Duncan Lewis

Owners of dangerous dogs to face longer terms in prison with the term ‘vulnerable’ victims to have a broader connotation

Date: (15 May 2012)    |    

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The Sentencing Council issued new guidelines to judges and magistrates with more owners facing longer prison terms and chances of getting charged for dog related attacks as the definition of ‘vulnerable’ victims has been defined more broadly with increasing the ambit.
More owners of dangerous dogs will face imprisonment, for dog attacks, following an increase in high-profile attacks by dogs. The decision by the Sentencing Council has been arrived at after public consultations with animal welfare organisations participation organised by the Sentencing Council who guide the judges and magistrates to decide on the severity of punishment within the existing legislation.
There were no previous guidelines under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, but courtroom data shows the top of the range for sentencing those convicted of allowing an animal to cause injury in a public place was about 12 months in prison. The new advice says it should be 18 months.
The new guideline would mean more offenders facing jail sentences, more being given community orders and fewer receiving discharges, the Sentencing Council said.
The guidelines would also help courts 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 definition of "vulnerable victims" has been broadened to apply to disabled and elderly people as well as children. Injuries to other animals and possession of dog-fighting equipment may now be considered as aggravating factors.
Tim Godwin, a member of the Sentencing Council and a former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said it would mean more people facing jail and stiffer sentences if the victim was vulnerable, such as child or a public-sector worker. Post Office employees in particular have suffered from attacks.
In March, five police officers were injured by a pit-bull terrier in Newham, east London; the animal was shot dead.
Anne Arnold, a district judge and another member of the Sentencing Council, said most dog owners were responsible and took good care of their pets, but it was seen more and more cases were coming before the courts of owners who have put the public at risk or let their dog cause injuries, sometimes very serious, to people.
The guidelines come into effect on 20 August. The council's sentencing ranges do not normally go up to the legal maximum permitted by any act, allowing for judges and magistrates to enforce harsher penalties beyond the guidelines in exceptional cases.