New dog attack guidance for judges
Owners of dangerously out-of-control dogs which harm others in a public place could face up to two years in jail under new guidelines for judges.
The Sentencing Council said its proposals aimed to ensure that irresponsible owners who put the public at risk are banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs are put down and compensation can be paid to victims.
Almost 1,200 people were sentenced for offences that would be covered by the new guidelines last year, up 35% from 855 offences in 2009, the council said.
Anyone using an animal as a weapon to attack someone would still be sentenced for assault, but the new guidelines would cover both dogs which were dangerously out of control and the possession of banned dogs.
District Judge Anne Arnold, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: "The majority of dog owners take good care of their pets and keep their dogs under control but we want to ensure that irresponsible dog owners who put the public at risk are sentenced appropriately.
"Our guideline 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 proposals, owners, or anyone in charge of a dog, could face up to a maximum sentence of two years in the most serious of cases.
These 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.
In cases where no injury is caused, owners could still face up to six months in jail if they allow their dogs to be dangerously out-of-control in a public place, especially if children were around at the time or a number of dogs were involved. But the starting point for the most serious of offences would be a community order, while a lesser offence could attract a fine.