Ennvironment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by Trevor Cooper

Section 3

Extension to include private land

I doubt that this provision would have the effect of preventing incidents so all it is likely to achieve is to make it possible to punish after the event. The risk of punishment on its own is therefore unlikely to be an adequate preventative measure.

I accept that there should be an offence if a lawful visitor to private land is injured by a dog (or reasonably fears injury from the dog). This would make it an offence for example, if:

a postal worker was attacked in the garden, or

a health visitor, friend or family member was attacked inside the home.

However, the Bill is far more extensive than this and seems to extend the offence even for incidents involving unlawful visitors. In my opinion, this isn’t fair on either the dog or the owner/person in charge of the dog. The Householder Case defence as currently drafted does not provide sufficient exemptions as it seems to me that there should never be criminal liability if someone is on private land without lawful authority to be there.

None of the following would appear to fall within the Householder Case defence under the Bill:

A dog chases a burglar out of the home and into the garden and injures him.

The owner has gone out and leaves the dog alone inside the home. A burglar enters and the dog injures him.

A trespasser enters the back garden and the dog injures him.

A dog injures a trespasser on farmland.

A dog injures a burglar in farm buildings.

It seems to me that if someone is on private land without lawful authority to be present they must be accepting responsibility for their own actions. It is expecting far too much for a dog owner to be able to predict when a trespasser may come in. How is a dog owner supposed to ensure they do not commit an offence? It is also expecting far too much to assume that a dog will know when it can and when it can’t respond to a trespasser.

Extension for assistance dogs

I entirely accept that something needs to be done regarding attacks on assistance dogs.

Although there is no suggestion that the Bill should extend to all dog on protected animal incidents (in the way that is being proposed by the Welsh Government), I feel I should comment on the existing provisions that apply:

Section 3 DDA can already apply to any dog on animal incident if during that occasion a person is injured or they reasonably fear injury for themselves.

There is also the existing Dogs Act 1871 which can be used if a dog is dangerous (eg it poses a danger to other dogs) and not kept under proper control, in which case an order can be made for the dog to be kept under proper control or destroyed. Useage of this Act has declined in recent years and I would strongly encourage prosecuting authorities to make use of their existing toolkit.

It is already a criminal offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 if a dog worries livestock on agricultural land.

Impact on Insurance

Has the insurance industry been contacted for their views on the proposed changes to Section 3? My understanding is that some pet insurers won’t pay out for compensation if it is ordered by a criminal Court. I suggest that an urgent approach is made to ensure there aren’t unintended consequences as, despite the Bill’s intentions, it might make it more difficult for victims to obtain compensation.

Section 1 & 4B

Owner led application for exemption

In DEFRA’s news release dated 9 April 2013 Lord de Mauley says “When a banned breed [sic] is identified, its owners can apply to have it exempted from destruction”. However, the Bill contains no procedure whereby any such application can be made.

This would be a straightforward amendment and would allow responsible owners to come forward and apply to a Court for registration, provided of course that:

notice is given to the Police, and

the owner can prove that the dog does not pose a danger to the public, and

all the conditions of the exemption are complied with.


It had been proposed that the Police would be given power to release a dog back to its owner if they are satisfied that the dog is not dangerous, before the case is concluded at Court. However, the Bill contains no such provision. It seems to me that there are good welfare and cost benefits for this to be done.

Fit and proper person test

This 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] in the case of Sandhu. Yet what hasn’t been said is the impact of that judgment in the 10 months since the ruling. I fully accept that if this judgment has led to dog attacks then a change would indeed be justified. However, no such evidence has been provided. Bear in mind that the Court must currently decide that the dog does not pose a danger to the public and, of course, they already have the power to disqualify the offender from having custody of a dog.

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 poses no danger to the public could be allowed to be kept by someone other than the owner provided that 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 impose a fit and proper person test, then a sensible way forward would be to provide for an application to be made to a Court whereby a new keeper could be appointed.

April 2013

Prepared 15th May 2013