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New sentencing guideline for dangerous dog offences

15 May 2012

The Sentencing Council has today published new guideline for judges and magistrates on the sentencing of dangerous dog offences. The new guideline, which followed a 12-week public consultation, becomes effective on 20 August 2012.

In the light of increasing numbers of convictions for offences involving dangerous dogs, the new guideline takes a tougher approach to the way those convicted of dangerous dog offences are treated by the courts and helps ensure courts use their full powers when dealing with offenders.

The guideline aims to ensure a consistent approach to sentencing and the sentencing ranges mark an increase in sentencing levels from current practice. The top of the sentencing range for owners allowing their dog to be dangerously out of control injuring someone has been set at 18 months custody in order to encourage the courts to use more severe sentences when it would be appropriate to do so.

The top of the sentencing range for possession of a prohibited dog has been set at the legal maximum of six months custody to encourage courts to use the full range of their sentencing powers for the most serious cases.

The implication of the new guideline is that an increased number of offenders will now face jail sentences, more will get community orders and fewer will receive discharges. It will also help courts to make the best use of their powers so that irresponsible owners who put the public at risk can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims.

The guideline covers the most commonly sentenced offences in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, such as allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control causing injury and possession of a prohibited dog. In situations where someone deliberately sets a dog on another person intending to injure them, the offender is likely to be charged with assault, rather than one of these offences.
Anne Arnold, a district judge and a member of the Sentencing Council, said:

“Most dog owners are responsible and take good care of their pets, but we’ve seen more and more cases coming before the courts of owners who have put the public at risk or let their dog cause injuries – sometimes very serious – to people.

“As a result, this new sentencing guideline encourages courts to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate. It also gives guidance to courts on making the best use of their powers so that people can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims.”

Trevor Cooper, Legal Consultant for Dogs Trust, said:

“Dogs Trust welcomes the Guidelines which will assist with the consistency of sentencing in this area. These new guidelines will encourage courts to focus on the key factors of culpability of the owner and the amount of harm to the victim. This tougher approach should serve as a stiff reminder to dog owners to keep their pets under proper control and to behave responsibly.”

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