Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

2  Clause 1: Offences on private property

6.  It is an offence under the DDA to have an out-of-control dog in a private place only if the dog is not permitted to be there. This means that attacks in the home cannot be prosecuted in the same way as attacks that occur in a public place, or in a private place where the dog is not permitted to be. In line with the majority of respondents to Defra's 2012 consultation on this issue, most witnesses to our previous inquiry supported the extension of offences to private property; an approach which our report endorsed.[5]

7.  We welcome the amendment of section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to close a current loophole in the law and enable prosecution of a person whose dog attacks someone in a private place where the dog is permitted to be, such as a family home.

Dog attacks on trespassers

8.  The draft Bill provides an exemption from prosecution in certain circumstances for a dog owner or keeper whose dog attacks a trespasser within a dwelling. For many witnesses to this and our previous inquiry, support for an extension of offences to private property depended on an adequate protection of this sort; for example, a householder against a burglar.[6] During evidence to the previous inquiry, Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra, said that the proposed extension would not extend to "protect trespassers who have entered the private property with unlawful intentions".[7] His 9 April letter to our Chair inviting us to scrutinise the draft Bill stated that a householder would not be prosecuted "should their dog attack a trespasser that has entered or is in the process of entering the home".[8]

9.  Clause 1(2)(b) sets out the 'householder case' which would exempt the owner (or keeper) of a dog from prosecution under section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act. However, the exemption is not drafted as widely as the Minister's comments implied, since it is applicable only if the owner or keeper is themselves in, or partly in, the dwelling when the dog attacks the trespasser. Further, it applies only to dwellings, or Forces accommodation, and not to private land around a dwelling or to a non-domestic property.

10.  Many witnesses disagreed with limiting the householder case to circumstances in which someone was home at the time of the attack. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) told us that the public would rather that the householder was given a defence in law since a dog left alone had a role in protecting the property.[9] Officers argued that "the occupier being there is not that critical" since the trespasser would be committing a serious offence to which the dog should be allowed to react.[10] The Kennel Club noted that the approach ignored the fact that a dog might act instinctively rather than await direction from someone.[11] Dog welfare charities expressed concerns that the clause could lead to owners constraining dogs within the house, thus restricting their exercise and freedom.[12]

11.  Defra told us that clause 1 is not intended to replace current legal provisions, rather to mirror the enhanced legal protection in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 for householders defending themselves against intruders.[13] Furthermore, depending on the circumstances of any prosecution, the common law defence of property and/or section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (use of reasonable force in preventing crime) may apply. Such defences, however, offer a lower degree of assurance than the certainty of a provision that stipulates that no offence is committed in the first place and exempts the dog owner or keeper from prosecution.

12.  The Minister wrote to our Chair on 30 April stating that Defra had been able to take account of the representations made on the question of sufficient protection being afforded to a householder who is not at home when their dog, left in the house, bites an intruder. Householders need the assurance that they will not be penalised for a dog's actions if a trespasser chooses to break into their house while no-one is home. The measure in the draft Bill did not adequately meet the Minister's assurances that the new provision would not protect a trespasser on private property. We are therefore pleased that the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill includes an amended measure such that no offence is committed by someone whose dog attacks a trespasser in a dwelling where the dog is permitted to be.

13.  The draft Bill's householder case does not apply to private land outside the dwelling, such as a garden. We received evidence on the high number of dog attacks that take place in gardens, paths and drives on a range of people carrying out their duties, including postal, utility, healthcare and local authority workers. The Communication Workers Union told us that 70% of the 23,000 dog attacks on postal workers in the four years to 2012 occurred on private property; it is likely that few of these attacks occurred within a dwelling.[14] The householder case exemption from prosecution is applicable only within the dwelling itself (i.e within the curtilage of the building).[15] Defra has confirmed that the definition would not apply to ancillary or associated buildings, such as sheds or outbuildings, or to outdoor areas such as gardens and paths.[16]

14.  Witnesses have expressed concerns that this would allow prosecution should a dog attack a trespasser in a garden. Many dog owners were concerned that they would be liable to prosecution even if they had taken steps to minimise the chance of their dog causing harm (for example, by warning that there was a dog on the property, and/or securing fences and gates around the garden) and even if the actions of the trespasser had aggravated the dog. The RSPCA expressed concern about the potential impact on dog welfare since owners might withhold access to a garden or contain their dog for prolonged periods. Some might even relinquish, abandon or euthanise dogs that displayed aggression. ACPO, however, considered it reasonable that an individual who had wandered innocently into a back garden should expect remedy against an owner whose dog attacked them, even if it would be unreasonable for somebody to expect such remedy if they entered a dwelling as a trespasser.[17]

15.  We are sympathetic to those concerned about being prosecuted should their dog be deemed out of control in their garden or other secured outdoor part of their property but legitimate visitors accessing a property are entitled to do so safely. Someone whose dog attacks an innocent visitor, such as a postal worker, health visitor or a child recovering a ball from a neighbour's garden, should be subject to the law. We do not believe that a dog attack that occurs on land around a dwelling, such as a garden, should be covered by the householder case that provides exemption from prosecution for the dog's owner. However, there is a need to distinguish responsible dog owners, who take reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from causing harm, from those who are negligent as to the impact of their dog's behaviour. The Government should provide a clear indication during the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill's passage through the House of the need for the courts to take fully into account mitigating factors, such as provision of warnings not to enter a garden and the behaviour of the trespasser towards the dog.


16.  There are concerns about the definition of a dwelling. ACPO told us that they understood the intent of the clause was to apply the exemption only to those offences which took place within the curtilage of the building. Witnesses told us of concerns about being prosecuted if their dog attacked a trespasser entering their shed or outbuilding,[18] since the dog would not be able to distinguish between parts of a property it was permitted to defend; and a home owner might expect to be entitled to defend all parts of a home, not just the part within the curtilage of main dwelling building. While a trespasser on an outdoor part of the property might have innocent reasons for trespass, we do not consider the act of entering a structure ancillary to the home to differ from the act of entering the dwelling itself. The definition of dwelling in relation to the proposed changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be amended so that the householder case applies to enclosed buildings associated with a dwelling such as garages, sheds and outbuildings. Further, the definition of curtilage of the dwelling or ancillary buildings should be defined in guidance or during passage of the Bill.


17.  We received evidence on the need to extend the exemption from prosecution to attacks which take place in other types of building, such as farm buildings or commercial premises.[19] However, ACPO did not support such an extension, noting that "there has to be a line drawn" on application of the exemption. Furthermore, authorities would apply a public interest test which would provide a "backstop protection" before any prosecution was brought for an owner whose dog attacked someone in a non-residential building, for example in a farm building.[20] It should be noted that rules apply where guard dogs are used to protect, among other places, commercial premises which we did not consider in the course of this inquiry.[21]

18.  The householder case enables someone to keep a dog within a home, for example as a companion animal, without the requirement to contain or keep the dog under constant control to prevent injury of an intruder. However, it is reasonable to expect that dogs kept within other types of premises, such as commercial buildings, are kept under direct control of an owner or keeper at all times. It would not be appropriate to exempt from prosecution the owners of dogs kept in non-domestic buildings since the householder exemption is designed to enable someone to defend their family and home, not to protect those who use dogs to guard commercial and other types of premises.


19.  The common law definition of a trespasser is broad since it applies to anyone of any age who voluntarily enters a place. It does not require proof of any intention to trespass, or even knowledge of trespass. A visitor with innocent intentions, including a child, who had entered a home uninvited could be classed as a trespasser, thus exempting from prosecution under the DDA the owner or keeper of a dog that attacked them. ACPO told us that, even though there was potential for a child to be bitten in such circumstances, the householder exemption should apply: householders should not be left to rely on the public interest test as to whether a prosecution should occur.[22] We recommend that the Government clarifies whether it intends to exempt from prosecution in all circumstances the owner of a dog that attacks a trespasser who has entered a dwelling with innocent intentions.

5   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, Summary Back

6   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, Q 69 Back

7   HC Deb, 23 April 2012, col 31WS  Back

8   Letter from Lord de Mauley to Anne McIntosh MP, 9 April, reproduced with the draft Bill, Cm 8601 Back

9   Q 4, Ev 29 Back

10   Q 2 Back

11   Ev w39  Back

12   Q 71 Back

13   The Crime and Courts Act 2013 includes measures to amend the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (section 76, use of reasonable force for purposes of self-defence). Section 30 was introduced as a Government amendment to the Bill at Report Stage in the House of Lords and amends the law of self-defence, allowing a greater amount of force to be considered acceptable under the law when used by a person defending themselves in a place of residence Back

14   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, Ev 115 Back

15   Qq 7,8  Back

16   Ev w35  Back

17   Q 14 Back

18   For example, Ev w12 and Ev w41  Back

19   Ev w38  Back

20   Q 11 Back

21   Guard Dogs Act 1975 Back

22   Ev 33 Back

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Prepared 16 May 2013