Sentencing Guidelines Consultation - Dangerous Dogs
December 15th, 2011 by Louise Humphreys
The Sentencing Council, the independent body responsible for developing sentencing guidelines for the courts to use when passing sentence, is consulting on guidelines to be applied in cases involving dangerous dogs. The consultation runs until 8 March 2012.
The Courts currently have no guidelines for these types of offences and there have been concerns raised by magistrates and legal advisers that the absence of guidelines is a problem given the increasing number of cases involving dangerous dogs appearing before them.
Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:
- the principal factors that make a dangerous dog offence more or less serious;
- the additional factors that should influence the sentence;
- the extent of guidance which should be provided on the use of compensation and other orders such as disqualification from dog ownership;
- the sentences that should be given for dangerous dog offences; and,
- anything else that people think should be considered.
It is proposed that there should be three groups of dangerous dog offences covered by the guideline.
- offences involving a dog being dangerously out of control and causing injury;
- offences involving a dog being dangerously out of control; and
- offences involving possession of a prohibited dog.
In each case the Court would determine the "offence category" by reference to factors relating to the harm that has been caused and the culpability of the offender in committing the offence.Having identified the appropriate category and thus the starting point for sentencing, the court will then identify whether there are additional factors which might make the offence more or less serious within the category. Finally, the court will consider any factors which indicate a reduction, such as assistance to the prosecution, and any required reduction for a timely guilty plea.
The consultation document also deals with the issue of ancillary orders which might follow a conviction for such offences, including the destruction of the dog and disqualification from future dog ownership.
As regards the destruction of the dog, the most important issue for the court to consider in each of the offences is the risk posed by the dog to the public. For offences involving injury and the offence of possession of a prohibited dog, the guidance makes it clear that the court shall make a destruction order in all cases unless satisfied that the dog would not constitute a risk to the public. The proposed guidance suggests the relevant circumstances which should be taken into account when making such a decision. It is important that the court considers all of its options including contingent destruction orders, which allow the owner to keep the dog provided certain conditions are met. These can include keeping the dog muzzled and on a leash at all times in public or the neutering of male dogs where it is thought appropriate. Failure to meet these conditions can lead to the destruction of the dog. For the non-aggravated offence involving no injury, the guidance is slightly different and the court is reminded that it may order the destruction of the dog but is not required to order destruction if it is satisfied that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety.
In addition, the guidance reminds the court that it may order costs to be paid by the offender to cover the expenses relating to the destruction of a dog and the costs of kennelling pending its destruction.
The full consultation document can be found here.