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Dangerous Dogs Act (Amendment)

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 17 January 2008

The Petition of Courtney's Campaign,

Declares that Courtney Walker’s face was changed beyond recognition by an unprovoked vicious attack by a Bull Mastiff Dog.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons legislate to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that it can also be applied to a dog dangerously out of control on private property on which it is permitted to be, if that dog does injure a person when out of control.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Andrew Gwynne, Official Report, 10 January 2007; Vol. 455, c. 404 .] [P000110]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (as amended 1997) gives protection to the public from a dog which is dangerously out of control in a public place, or in a private place where it has no right to be.

A dog is regarded as being dangerously out of control in a public place on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure a person, whether or not it actually does so.

I know that some feel that the law relating to dog attacks in the home should be strengthened. Having considered the existing legislation in light of recent tragic events I am not convinced that changing the existing law would help those who either enforce the law or administer justice, or reduce the number of attacks that take place in domestic places. The reason the 1991 Act did not extend to private property was because of the possibility of intruders being able to prosecute dog owners where the dog may have acted in defence of the owner.

The Dogs Act 1871 applies to areas where a dog may be permitted to be, including in and around a private house. Any person can make a complaint under the 1871 Act to a magistrates courts that a dog is dangerous. The strength of the Dogs Act 1871 is that, as the civil standard of proof applies, an order may be made by the court on the balance of probabilities that a dog is dangerous.

In addition, where an attack has taken place on private premises it may be possible for a person who has been attacked by a dog to initiate civil proceedings to claim damages on the basis that the person owning or controlling the dog was negligent. Where a person has been invited onto premises by the occupier then that occupier may become liable for any injury suffered by the visitor under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957. This duty generally covers the state of the premises, but has been held to extend to cover damage caused by animals present on those premises. The Animals Act 1971 also provides that in certain circumstances the keeper of an animal is liable for any damage it causes, if he knew it was likely to cause such damage or injury unrestrained.

Nevertheless it is an area that I and my officials will keep under close review and if necessary make changes to the law if we think that this will reduce these very distressing incidents.