Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it a criminal offence if a person reasonably believes a dog will injure them or an assistance dog. If there’s an actual injury it will be regarded as an aggravated offence.
- The maximum penalty for an aggravated offence is 5 years prison if a person is injured (14 years if the victim dies), unlimited find and unlimited compensation.
- **As to the dog, in a aggravated case there is a presumption that it shall be destroyed unled it can be proven that it wouldn’t be a danger to public safety. The Court must have regard to:-
- The temperament of the dog including its past behaviour, and
- Whether the owner or keeper is a fit and proper person to have charge of the dog.
The owner may have a defence:-
- If the incident took place in the home and the victim was a trespasser, or
- If someone else had charge of the dog at the time who they believed was ‘fit and proper’ to look after the dog (albeit proceedings could also be taken against the person in charge) or,
- if there was nothing, more than minimal, that the owner did or failed to do which led to the incident.
As an alternative to a prosecution, if the was a minor incident or there was a degree or provocation to which the dog responded, a prosecutor may conclude the case with a warning letter or Acceptable Behaviour Contract (or possibly by issuing a Complaint under Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871).
The victim may be able to pursue a separate civil claim for damages if it can be shown that the keeper was negligent, or if the aggressor dog had dangerous characteristics which the owner knew about.