Owners of dangerous dogs could face "at least 6 months in jail"
Following extensive lobbying from public service workers, individuals and organisations, convicted owners of dangerous dogs could face jail or community orders.
People who fail to prevent their dogs from harming others should face at least 6 months in prison, according to new guidelines published by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales. The council has also recommended community orders and fewer discharges.
The new guidelines will permit judges to increase sentences where victims were clearly vulnerable, such as if they were blind. Injuries to other animals, such as pets and guide dogs, are now also covered.
According to Anne Arnold of the Sentencing Council, the amendments were made after some 500 individuals and organisations responded to a consultation in December 2011.
Ms Arnold, who is also a district judge, said: "Courts will be encouraged to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate."
"[There will be] 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."
According to the NHS, the cost of dog injuries now exceeds £3m a year. Official figures show that the number of people sentenced for dangerous dog offences in 2010 rose to 1,192, with cases of bites doubling to more than 6,100 between 1997 and 2010.
The Sentencing Council publishes guidelines to help make sentencing more consistent in England and Wales. In its original consultation, the council suggested that courts should in the first instance consider community orders when sentencing offenders who allow dangerous dogs to injure people.
However, the offence will now start at 6 months in prison, with up to 18 months if appropriate. The most severe offenders already face custodial sentences of up to 2 years, according to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
While the council's guidelines have increased the proposed starting sentences in severe incidents, some offenders might still be discharged if they can prove they had tried to prevent an attack.
The guidelines do not cover cases where dogs are deliberately used to attack people since offenders would be charged with assault or serious violent offences.
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