Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Dangerous dog owners may face jail

The Sentencing Council has issued new guidelines on sentences for people who keep prohibited dogs such as pit bull terriers

Owners of dangerously out of control dogs which harm others in a public place will face up to 18 months in prison under new guidelines for judges.

The tougher approach to the way those convicted of dangerous dog offences are treated by the courts will see more offenders jailed, more given community orders and fewer being discharged from August, the Sentencing Council said.

Courts will also be encouraged to ban irresponsible owners who put the public at risk from keeping dogs, order genuinely dangerous dogs to be put down and arrange compensation for victims.

Anyone using an animal as a weapon to attack someone would still be sentenced for assault, but the new guidelines cover both dogs which were dangerously out of control and the possession of banned dogs.

Anne Arnold, of the Sentencing Council, said: "This new sentencing guideline encourages courts to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate.

"It also gives guidance to courts on making the best use of their powers so that people can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims."

Under the guidelines, owners, or anyone in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, would face up to 18 months in jail, with the sentence rising to the legal maximum of two years in exceptional cases.

The most serious cases could include incidents where a dangerously out of control dog has caused serious injury during a sustained attack, injured a child, or where the owner has failed to respond to previous warnings or concerns.

Any deliberate goading of the dog by its owner would also be seen as an aggravating factor by judges. But the owner could walk free from court with a discharge if the injuries caused were only minor, attempts had been made to regain control of the dog and safety steps had been taken by the owner.

The council also issued guidelines for judges sentencing those involved in the possession of prohibited dogs, including the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. The maximum sentence, it said, should be six months in custody, but all but the most serious of cases would attract fines or be discharged.

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