The Suez of legislation: Ministers try to patch up the Dangerous Dogs Act

An American pit bull terrier. The Dangerous Dogs Act focused on breed, not owner responsibility.
An American pit bull terrier. The Dangerous Dogs Act focused on breed, not owner responsibility.
Ian Dunt By

Ministers have unveiled plans to impose life sentences on the owners of dogs which kill, as they try to undo some of the mistakes of the infamous Dangerous Dogs Act.

The 1991 legislation is still held up in Westminster as a classic example of poor legislation, typifying a knee-jerk response to public outrage.

New measures hope to transfer the onus from the breed of dog to the behaviour and responsibility of the owner.

An online consultation opened today asks members of the public which punishment they think is suitable for the owners of a dog which kills someone: seven years, ten years, 14 years or life imprisonment.


Any option is a significant increase on the current maximum sentence of just two years.

It was warmly welcomed by post unions, whose members are the most likely victim of dangerous dogs.

"Current sentencing arrangements do not match the serious nature of offences. Sixteen people have been killed since 2005 by dogs, yet the maximum prison sentence is just two years," Communication Workers Union (CWU) health and safety officer Dave Joyce said.

"Only one person has ever been imprisoned for a dog attack on a postal worker and as the fatality rate from dog attacks grows, sentencing must get tougher."

The attempt to reform key elements of the Dangerous Dogs Act will probably be inserted into the anti-social behaviour, crime and policing bill, which already outlaws keeping a dangerous dog in private in addition to public spaces.

"Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control," said animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley.

"We're already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It's crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents."

The consultation ends in September.

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