Tougher sentences for owners if dangerous dogs 'trained to be aggressive'


Owners of killer dogs will face harsher sentences if the animals have been deliberately trained to be aggressive under new guidelines for judges.

It is one of a number of factors which could see those convicted over dog attacks assessed as being in the most serious category of blame.

The owner or person in charge of a dangerously out of control dog where a victim dies faces between six and 14 years in prison if they are deemed to have "high culpability".

Factors that could see an offender dealt with under this section include the dog being: used as a weapon; a banned species; or trained to be aggressive. 

Those who are already disqualified from owning a dog will also face the toughest penalties. The same factors will also be used to assess blameworthiness in cases where a victim is injured.

The Sentencing Council is publishing new guidelines for how courts should approach dangerous dog offences.

It follows changes to legislation in 2014 which included an extension of the law to cover attacks on private property and sharp jumps in maximum sentences. The harshest punishment for an offence where someone is killed increased from two to 14 years.

The new guidelines are designed to deal with a range of offending behaviour. For example, cases where people are hurt can cover situations ranging from a nip to a serious attack causing life-changing injuries.

Blameworthiness of offenders can also vary greatly between cases, the Sentencing Council said, 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.

The guideline mirrors changes in the law by applying to offences that occur on private property in addition to public places. 

This covers scenarios such as a guest being injured by a dog in someone's home or a postal worker attacked on their round in a front garden.

District Judge Richard Williams, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: "We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and ensure their pets do not put anyone in danger, but there are some irresponsible owners whose dogs do put people at risk of injury and in some cases even death.

He added that the new guidelines "will help ensure a consistent and proportionate approach to sentencing following the significant changes to the law".

Malcolm Richardson, National Chairman of the Magistrates Association, said the "sheer range" of seriousness in dangerous dog cases is "very considerable".

He added: "Because no two cases are the same, magistrates appreciate having as flexible a range of guidelines at their disposal as possible. It helps them to do their job of steering justice fairly."

There is also a new guideline to cover an offence - introduced in 2014 - relating to incidents where assistance dogs are injured or killed.

James White, of the charity Guide Dogs, welcomed the guidelines. "Sadly, every year we hear of more than 100 guide dogs being attacked by other dogs," he said.

The guidelines will come into force in courts in England and Wales from July 2016.

Last year figures showed that the number of people taken to hospital after dog attacks soared by 76% in the past decade. As of May, at least 21 people, including 13 children, had died in England and Wales in the past 10 years from dog attacks.