For the first time the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, who advise Courts on the appropriate punishments within the range set out by Parliament, have published proposed sentencing guidelines for those convicted of dangerous dog offences. The aim being to ensure that sentencing is consistent and proportionate. Their suggestion is that those convicted of possessing a banned dog should face a fine and that there should be a starting point of a community order for those who allow a dog to cause injury while it is out of control. The most extreme cases would warrant jail with a maximum sentence of two years. Over 1,700 people were prosecuted over dangerous dogs in 2010 with 1,192 being sentenced for dangerous dog offences, an increase from 855 in 2009. It is also proposed that the Court should not automatically consider destroying a dog if the case is a minor one and should only do so if it is feels that the dog would continue to pose a risk to the public and muzzling for example, would not assist. The guidelines come days after the Communications Workers Union, which represents Postal Workers launched an e-petition to change the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act so it outlaws attacks on private property. 6,000 postal workers are attacked by dogs every year and 70% of these attacks take place on private property where the law does not apply. While the sentencing guidelines are obviously welcome if it ensures consistency in sentencing there is a feeling that rather then seeking to clarify the existing law what should be looked at is a complete redrafting of the legislation. James McNally is a partner at Slee Blackwell and is recognised in the Legal 500 for his knowledge of dog bite law. He says: “The Dangerous Dog Act 1991 was produced in a hurry by a government reacting to calls for action following a number of high profile dog attacks. It is very poorly drafted and has been criticised from day one for not offering the public the protection they deserve from dangerous dogs. Unfortunately this is a debate which has been ongoing for 20 years now and nothing seems to get done to resolve it. A quick Google search shows that every year the government talk of reform but we’ve yet to see it. In March 2010 the then Labour government put forward proposals which not only dealt with attacks on private land as complained about by the postal workers but also sought to make micro chipping and insurance of dogs compulsory. These reforms would have offered increased protection to victims and meant that they could have been guaranteed financial compensation for their injuries. Unfortunately those reforms were never put into place and so we end up having the same old arguments again and again.” The law is not only unhelpful in establishing criminal prosecutions against dog owners but is also rather unsupportive of those who deserve to be compensated for the injuries they’ve suffered as a result of an attack. For those who suffer dog bites things can get very complicated and for that reason we would always advise anyone who wises to make a claim to ensure that their solicitor has a good specialist knowledge, otherwise they may be not getting the service they deserve.
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