflicted up to attacks that lead to life changing injuries.
The revised sentencing guidelines have brought about an increase to the maximum sentences available to Judges and Magistrates. The changes have seen the maximum custodial sentence for a fatal dog attack raised from two years to fourteen, whilst the maximum custodial sentence for a dog attack causing injury to a person has been raised from two years to five.
The guidelines have also highlighted the importance on considering whether an offender should be banned from keeping dogs, should have their dogs taken away from them, and/or whether they should be forced to pay compensation to a victim of a dog attack.
The blameworthiness of an offender, or their culpability, can also vary greatly from situations where a dog has been trained to be deliberately violent to situations where the attack has taken place due to a momentary lapse of control over a dog.
It is clear that revised sentencing guidelines have been introduced in order to ensure that Judges and Magistrates sentence individuals in a proportionate and consistent manner, whilst providing them with further powers when deciding on an individual’s sentence when committing an offence under the Act.
It is so important that dog owners understand their responsibilities and the possible legal consequences of owning a dog. It can come as a horrifying shock to many who only become aware of the legislation when it is too late. This is particularly true of cases where people have been given dogs or taken over care from family members or friends and are not clear of the exact breed. They could find themselves in a very difficult and unpleasant position.