Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from the Dogs Trust (ASB 39)

1.   Executive Summary

§ Dogs Trust believes that there is a need for a fundamental overhaul of dog legislation, especially in relation to irresponsible dog ownership – we do not believe that the current proposals being considered go far enough or are clear enough to tackle the roots of the problem.

§ Although we welcome the fact that this issue is finally being addressed , we are disappointed that the gove rnment has opted for a piecemeal approach, rather than introduce a n ew consolidated Dog Control Bill .

§ Instead both dog owners and enforcers will be left to contend with, at a minimum, 12 different pieces of legislation relating to dog control, excluding any local bylaws. Dogs, their owners, the public and enforcers deserve better.

§ We don’t believe that the dog aspect of the Bill has been given sufficient scrutiny to date apart from the EFRA Committee which recommended that the Government rethink these proposals and introduce Dog Control Notices under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

§ We would like to be reassured that enforcers have been widely consulted and Community Protection Notices are workable for dog issues, currently we remain unconvinced.

§ We believe these proposals may cause more problems than they will actually solve: the principle of labeling dog owners as anti-social; confusion about how these proposals will be implemented on the ground and communicated to dog owners; the potential for their misuse and the lack of genuine early intervention and prevention.

2. About Dogs Trust

§ Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity. Every year, we care for around 16,000 stray and abandoned dogs at our nationwide network of 18 re-homing centres. No healthy dog is ever destroyed. We also promote dog welfare substantially through educational, neutering and lobbying campaigns.

§ Dogs Trust invests heavily in our outreach and educational programmes to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. We are currently working with over 300 local authorities to address the issues that are causing these nationwide problems. As the UK’s largest dog charity, we believe we are in the best position to encourage change through non legislative interventions.

In 2013, Dogs Trust will spend:

§ -over £4.5m across the UK in campaigns and outreach work educating communities about responsible dog ownership; working with Housing Associations, Councils, Social Services, Police, Probation Officers and other relevant organisations.

§ -over £1m on education programmes aimed at primary and secondary school-age children, youths at risk and Young Offenders; in partnership with schools, youth centres, Youth Offending Teams, Young Offenders Institutes and other relevant parties.

§ In addition, we have already distributed over 45,000 microchips to members of the public and Local Authorities since January of this year.

3. Dangerous Dogs

Clause 98 - Keeping Dogs under Proper Control

§ Dogs Trust supports changing the law to allow an offence to be committed if a lawful visitor (e.g. postal worker, nurse or invited visitor) is injured by a dog on private property. However, it is important to note that these measures will not actually prevent those attacks happening in the first place.

§ We are pleased that the Government removed the clause which would have allowed an owner to be prosecuted if the dog attacked an intruder and the owner was not present – we believe if someone enters onto private land, without lawful authority to be present, that there should never be criminal liability for an owner if an incident takes place.

§ We remain concerned that this only applies inside a dwelling so, for example, if a burglar were to be stealing property from a farmyard and a dog attacked that trespasser, the owner could be prosecuted.

§ We remained concerned that there is no definition of ‘trespasser’, ‘building’ or ‘dwelling’ and would like for the meaning of these under new proposed legislation to be clarified.

§ In addition, we believe that defences should be extended to ensure that dog owners who take all reasonable steps to prevent an incident occurring are not prosecuted, whether on private land or elsewhere.

4. Attacks on Assistance Dogs and Protected Animals

§ We were pleased to see that Dangerous Dogs legislation will be extended to include attacks on assistance dogs because of the serous impact such incidents can have on both the dog and owner.

§ Dogs Trust believes that every dog owner has a responsibility to ensure that their dog is properly trained and kept under control at all times. We are aware that the number of unacceptable dog on dog/dog on animal incidents is an increasing problem.

§ In instances where there has been a serious unprovoked attack on a dog by another dog we would not object for the law to be extended so as to provide for an owner/keeper to be prosecuted under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act provided the Act was amended to allow for a defence of provocation ie. merely requiring proof of ‘injury’ should not be sufficient to prove that the incident was unprovoked.

§ If the DDA were to be extended to make serious unprovoked dog on dog attacks an offence, then we would suggest that the penalties should be as per a non-aggravated incident involving a person.

§ However, we would anticipate that in most such instances that the case would more appropriately be dealt with by alternative enforcement action:

1. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, an offence is committed if a person causes / fails to prevent unnecessary suffering to another animal, the penalty for which is up to six months imprisonment.

2. Under the Dogs Act 1871 if the Court finds that a dog is dangerous to other dogs and was not kept under proper control then an order may be made for the dog to be kept under proper control or destroyed

3. In cases where a person is injured during the incident (or reasonably fears injury) then a prosecution can already be brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

§ With regards to attacks on livestock, there already exists the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, under which the owner/person in charge of the dog will be guilty of an offence if it worries livestock on agricultural land.  Livestock is defined as cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses or poultry.  Penalty is a fine of up to £1,000 and compensation of up to £5,000.

5. Clause 99 - Whether a dog is a danger to public safety

§ This proposal did not form part of the consultation and so it is difficult to gauge the reasoning behind this proposal. The suggestion is that it is needed because of an ‘adverse judgement’ [sic] .

§ The Dangerous Dogs Act does not prohibit an owner transferring keepership.  Conversely the Act does not specifically allow an owner to transfer keepership. The Sandhu case was heard in the High Court on 23 rd May 2012. The Court ruled that in determining whether a dog would be a danger to public safety, they should be looking at the " nature and characteristics of the dog ".  Prior to this case, the Courts have on occasions dwelt on the background of the dog and whether the owner was a fit and proper person. The Sandhu ruling also opened the door to changing keepership as the Judges said there is " no reason…why the application [to register] should not…be made…by the person who is to be, for the time being, the keeper of the dogs ".

§ A significant benefit of the Sandhu ruling is that it has confirmed that it is permissible for there to be a keeper , separate to an owner. This means that a dog that a Court has found to pose no danger to the public could be allowed to be in the charge of someone other than the owner provided th at the Index of Exempted Dogs is notified and all the other conditions of the exemption are complied with. However, the proposed Bill does seem to cast doubt on whether that would still be possible as the implication is that a Court would have to find that a keeper is also fit and proper – yet at the time of the hearing it may be that the owner is able to retain the dog and so a keeper would not necessarily be even considered let alone that they may have someone in mind.

§ If Parliament decides to retain a fit and proper person test, then a sensible way round this would be to provide for an application to be made to a Court whereby a new keeper could be appointed.

§ Although we are pleased to see the government commit to providing the police with more flexibility when seizing Section 1 dogs, we do not consider breed specific legislation to be effective and would like to see a move away from it entirely or a sunset clause to be put in place that would phase it out

§ We are disappointed that some degree of flexibility has not been included to provide for the rehoming of Section 1 dogs, already legally registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs, should their owners be no longer able to , or willing to, care for them. As these dogs have already been through a court process and tested for temperament and subject to control orders, we see no reason why they cannot be rehomed to a responsible owner who is willing to abide by the conditions placed on a dog.

§ Or if a dog not known to be a Section 1 dog is handed into one of our centres and then is later identified as being a Section 1 dog, we want the ability to be able to apply to have the dog placed on the Index as an organisation and then be able to transfer keepership to a responsible owner.

6. Part 4 Community Protection
Anti-Social Behaviour Measures in the Bill

§ Dogs Trust is extremely disappointed that the Government has ignored requests from the EFRA Committee and dog welfare charities to introduce Dog Control Notices (DCN), which are preventative measures applicable to dog control issues only, unlike the generic measures proposed by the Government in its draft anti-social behaviour legislation. Dogs Trust has grave concerns about the merits of tackling irresponsible dog ownership under generic anti-social behaviour measures.

§ In the absence of Dog Control Notices , the government insists that the Community Protection Notice (CPN) and Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) could be used as above to tackle anti-social behaviour involving dogs. It is our opinion that, at present, the proposed CPNs are too ‘catch all’ and focussed on community issues, rather than individual instances.

§ In the case of a dog that was causing a nuisance to people and/or other dogs it does not appear obvious why a CPN would be more effective than for instance a Dog Control Notice (DCN) (as in Scotland and NI). A DCN includes dog specific requirements (muzzling, training, neutering), and we’d like to see Guidance on how a CPN would be used and for that Guidance to be legally binding.

§ We are also concerned about the use of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs). Whilst we welcome the fact the existing Dog Control Order’s (under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act) will remain in place (but only for 3 years), we do have some concerns that the new orders may not be as effective as they will run out every three years, whereas a DCO has no time limit.

§ Dog Control Orders have been in operation for some time now, and have very specific requirements (fouling; lead; lead by direction; exclusion; limit on numbers).

§ Where the DCOs have been properly resourced and enforced they generally work well to reduce dog related problems locally, and to promote responsible dog ownership.

§ The proposed PSPO is unlimited, which raises some concerns about consistency and the proportionality of response in each case.

§ It has been suggested that injunctions could be used in serious cases to restrict, prevent and direct activity with dogs. It doesn’t appear obvious how this would work in practice and when an injunction is likely to be used rather than a CPN in the case of a ‘nuisance’.

§ In the most serious cases and there is an injury or fear of injury then the Dangerous Dogs Act would apply.

7. How the proposals will benefit victims of antisocial behaviour

§ We consider that the use of new terminology will to a certain extent confuse the general public, both those that are victims of anti-social behaviour and those that are the perpetrators.

§ There is merit in involving the local community to a greater extent when dealing with anti-social behaviour, as suggested through the Community Remedy.

§ However, ultimately the key to reducing anti-social behaviour involving dogs in the longer term is the consistent use of measures that restrict and direct behaviour whilst also allowing for effective punishment for those that do not comply, acknowledging it for the social issue it is.

8. Community Remedy

§ There is clearly a need for a range of measures to be included in any enforcer’s toolkit, and when dealing with low anti-social behaviour then informal agreements and arrangements are often appropriate.

§ However, the key to improving public safety and reducing anti-social behaviour involving dogs is to enforce the principles of responsible dog ownership before an incident occurs.

§ The current legislation (the Dangerous Dogs Act) does not allow action to be taken until such a point that an attack has taken place, or there is fear of an attack.

§ In many cases an out of control dog has been known to the local community before an incident occurs, and at present enforcers can do very little to compel the owner to take reasonable steps such as neutering, training classes, muzzling in public etc, reasonable steps that could provide an effective solution.

§ Whilst Acceptable Behavioural Contracts do offer the opportunity to be case specific with requirements (for a dog owner), the contact is informal. A breach can only result in legal action if there is supportive legislation, which in the case of a dog related incident would mean reverting to the Dangerous Dogs Act only when an incident has already taken place.

§ We do not consider such measures to offer a long term solution to the problem of dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog ownership in our communities.

§ Behavioural change is the key to addressing the problems of anti-social behaviour involving dogs in the longer term, but there must be a level of compulsion for the irresponsible owner and sanctions should they transgress.

July 2013

Prepared 12th July 2013