Why We Are Consulting
The Government consulted on a range of measures to encourage responsible dog ownership in 2012 and published a summary of results and the way forward on 6 February 2013.
Those measures include extending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to private property and providing protection from prosecution for householders whose dogs attack intruders in the home. The amendments to the 1991 Act are before Parliament at the moment as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (clauses 98 and 99).
In considering that Bill, the House of Commons considered an amendment to the 1991 Act to increase the maximum sentence for an aggravated dog attack, which currently stands at a maximum of 2 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. The amendment proposed to increase this maximum penalty to life imprisonment. (See the Parliamentary record of the discussion: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/antisocialbehaviour/130704/pm/130704s01.htm).
Whilst the amendment before the House was withdrawn, Government undertook to take soundings, before the next Parliamentary stage of the Bill, on a change to the maximum sentence for allowing an aggravated dog attack i.e. where a person or an assistance dog is injured or killed by a dog.
In responding to the debate on the amendment, the Government signalled that it considers life imprisonment for allowing an aggravated dog attack to be a severe sanction. In the circumstances it would appear disproportionate to the offence. As a comparison, the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving is 5 years, and for causing death by dangerous driving, 14 years.
Furthermore, when considering any change in the maximum penalty for an aggravated dog attack, it should be noted that a person convicted of causing death by using a dog as a weapon may be convicted of manslaughter or murder and may already be given a sentence of life imprisonment.
However, the point was made in the Parliamentary debate on the amendment that the current level of maximum penalty for an aggravated dog attack of 2 years imprisonment is too low, given the devastating effect that dog attacks can have on peoples’ lives and on assistance dogs. Overall, there is a range of possible maximum sentences between 2 years imprisonment and life that might apply in different circumstances.
In responding to this survey, please note that the Government is considering the maximum sentence for these aggravated offences only. In sentencing, the court will have regards as usual to any mitigating or aggravating factors and it is anticipated that only the most serious of offences would result in a sentence towards the new maximum.
Please take a few moments to complete the questions below and submit your answers by 1 September 2013 so the Government may propose considered and proportionate maximum sentences to apply in England and Wales in time for the amendments to be considered by both Houses of Parliament.
If this deadline causes difficulty please contact Animal Welfare, Defra at AnimalWelfare.Consultations@defra.gsi.gov.uk. Do not use this email address to submit comments. Please restrict comments to the comments box on this survey.
What Happens Next
The results will be analysed. Based on that analysis the Government will come to a view as to whether the maximum sentence for dog attacks on people and assistance dogs should be increased, and if so, to what level(s). Any increase(s), which will need to be proportionate, will be submitted as a Government amendment to the Bill at the Commons Report Stage in October.