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New sentencing guidelines proposed in respect of dangerous dogs

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Twenty years following the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act to the UK, Judges have now published the first-ever proposed sentencing guidelines in respect of offences committed under the 1991 Act.  The move, by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, is geared towards sentencing become more consistent and proportionate for the offence, although the consultation will only come to an end in March next year.

Despite the introduction of the Act, the figures for people convicted of "dangerous dog" offences, is steadily increasing year upon year.  In 2010 more than 1700 people were prosecuted, and the Government estimates that it costs the NHS more than £3 million per year treating injuries caused by dogs.

So, what is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991?  Literature from the RSPCA confirms that there are two main parts to the Act - the first relating to types of dogs which are bred for fighting.  The banned breeds include American Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Braziliero.  Unless the owner of one of these dogs has obtained a certificate of exemption and has had their animal microchipped, neutered and insured, then it is a criminal offence to possess one.  The law also states that these types of dogs MUST be muzzled and on a lead in a public place, and cannot be left in the charge of someone under 16 years old.

The second part of the Act relates to keeping  proper control of your dog, regardless of the breed.  An offence is committed if the dogs are not kept under proper control.  Statistically, more people are injured by dogs which are not on the banned list.  There have been numerous high profile cases in the press over recent years, usually involving children, who have suffered horrific injuries as a result of attacks, some of them from family pets.  The statistics speak for themselves.  In London alone, in 2003 58 children required hospital treatment as a result of an injury caused by a dog.  In 2008, this figure had increased to an incredible 496 children.  Two year old Jack Ayton of Gloucester is one of the most recent victims, receiving severe facial injuries and requiring 20 stitches following an attack by his childminder's friend's Alsatian cross last month.  A spokesman for Gloucestershire Police stated that whilst their thoughts were with Jack and his family during this traumatic time, there was "no criminal legislation that covers this type of incident on private land where the dog lives".

An interesting statistic is that a German Shepherd's jaws exert 900 to 1200 lbs of pressure per square inch, where it would take just 4 lbs of pressure per square inch to break a human's finger.

The Sentencing Council, who advise Courts on appropriate punishments within the range set out by Parliament, have proposed a "starting point" of a community order for people who do not keep their dog under control, so as to enable it to cause injury.  The maximum sentence is two years imprisonment. Whilst most dog owners ARE responsible, and do keep their pets under control in a public environment, the owners who don't are invariably the ones who do not feel it necessary to take out pet insurance which would cover any compensation claim made against them in the event of their pet injuring someone.  Unfortunately, there is no legislation at present which would require a dog owner to take out suitable insurance, however, the Sentencing Council's guidelines are surely a step in the right direction.

If you have been injured as a result of an animal attack, then Stephensons have a specialist team of lawyers who can assist and advise you on any potential claim for compensation, call us on 01616 966 229.

By personal injury executive, Pauline Smith