Terrible pun aside, this week saw the introduction of new provisions relating to dangerous dogs. These provisions are contained within sections 106-107 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014, and amend or add to the much maligned Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Whilst the old breed specific provisions have not been altered, much to the Kennel Club's annoyance, the penalties for allowing a dog under your control to attack someone (or something) else, are made much more serious. So, what are the major changes?

Public Place

As enacted originally in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, a person could only be guilty of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. You will recall that over the last few years, there have been a number of high profile cases in which prosecutions (at least under this Act) have not been possible because dogs have bitten people in private houses or similar. The new Act seeks to close this gap in the law.

Paragraph 106 (2)(a)(i) of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014 removes the words 'a public place' from the Dangerous Dogs Act and replaces them with the words 'any place in England or Wales (whether or not a public place)'. The effect of this change is obvious - now anyone allowing his or her dog to be dangerously out of control, whether in a private home, shop, street, park or elsewhere will be guilty of an offence, subject to the 'householder' exception discussed below.

Assistance Dogs

The new Act also makes an attack by a dog on an assistance dog, by a dog dangerously out of control, an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Section 106 (2)(a)(ii) adds the words 'or assistance dog' into paragraph 3(1) of the 1991 Act. An assistance dog is defined by section 173(1) of the Equalities Act 2010 as:

(a) a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person;

(b) a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person;

(c) a dog which has been trained by a prescribed charity to assist a disabled person who has a disability that consists of epilepsy or otherwise affects the person's mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination or ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects;

(d) a dog of a prescribed category which has been trained to assist a disabled person who has a disability (other than one falling within paragraph (c)) of a prescribed kind;

It is very interesting that such animals have now specifically been included in the Act, although one can perhaps already see the legal arguments in court by lawyers arguing whether the dog attacked was or was not an assistance dog with the necessary training and expertise!

The combined effect of the provisions above is to re-word section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act so that it now reads as follows (new wording in square brackets):

If a dog is dangerously out of control [in any place in England or Wales (whether or not a public place)]-

  1. the owner; and

ii) if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog,

is guilty of an offence, or, if the dog while so out of control injures any person [or assistance dog], an aggravated offence, under this subsection.

Maximum sentences

The maximum sentences for dangerous dogs offences have now increased dramatically. The old Act provided a blanket maximum sentence of two years for an aggravated offence (in which a dog injured a person whilst dangerously out of control), or six months if no injury was caused - the latter being a summary only offence.

The new Act provides a three-tier sentencing regime for aggravated offences (The non aggravated offence remains summary only). In a case of a person dying as a result of an injury caused by a dog, the maximum sentence has risen to 14 years. The maximum for a non fatal injury has been raised to 5 years, and the owner of a dog which injures or kills an assistance dog is liable to a maximum sentence of 3 years.

These sentences are much greater than in the originally enacted Act, putting them on a similar level with the most serious offences of violence against the person. It will be interesting to see how judges interpret and apply these new sentencing powers. Will a very hard line be taken against those whose dogs attack others, or will the courts generally keep within the old maximums in all but the most serious intentional attack cases?

'Householder' cases

It is worthwhile noting that the above provisions do not apply in so called 'householder cases'. These are defined in section 106(2)(b) of the new Act, which are inserted into the old Act as section 3 (1A) and (1B). In short, the provisions indicate that where a dog is dangerously out of control in a building, and the victim of the dogs aggression either is a trespasser, or is believed to be by the person in charge of the dog, then no offence is committed under this section. I have highlighted the word 'believed' because I suspect it will be another cause of much argument in court. There is no explanation as to whether the test of belief is subjective or objective, or whether there it has to be a reasonable belief. For now, the section is somewhat ambiguous, and I suspect that only time and the Court of Appeal will be able to solve the ambiguity.

For those interested, the full text of the new section 3 (1A) and (1B) is below:

(1A)A person (D) is not guilty of an offence under subsection (1) in a case which is a householder case.

(1B)For the purposes of subsection (1A) a householder case is a case where

(a)the dog is dangerously out of control while in or partly in a building, or part of a building, that is a dwelling or is forces accommodation (or is both), and

(b)at that time

(i)the person in relation to whom the dog is dangerously out of control (V) is in, or is entering, the building or part as a trespasser, or

(ii)D (if present at that time) believed V to be in, or entering, the building or part as a trespasser.

This is the most comprehensive review of dangerous dogs legislation since the original Act came in to force twenty three years ago. Whilst the new provisions don't go for enough for some, they certainly introduce a substantially tougher regime than existed before, and it will be interesting to see how these new powers are enforced by the courts in due course.