New guidelines on dangerous dogs
Courts are encouraged to use their powers to ban irresponsible people from keeping dogs and order compensation to be paid to attack victims, under new guidelines.
People who train dogs to be aggressive, use them as a weapon or to intimidate people, and whose animals go on to kill someone could face the toughest penalties under proposals which follow changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act introduced last year.
Maximum prison sentences in England and Wales increased sharply last May from two to 14 years in cases where a dog is allowed to fatally attack someone.
Under new proposals from the Sentencing Council, which are out for public consultation from today until June 9, people are being asked for their views on the factors that should be taken into account when punishing someone whose dog attacks and injures or kills a person.
At least 21 people, including 13 children, have died in England and Wales in the past 10 years from dog attacks.
Circumstances including a postal worker attacked on private property during their rounds or a guest injured at someone's house are accounted for under draft guidelines produced by the council.
Judge Julian Goose, a member of the Sentencing Council, said experts on the subject, or those with an interest, can help shape the guidelines so that they are clear, proportionate and effective.
He said: "Most dog owners are responsible, care for their pets properly and keep them under control but some irresponsible owners put others at risk of injury or death and we want to ensure that the courts have the guidance needed to help them sentence offenders appropriately.
"In drawing up our proposals, we have been very aware of the potentially devastating impact of these offences on victims. Long sentences are available for the most serious offences.
"Sentencers are also encouraged to use their powers where appropriate to ban people from keeping dogs or to order them to pay compensation to victims."
Trevor Cooper, dog law specialist at the UK's largest dog welfare charity Dogs Trust, said: " Courts often face the difficult task of deciding on appropriate sentencing in dog cases, which can be emotive and complex.
"These draft guidelines on dangerous dog offences will help to provide much needed clarity and consistency in assessing individual cases. This is vital with the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act coming into force last year.
"Dogs Trust are pleased to see the proposals recognise that there can be a range of culpability on the part of offenders for these offences, and that courts should carefully consider the appropriate sentence in each case."
Richard Monkhouse, Chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said: "There has been an increase in dangerous dog cases coming before the courts over the past 10 years and following the significant changes in the law, we are pleased that new guidelines are being introduced.
"They will help magistrates decide on appropriate sentences for the variety of offenders they deal with and assist them in taking other actions necessary to keep the public safe, such as by banning an offender from owning a dog."
S ix-month-old Molly-Mae Wotherspoon died in October after being mauled by her family's American pit bull terrier.
The coroner at her inquest said her family had "paid the ultimate price" for owning an animal banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Ava-Jayne Corless died aged just 11 months old in February last year when she was attacked by a pit bull terrier while she was asleep in bed.
In December 2013, pregnant mother-of-four Emma Bennett, 27, died after she was attacked by two pit bull-type dogs at her home.