As of 13th May 2014, after years of campaigning by people like Postmen and their Unions as well as criticism for the RSPCA  and a number of high profile fatal dog attacks where police were powerless to prosecute the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has been amended. Before May 2014 the police could do nothing unless a dog was out of control in a public place . This meant that if for example you were attacked in someone's home or when walking up the path to deliver a letter then no matter how bad the injuries the police could not bring a criminal prosecution. There was still scope for a personal injury claim as that was covered by separate law but as far as the law was concerned no crime had been committed.  The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 has changed that and made some very important changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991:

  • It extends the offence of a dog being dangerously out of control to any place in England and Wales
  • It extends the aggravated form of the offence (the section which is relevant when a dog actually causes injury) to injury to assistance dogs such as guide dogs
  • It increases the maximum sentence in relation to the offence
  • Powers of seizure are extended so police may seize dogs even if not in a public place
  • It allows police to consider if the dog owner is a fit and proper person and the dog's behaviour and previous history when considering whether the dog is a danger to the public.

Obviously the most important change is that dog owners now have a duty to ensure that their dogs are under proper control at all times and do not cause fear or injury to those who rightfully enter the dog owner's property. Note that the previous paragraph mentions those who are "rightfully" entering the property. The amendment specifically refers to what it calls a ‘householder case’. This is when a dog is dangerously out of control but the "victim" is a trespasser or the owner/person in charge of the dog believed they were. It is would appear from the way the act is worded however that importantly this exception only applies to "building or part of" potentially meaning if a dog is dangerously out of control in a garden in respect of a trespasser, there is no defence as they are not in a building or part of. It will be interesting to see how the Courts decide to interpret this. As far as the other changes are concerned the other main one of importance is the maximum sentence a dog owner can receive if convicted. Whereas before the maximum sentence for the aggravated offence was six months on summary conviction or a fine not exceeding level 5 or both and 2 years on conviction on indictment, a fine or both this has now been increased in relation to the aggravated offence convicted on indictment to: • 14 years if a person dies as a result of being injured; • 5 years in any other case where a person is injured; • 3 years in any case where an assistance dog is injured. The changes are welcome but the general feeling is that they do not go far enough and that unfortunately they are repeating the mistakes of the original act by responding to some horrific stories in the media with legislation which will do little to actually prevent dog attacks from taking place. In the same way that irresponsible drivers will continue to speed and drive dangerously no matter what the punishment the worry is that irresponsible dog owners won't consider the consequences of their actions until it is too late. Meanwhile the number of victims unable to recover compensation will remain the same.

 The full text of the relevant amendment is below:

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

PART 7: Dangerous dogs

106  Keeping dogs under proper control

(1)The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is amended as follows.

(2)In section 3 (keeping dogs under proper control)—

(a)in subsection (1)—

(i)for “a public place” there is substituted “any place in England or Wales (whether or not a public place)”;

(ii)after “injures any person” there is inserted “or assistance dog”;

(b)after subsection (1) there is inserted—

(1A)A person (“D”) is not guilty of an offence under subsection (1) in a case which is a householder case.

(1B)For the purposes of subsection (1A) “a householder case” is a case where—

(a)the dog is dangerously out of control while in or partly in a building, or part of a building, that is a dwelling or is forces accommodation (or is both), and

(b)at that time—

(i)the person in relation to whom the dog is dangerously out of control (“V”) is in, or is entering, the building or part as a trespasser, or

(ii)D (if present at that time) believed V to be in, or entering, the building or part as a trespasser.

Section 76(8B) to (8F) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (use of force at place of residence) apply for the purposes of this subsection as they apply for the purposes of subsection (8A) of that section (and for those purposes the reference in section 76(8D) to subsection (8A)(d) is to be read as if it were a reference to paragraph (b)(ii) of this subsection).;

(c)subsection (3) is repealed;

(d)in subsection (4)—

(i)the words “or (3)” are omitted;

(ii)for “either of those subsections” there is substituted “that subsection”;

(iii)in paragraph (b), for “two years” there is substituted “the relevant maximum specified in subsection (4A)”;

(e)after subsection (4) there is inserted—

(4A)For the purposes of subsection (4)(b), the relevant maximum is—

(a)14 years if a person dies as a result of being injured;

(b)5 years in any other case where a person is injured;

(c)3 years in any case where an assistance dog is injured (whether or not it dies).

(3)In section 4 (destruction and disqualification orders), the words “or (3)” are omitted in both places where they occur in subsection (1).

(4)In section 4A (contingent destruction orders)—

(a)in subsection (1)(a) the words “or (3)” are omitted;

(b)in subsection (4) the words “or (3)” are omitted.

(5)In section 5 (seizure, entry of premises and evidence)—

(a)in subsection (1)(c), for “one” there is substituted “a dog”;

(b)after subsection (1) there is inserted—

(1A)A constable or an officer of a local authority authorised by it to exercise the powers conferred by this subsection may seize any dog in a place in England or Wales which is not a public place, if the dog appears to the constable or officer to be dangerously out of control.

(6)In section 10 (interpretation)—

(a)in subsection (2), after the definition of “advertisement” there is inserted—

  • “assistance dog” has the meaning given by section 173(1) of the Equality Act 2010;;

(b)in subsection (3)—

(i)after “injure any person” there is inserted “or assistance dog”;

(ii)after “injuring a person” there is inserted “or assistance dog”.

107Whether a dog is a danger to public safety

(1)The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is amended as follows.

(2)In section 1 (dogs bred for fighting) after subsection (6) there is inserted—

(6A)A scheme under subsection (3) or (5) may in particular include provision requiring a court to consider whether a person is a fit and proper person to be in charge of a dog.

(3)In section 4 (destruction and disqualification orders) after subsection (1A) there is inserted—

(1B)For the purposes of subsection (1A)(a), when deciding whether a dog would constitute a danger to public safety, the court—

(a)must consider—

(i)the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour, and

(ii)whether the owner of the dog, or the person for the time being in charge of it, is a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog, and

(b)may consider any other relevant circumstances.

(4)Section 4B (destruction orders otherwise than on a conviction) is amended as follows—

(a)in subsection (1), after “section 5(1) or (2) below” there is inserted “or in exercise of a power of seizure conferred by any other enactment”;

(b)after subsection (2) there is inserted—

(2A)For the purposes of subsection (2)(a), when deciding whether a dog would constitute a danger to public safety, the justice or sheriff—

(a)must consider—

(i)the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour, and

(ii)whether the owner of the dog, or the person for the time being in charge of it, is a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog, and

(b)may consider any other relevant circumstances.

Changes in law finally offer some protection
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