It is commonly remarked that a dangerous dog does not exist; only a harmful owner does.
In criminal law, we often refer to ‘dangerous dogs,’ although the actual offences are related to dogs that are ‘dangerously out of control.’
The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 stipulates in section 10 that:
‘a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person (or assistance dog), whether or not it actually does so.’
The penalties for ‘dangerous dog’ offences are severe, with imprisonment of up to 14 years available where death is caused, but what is not often understood is that an offence may lead to the destruction of the dog.
In relation to some offences the court may order destruction, but in others, the court must order destruction unless assured (by imposing strict conditions) that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety.
When they are in the process of deciding whether a dog would constitute a danger to public safety, the court—
(a) must consider—
(i) the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour, and
(ii) whether the owner of the dog, or the person for the time being in charge of it, is a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog, and
(b) may consider any other relevant circumstances.
In any case when a court is considering euthanasia, it is important to remember that the court has the authority to order ‘contingent destruction,’ which prevents the dog from being euthanized if the criteria imposed are met.
R v Flack is still the most important case.  EWCA Crim 204 defines the following criteria:
“The relevant principles that can be made in respect of a dog whose owner has been convicted under section 3(1) of the 1991 Act of failing to keep a dog under control in a public place are that:
(1) The court is empowered under section 4(1) of the 1991 Act to order the destruction of the dog.
(2) Nothing in that provision shall require the court to order destruction if the court is satisfied that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety: section 4(1)(a) of the 1991 Act.
(3) The court should ordinarily consider, before ordering immediate destruction, whether to exercise the power under section 4A(4) of the 1991 Act to order that, unless the owner of the dog keeps it under proper control, the dog shall be destroyed (“a suspended order of destruction”).
(4) A suspended order of destruction under that provision may specify the measures to be taken by the owner for keeping the dog under control whether by muzzling, keeping it on a lead, or excluding it from a specified place or otherwise: see section 4(a)(5) of the 1991 Act.
(5) A court should not order destruction if satisfied that the imposition of such a condition would mean the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety.
(6) In deciding what order to make, the court must consider all the relevant circumstances which include the dog’s history of aggressive behavior and the owner’s history of controlling the dog concerned in order to determine what order should be made.”
What We Can Do
Legal arguments alone are unlikely to persuade a court to issue a contingent destruction order. In virtually all circumstances, you’ll need the help of a canine behaviour expert, as well as expert advocacy. We can arrange for appropriate expert reports to be prepared. At Levy and Co, we have a lot of experience with dangerous dogs cases, please contact us if you need assistance!
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact our team of criminal defence specialists on: 01376 511819