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New Sentencing Guidelines for Dangerous Dogs

23 March 2015

UK - Under proposed guidelines by the Sentencing Council, the maximum sentence for offences where someone is killed by a dangerous dog has increased from two years to 14 years.

The draft guidelines also extend the existing law to cover incidents which happen on private property as well as in public spaces, meaning they will apply to instances such as when a postman is attacked by a dog, or when a guest at someone's house is injured, reports MRCVS.

Furthermore, the council have introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs, which could be those trained to guide someone with a visual impairment, or assist someone with a hearing impairment or other disability.

The proposals follow changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which came into force last year, and are being produced to reflect the changes to legislation. It is also hoped that they will provide updated guidance for judges and magistrates to use in sentencing these cases.

The council now seeks the views of as many people as possible interested in the sentencing of dangerous dog offences. It is particularly interested in views about how to assess the seriousness of offences, which factors should influence a sentence, the structure of the guidelines, and the sentence ranges and levels.

Judge Julian Goose, member of the Sentencing Council, said: “Most dog owners are responsible, care for their pets properly and keep them under control but some irresponsible owners put others at risk of injury or death and we want to ensure that the courts have the guidance needed to help them sentence offenders appropriately.

“In drawing up our proposals, we have been very aware of the potentially devastating impact of these offences on victims. Long sentences are available for the most serious offences. Sentencers are also encouraged to use their powers where appropriate to ban people from keeping dogs or to order them to pay compensation to victims.

“This is a public consultation. We are interested in hearing from people with expertise or an interest in this issue so that we can develop guidelines that are clear, proportionate and effective."

Trevor Cooper, dog law specialist at Dogs Trust, commented: “Courts often face the difficult task of deciding on appropriate sentencing in dog cases, which can be emotive and complex. These draft guidelines on dangerous dog offences will help to provide much needed clarity and consistency in assessing individual cases.

"This is vital with the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act coming into force last year. Dogs Trust are pleased to see the proposals recognise that there can be a range of culpability on the part of offenders for these offences, and that courts should carefully consider the appropriate sentence in each case.”

Richard Monkhouse JP, Chairman of the Magistrates Association, added: “There has been an increase in dangerous dog cases coming before the courts over the past 10 years and following the significant changes in the law, we are pleased that new guidelines are being introduced.

"They will help magistrates decide on appropriate sentences for the variety of offenders they deal with and assist them in taking other actions necessary to keep the public safe, such as by banning an offender from owning a dog.”

The consultation closes on June 9, 2015 and is open to both criminal justice professionals and members of the public. To respond to the consultation, click here.

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