The Sentencing Council  published revised guidelines for how courts should sentence people convicted of dangerous dog offences, which will come into force today (01 July. These guidelines replace those issued in 2012.

The guidelines cover offences where a dog is dangerously out of control, where it injures or kills a person, where it injures an assistance dog or where someone possesses a banned breed of dog.

The new guidelines follow changes to dangerous dog offences legislation in 2014 which extended the law to cover attacks that occur on private property and introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs. The legislation also made very significant increases to some maximum sentences. For example, the maximum sentence for an offence where someone is killed increased from two to 14 years and where someone is injured from two to five years.

The increases in maximum sentences set by law have been reflected in the guidelines, so that they permit a much wider range of sentence lengths than the previous guidelines. Sentencing levels are therefore likely to be higher than in the past, but magistrates and judges will still have to pass appropriate and proportionate sentences according to the seriousness of the offence.

The guidelines are designed to deal with a wide range of offending behaviour. For example, the guideline for a dog dangerously out of control where a person is injured covers situations which range from a "nip" causing minor injury to a very serious attack causing life-changing injuries. The blameworthiness of the offender can also vary greatly between cases, with some owners deliberately training dogs to be dangerous, while other offences may involve a momentary lapse of control over a dog by an otherwise responsible owner.

There is a new guideline to cover the offence introduced in 2014 of an attack on an assistance dog. Assistance dogs may be those trained to guide someone with a visual impairment or help someone with a hearing impairment or other disability, and the guideline takes into account both the harm suffered by the dog and the potential impact on the assisted person of being without their trained dog for any period of time.

The guideline can be found on the Sentencing Council website: www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk.

The LCCSA contributed to the consultation.
Our observation on the new guideline:  "clearly needed in light of changes in legislation. Sadly our experience is that sentencing guidelines generally have contributed to the ratcheting up of prison sentences, and the over-populated prison population. This guideline may contribute to that trend"

01 July 2016

Greg Foxsmith, President; Tony Meisel, Law Reform Officer

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