Fatal Dog Attacks Prompt Questions On Legislation


The Law Of... keeping children safe around dogs

Over the last two months, two children have been killed in dog attacks just 13 miles apart. One of these incidents resulted in a criminal inquiry, while the other did not reach the CPS; as a result, questions have once again risen about the legislation that is designed to protect us from dog attacks.

The Law Of... keeping children safe around dogs

Explaining the current legislation and the differences between the two recent fatal dog attacks, Anna Thompson – Personal Injury Associate – outlines why a change in the law is required to keep members of the public safe from dangerous dogs.

When Is A Fatal Dog Attack A Criminal Offence?

The apparent similarities involving the two Essex children recently killed in dog attacks – both were under the age of 3 and were attacked by family pets – have caused some to question why some fatal dog attacks result in a criminal investigation while others do not.

Cases are judged on their individual merits and it is understood that the circumstances surrounding the two deaths differ significantly.

A police spokesman is quoted as saying that the fact that both incidents happened in a similar timeframe, in a localised area, and involved young children was not "evidentially relevant" from an investigatory perspective.

The Dangerous Dogs Act outlines that it is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control; a dog could be considered out of control if:

  • It injures someone or makes someone worried that it could injure them
  • It attacks someone else's pet and the pet's owner fears that the dog could attack them if they intervened

Prior to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Act 2014, this would only be considered a criminal offence if it took place in a public place, but the 2014 Act extended conditions of the Dangerous Dogs Act to private property.

Under these guidelines, it would appear that both Essex cases should have been passed to the CPS; however, it is believed that the presence of the owner could be the key difference in each case.

An owner is not considered criminally liable for a dangerously out of control dog if they can show that they left their pet in the hands of a fit and responsible person before the dog became dangerous. The dog attack that is not being criminally investigated involved an aunt's dog, so it could be that the dog's owner was not present at the time.

Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) have recently made headlines for banning dogs in 2,205 public places in England and Wales, with the council-imposed order restricting dogs from playing without their lead in another 1,100 places.

The same legislation that extended the Dangerous Dogs Act into private property, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, gave councils the power to impose PSPOs, which were designed to curb specific actions in certain areas.

In most instances, these orders have been imposed to tackle violent, threatening, and anti-social behaviour and it is believed that councils are trying to reduce the risk of dog attacks in public places by wielding their power to pass PSPOs.

Opposition groups claim that the orders are going too far and could surmount to councils banning legal activities, such as dog walking, in public places.

Keeping People Safe From Dog Attacks

There has been a steady rise in the number of people treated for dog bites and strikes in recent years, with hospital admissions for injuries caused by dogs up 76% in 10 years.

Dog attacks on children have also reached record highs, causing some to question the suitability of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Advocating a change in the law, Anna Thompson – who has dealt with a number of civil cases involving dangerously out of control dogs – said:

"If we are to reduce the number of dog attacks in the UK we need a change in the law. Statistics show that there has been a rise in recent dog attacks, which highlights that our current legislation is not fit for purpose."

"Most shockingly, it is claimed that almost 2,000 children are attacked by dogs every year, highlighting the vulnerability of children around dogs and the inability of the Dangerous Dogs Act to keep both dogs and the wider public safe."

"Currently, our legislation is retrospective, punishing owners after an attack has taken place – the only pre-emptive measure is banning certain breeds, but any breed can turn and attack."

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