Unlike most offences in English law no criminal intent or recklessness is required for liability to arise and a person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if their dog was on a lead and had never behaved in such a way before.
Dogs Dangerously Out of Control
(Section 3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991)
Under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act an owner, or a person in charge of a dog, commits an offence if the dog causes reasonable apprehension to a person that they will be injured, whether or not they actually are injured. Unlike most offences in English law no criminal intent or recklessness is required for liability to arise and a person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if their dog was on a lead and had never behaved in such a way before. Where no injury is caused the case may only be dealt with in the magistrates’ court and the maximum penalty is 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of £5,000. The court has the power to order the dog be destroyed or kept under control and they may specify the measures for control (eg keeping the dog on a lead in public). The court can also disqualify you from keeping dogs and can also order compensation to be paid to the victim.
If your dog injures a person, or an assistance dog (eg a guide dog), then a more serious “aggravated” offence is committed. The injury does not have to be a bite; a scratch or bruise would suffice. The “aggravated” offence can be dealt with in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court and the maximum penalties are as follows:
• Injury to an assistance dog – 3 years imprisonment
• Injury to a person – 5 years imprisonment
• Death of a person – 14 years imprisonment
You could also be ordered to pay a fine and/or compensation and the court have the power to disqualify you from keeping dogs.
Where an “aggravated” offence is committed the court must order the dog to be destroyed unless it is satisfied that you are a suitable owner and that the dog does not pose a risk to the public. Expert evidence from a suitably qualified animal behaviourist will usually be required on this point.
It is a defence for the owner to show that they had left the dog in the care of a person they reasonably believed to be a responsible person. If the incident occurred on your own private property and the person injured was a trespasser, then you may have a defence if they were inside, or partially inside, your property. This is known as the “householder” defence.
The police have the power to seize your dog and keep it pending the outcome of the case. Here at Wheldon Law we are dog law solicitors who have excellent contacts within the police and on a number of occasions we have been able to persuade the police to return dogs to their owners pending the outcome of proceedings.
Dogs not kept under proper control
(Section 2 Dogs Act 1871)
Civil proceedings can be taken against the owner of a dog that is dangerous and not kept under proper control. The dangerousness alleged can be towards people or animals and the legislation applies to incidents in both public and private places. Because the proceedings are civil the court cannot impose a penalty on the owner or order them to pay compensation but they can order the owner to pay the costs of bringing the application and order the dog to be destroyed or kept under proper control (eg by keeping it on a lead in public).
Given the recent extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to private property this section is likely to be used less in the future.
Dogs worrying livestock
(Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953)
An offence is committed by the owner or person in charge of a dog if it attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land or if it is off-lead in a field containing sheep. The definition of livestock includes sheep, goats, cattle, poultry, pigs and horses. Police have the power to seize the dog. The maximum penalty is a fine but a conviction under this section can lead to a destruction order being made under s2 Dogs Act 1871.
Expert evidence is essential in cases of this kind as the courts take an understandably serious view where livestock has been killed. We have successfully defended numerous cases of this type and always instruct an expert animal behaviourist with particular expertise in dogs with a high chase and prey drive.
The owner of the livestock is entitled to protect his livestock and this could include killing or injuring the offending dog.