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News item: Rise in dog attack victims causes a change in legal guidelines

May 18, 2012

The rise in the number of horrific dog attacks over the last ten years has at last led to new guidelines being issued to magistrates and judges by the Sentencing Council so that much tougher sentencing can be imposed on the owners of dogs who cause the attacks. The new guidelines will see those convicted of dog attack convictions being sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, with a maximum of two years in exceptional circumstances.

Under present legislation, all dog owners are responsible for ensuring that their pet is kept under control and is not able to inflict any injuries on a member of the public under any circumstances. However, lenient sentencing has led to an increase in the number of dog attacks with the consequences being some terrible injuries and, in some cases involving infants or babies, there have been fatalities.

Although victims of dog attacks have always had recourse to personal injury solicitors to seek a claim for compensation for their injuries, the chance of them getting monetary compensation has often been more limited than when inflicted by accidents caused by vehicles or at work, where the guilty party is properly insured.

For this reason, one of the only recourses that society has to reduce the number of dog attacks on innocent victims is to make people more responsible for their dogs by tougher sentencing.

Dangerous dog legislation has changed over the years in response to public concerns as has been witnessed by the prohibition on the ownership of certain breeds of dogs such as pit bull terriers, fila brasilieros, Japanese tosas and dogo argentinos. Any person who continues to flout the law by owning one of these breeds of dogs illegally, will now be subject to the tougher guidelines.

As well as longer sentences, any owner of a dangerous dog is less likely to have an early discharge and may be prevented from owning a dog again.

Judges and magistrates will make their sentencing decisions based on a number of factors. These will include such things as the degree of culpability of the owner, whether the accident victim was a person considered “vulnerable”, such as a child, and whether the owner had any previous warnings about their dog’s behaviour.

The new guidelines will not change the right of any accident victim to seek a claim for compensation from the dog owner for their injuries through a personal injury solicitor.