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

4  Clause 2: Whether a dog is a danger to public safety

27.  Clause 2 amends the DDA in relation to the test that the court must consider when assessing whether a dog is 'dangerous' and therefore liable to be destroyed. The Government states that the amendment is intended to clarify its position following a recent High Court judgment on how the courts should interpret the test, including a requirement for the court to consider the character of the owner or keeper in order to determine whether they are a 'fit and proper' person.[36] The court must also consider the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour, and the clause allows that the court 'may' consider any other relevant circumstances when deciding whether the dog poses a danger to public safety. If the court decides that the dog would pose a danger to public safety, this constitutes a reason for making an order for destruction as opposed to a contingent destruction order.[37]

28.  Witnesses did not agree that the clause clarified matters and were unsure as to either its impact or the impact of the High Court judgment on the decisions which would be made on the destruction of dogs. The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the Blue Cross requested clarification on how a determination should be made as to whether someone was a 'fit and proper' person to own or keep a dog.[38] Additionally, dog welfare charities considered that clarity was needed on how a dog's temperament would be determined and that only those trained in dog behaviour should be deemed to be proficient to conduct an assessment.[39]

29.  We welcome the introduction of wider criteria for determining the level of danger an individual dog represents. The likelihood of a particular dog acting aggressively is the product not only of its temperament but also of the conditions in which it has been raised. Contrary to the intention behind clause 2, the Government has failed to clarify how provisions on the destruction of dogs should be interpreted. The clause is unclear in several respects and we recommend that the Government issue clear guidance on the test to determine whether someone is 'fit and proper' to own or keep a dog, as well as to how the temperament of the dog is to be assessed. Those advising the courts must be required to have appropriate training in dog behaviour.

30.  Witnesses also noted that although a court was required to consider the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour as well as whether the owner is a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog, the court only "may" consider other relevant circumstances.[40] The RPSCA considered that this could lead to an unbalanced judgement as to whether a dog should be destroyed and that all the relevant circumstances must be taken into account.[41] The conditions in which the animal will in future be kept is a vital factor in determining how aggressive a dog is likely to be and it is important that the courts are able to take any relevant circumstance into account. Clause 2 confers a power on the court to consider all relevant circumstances when determining the level of threat a dog presents. It is not necessary to prescribe that courts must do so; rather, such a requirement could make the application of this clause unwieldy and require definition of all relevant circumstances, potentially limiting the court's discretion.

31.  We recommended in our previous report that the Government consider how discretion could be applied with regard to individual dogs of a banned breed that might pose no threat to the public or their owners. Clause 2 would allow the courts to exercise discretion where the owner was deemed responsible, however Battersea Dogs and Cats Home noted that the clause did not "provide a long-term solution" for those dogs that do not present a risk to public safety that could be re-homed.[42] Currently, stray or gifted dogs of a banned type are euthanised but Battersea questioned whether the clause opened an avenue for re-examination of legal barriers to the transfer of a dog of a banned type to a new owner or keeper.[43] The RSPCA suggested that a new clause be added to allow the owner of a dog which was subject to conditions imposed by a court but whose circumstances change to reapply to the court for the conditions to be varied.[44] We recommend that the Government clarify whether clause 2 would enable the transfer of a dog of a banned type to be transferred to a new owner or keeper.

36   The Queen on the Application of Sandhu v Isleworth Crown Court and Defra [2012] EWHC 1658 (Admin) Back

37   HM Government, Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, Cm 8601, April 2013, explanatory notes, paras 12 and 13. A contingent destruction order may be made by a court such that the dog shall be destroyed unless the owner keeps it under proper control. The court can attach conditions to such an order and may specify the measures to be taken to keep a dog under proper control, these could include: muzzling, keeping the dog on a lead, excluding the dog from specific areas and neutering a male dog, if it appears to the court that the dog may be less dangerous if neutered Back

38   Ev 24 and Ev 31 Back

39   Ev 19 Back

40   Ev 31 Back

41   Q 79, Steve Goody Back

42   Ev 24  Back

43   Q 79 Back

44   Ev 21 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 16 May 2013