New guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council have been brought into force from today. There are five separate guidelines which deal with the following offences:
- Dog dangerously out of control in any place where death is caused (section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991)
- Dog dangerously out of control in any place where a person is injured (section 3(1))
- Dog dangerously out of control in any place where an assistance dog is injured or killed (section 3(1))
- Dog dangerously out of control in any place (section 3(1)); and
- Possession of a prohibited dog, breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a prohibited dog (section 1(7)).
The guidelines cover a wide range of offending behaviour. In the case of a dog dangerously out of control where injury is caused, the guidelines consider the level harm from a bite causing a minor injury to a very serious attack causing life-changing injuries. The culpability of offenders can also vary hugely between cases from dog owners who had a momentary lapse of control but are otherwise responsible dog owners to those that encourage dogs to behave dangerously.
The guidelines have been introduced following changes to dangerous dog legislation by the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing 2014, which amended the law to include attacks on private property and introduced a new offence dealing with attacks on assistance dogs. The previous changes also increased the courts’ sentencing powers. For example, the maximum sentence for offences where a victim is killed increased from two to fourteen years and for where someone is injured from two to five years.
It is anticipated that sentencing levels are likely to be harsher than in the past, but courts will still have to make individual assessments on a case by case basis by balancing a number of factors to ensure sentences are appropriate and reflect the seriousness of the offence. In addition to setting out appropriate sentence ranges for these offences, courts will be required to consider whether offenders should be banned from keeping dogs and ordered to pay compensation to the victim.