In May 2014, the Dangerous Dogs Act was amended so that dog owners can face prosecution if their dog attacks a person on private property. Following this change in the law and the Royal Mail’s crackdown on dog attacks on postal workers, last month a dog owner from Manchester became one of the first people in Britain to be prosecuted by the Royal Mail. The attack, which left a postal worker with a six-inch wound, had initially been reported to the police but the owner only received a caution. Unsatisfied with this, the Royal Mail decided to launch its own private prosecution. The owner pleaded guilty to owning a dog which was dangerously out of control and was placed on a seven-week curfew, ordered to pay costs and compensation and was banned from keeping dogs for 18 months.
Mr Morton, prosecuting, told the court: “The reason this has been brought, and there has been pressure to bring it, is because there have been 3,000 dog bites on postal workers per year. About ten per day. Because police don't always regard these in the same way as employers, this will now be a matter of public policy - they will be appropriately prosecuted."
It’s no secret that cuts to budgets have meant that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is becoming increasingly selective in the cases they choose to prosecute. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the Royal Mail has decided to “bite back” and take action itself.
A private prosecution can be started by any individual, victim, interested party, organisation, or company. Anyone has the right to bring a private prosecution, unless the offence is one that requires the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or the Attorney-General. Indeed, the postal worker could himself have decided to take action had the case not been taken on by the Royal Mail.
The RSPCA also have a prosecutions team who prosecute individuals accused of offences relating to animals. Given that their aims are different to those of the Royal Mail (to protect animals from future harm, rather than to protect people from harm from animals), the RSPCA’s priority in many prosecution cases is for people who are convicted to be banned from keeping animals.
The Communications Union reported last week that there are 12 more dog attack cases currently being pursued by the Royal Mail. It seems that the Royal Mail’s crackdown is working: earlier this year it was reported that dog attacks on postal workers had fallen by 10%. This demonstrates the power of private prosecutions, when used appropriately, in not only ensuring that justice is done but also in deterring future similar behaviour.