THE KENNEL Club welcomes new guidelines on sentencing for dangerous dog offences but remains concerned that Government proposals to update legislation fail to include genuinely preventive measures.
The Sentencing Council’s guidelines – which came into force this week – will help to ensure that courts use their full power when dealing with irresponsible owners who allow their dog to be dangerously out of control, as well as extending the guidelines to include injuries to other animals in terms of the offence of allowing a dog to be out of control.
They also ensure the penalties for owning a banned breed will be applied to owners of dangerous dogs of any kind, making it easier for offenders to be banned from keeping dogs, for genuinely dangerous dogs to be put down, and for compensation to be paid to victims of dog bites. More offenders will face jail sentences and community orders.
The KC said this week it believes that this is a step in the right direction in reforming ‘current flawed dangerous dog legislation’, but is concerned that these measures alone will not protect the public fully from incidents involving dangerous dogs, as they are ‘reactive rather than preventive’.
"These guidelines go a long way in sending out the message that irresponsible ownership will not be tolerated and will help the courts hold bad owners to account,” said spokesman Caroline Kisko. "However, we still have concerns that these measures do not address the real issue, which is the urgent need for genuinely preventive measures.
"We welcome the fact that sentencing in this area will now be more consistent, but what is really needed are ways of reducing dog bite incidents in the first place. The KC believes this must be done through education, more resources and power to the police and local authorities to deal with the first signs of irresponsible dog owners, and the use of dog control notices to encourage responsible dog ownership to avoid bad behaviour escalating and cases having to go in front of a judge.”
The issue of dog fighting has also been addressed in the new guidelines, and training a dog to fight or being in possession of dog-fighting paraphernalia will increase the seriousness of committing the offence of owning a banned dog, which will further serve to bring irresponsible owners of any dog to account.
Dogs Trust commended the tougher revisions but said it would welcome radical changes to existing legislation which ‘better protect the public and welfare of dogs’.
"While the new guidelines will encourage courts to focus on the key factors of culpability, the charity hopes they will act as a salient reminder to dog owners of their responsibility,” said chief executive Clarissa Baldwin.
"This is a small step in the right direction. But with such momentum behind these changes we need to capitalise on this and use the energy invested by animal welfare organisations such as Dogs Trust to campaign for even more work to be done.
"While we would like to see a complete overhaul of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the introduction of dog control notices and extending the law to private property could be hugely beneficial and another step in the right direction.
"We would, once again, urge the Government to introduce compulsory microchipping which will help improve the traceability of irresponsible dog owners, making them and not the dogs accountable.”
For more information on the guidelines visit http://sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/guidelines/forthcoming-guidelines. htm.