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Dangerous Dog Offences and Offences involving Domestic and Captive Animals

Code for Crown Prosecutors - Considerations

A prosecution may not be required where there has been minimal risk to public safety and/or to the welfare of an animal.

An animal which is in the ownership of a person may be classed as an item of property. Refer to Charging Practice below. In those circumstances the public interest criteria relating to the prosecution of offences for dishonesty and damage to property become relevant.

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Animals in General

Relevant Legislation

Much of the law and practice concerning animal welfare is contained in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This Act came into force on 6 April 2007 and repealed a number of Acts (see Schedule 4).

Prevention of Harm

Under section 4(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is a summary offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a protected animal or, if being responsible for a protected animal, to permit any unnecessary suffering to be caused to any such animal.

It is a summary offence to carry out or cause a prohibited procedure (mutilation or interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal) to be carried out on a protected animal. An offence is also committed where a person having responsibility for an animal allows another person to carry out such an act failing to take reasonable steps to prevent that from happening.

It is a summary offence to remove the whole or any part of a dog's tail other than for medical treatment. An offence is also committed where a person having responsibility for an animal allows another person to carry out such an activity.

It is a summary offence to administer any poisonous or injurious drug to a protected animal. An offence is also committed where a person having responsibility for an animal allows another person to administer poisonous or injurious drugs.

It is a summary offence to cause an animal fight to take place, knowingly receive money, publicise, provide information, bet, take part, keep or train an animal for fighting or keep any premises for use in an animal fight: section 8 Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Similarly an offence is committed if a person is present at an animal fight without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.

It is a summary offence to knowingly supply, publish or show a video recording of an animal fight. This section does not apply where the video recording is of an animal fight that takes place outside Great Britain or took place before the commencement date of 6 April 2007. Furthermore the exemption applies where the video recording is for inclusion in a programme service.

It is a summary offence to mutilate, kick, beat, nail or otherwise impale, stab, stone, crush, drown, drag or asphyxiate any wild mammal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering (section 1 Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996). Please see the separate legal guidance Wildlife Offences.

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Dogs

The person in charge of a dog who attacks or chases livestock commits a summary offence: section 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

It is a summary offence for a person to use, or permit the use of, a guard dog to protect any premises unless a handler capable of controlling the dog is also present and the dog is under his control, or unless the dog is secured so that it is not at liberty to go freely about the premises: section 1 of the Guard Dogs Act 1975

Where a dog defecates on land designated under the Act by a local authority, the person (other than a registered blind person) in charge of the dog commits a summary offence if he fails to remove the faeces forthwith: see section 3 of the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996.

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Dangerous Dogs

In a case which involves a dangerous or ferocious dog, a choice lies between an application by way of a civil complaint under the Dogs Act 1871 for an Order for the control or destruction of a dog, and a criminal prosecution under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

An application by way of complaint for an Order for the control or destruction of a dog under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 will arise if a dog is considered to be dangerous, and 'dangerous' should be given its ordinary everyday meaning. The Attorney General has formally assigned the conduct of proceedings under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sections 5 to 7 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 clarify that:

  • an order under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 may be made whether or not the dog is shown to have injured any person; and may specify the measures to be taken for keeping the dog under proper control, whether by muzzling, keeping on a lead, excluding it from specified places or otherwise.
  • If it appears to a court on a complaint under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 that the dog to which the complaint relates is a male and would be less dangerous if neutered the court may under that section make an order requiring it to be neutered.

The reference in section 1(3) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 (penalties) to failing to comply with an order under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 to keep a dog under proper control includes a reference to failing to comply with any other order made under that section (provided that the matters complained of arose after the coming into force of subsection 6 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991).

A civil complaint under section 2 of the 1871 Act is to be proved on the balance of probabilities. However, the lower standard of proof of such an application must also be balanced against the following factors:

  • an Order may only be made against a dog's owner, not its temporary keeper;
  • section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 cannot be used to present evidence at trial;
  • proceedings must be issued within six months and cannot be discontinued; and
  • costs are not available from central funds and the applicant risks costs being awarded against him in the event of failure.

Under section 3(1) of the dangerous Dogs Act 1991 ("the 1991 Act") (as amended by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014), if a dog is dangerously out of control in any place, including all private property, so that there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person or assistance dog, and whether or not it actually does so, then the owner, or person for the time being in charge of the dog, is guilty of a summary offence. That offence becomes an aggravated offence, and triable either way, if the dog injures any person or assistance dog while out of control. Prosecutions for the aggravated offence should be reserved for instances where serious injury has been caused. See: HO Circular 67/1991 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Under section 3(1A) of the 1991 Act a person is not guilty of an offence where the dog is dangerously out of control with respect to a trespasser who is in, or entering, their home, whether the owner is present or not. This exemption does not apply to dog attacks on trespassers in gardens, driveways or outbuildings.

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Fighting Dogs

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 specifically controls dogs of the type known as:

  • the pit bull terrier;
  • the Japanese tosa;
  • the dogo Argentina;
  • the fila Braziliero.

In respect of each of those types of dog the section makes it a summary offence to:

  • possess such a dog, except for purposes permitted by the Act;
  • breed, or breed from, such a dog;
  • sell or exchange such a dog, or advertise for such a purpose;
  • give away such a dog as a gift, or advertise for such a purpose;
  • allow such a dog to be in a public place without being muzzled and placed on a lead;
  • abandon such a dog, or allow it to stray.

Courts will sometimes have to decide whether a particular dog falls within one of the stipulated types. If the prosecution alleges that the dog which is the object of such proceedings is one of the stipulated types, section 5 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 places the burden of proof on the defendant to show that the dog is not of such a type.

If the defence serve rebuttal evidence that the dog is not a prohibited type, then the prosecutor should instruct an expert witness who should be asked to examine the dog and prepare a report dealing with both appearance and behaviour. An expert witness may be chosen as he/she is, for example, a veterinary surgeon with experience in dealing with pit bull terriers or the other types of specially controlled dog, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier judge, an experienced police dog handler or a representative of an animal welfare organisation.

Assistance in locating a suitable expert may be obtained from:

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
HQ, Wilberforce Way
Southwater Horsham
West Sussex RH13 9RS 

or

Kennel Club
Clarges Street
Piccadilly
London W1J 8AB

or

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Council Breed council of G.B. and N.I.
Consult their website for local area contacts.

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Charging Practice

Every instance of unnecessary suffering charged under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 creates a separate offence; but one summons may cover the ill treatment of several animals.

An animal can be classified as "property" or "goods" under the terms of the Theft Acts 1968 and 1978 and a prosecution may thus be appropriate for offences of theft, handling, and obtaining property by deception or blackmail.

An animal may also be classed as property capable of being "damaged or destroyed" under the terms of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. A charge of criminal damage may be appropriate in the event of the death or injury of an animal owned by someone other than the defendant. However, prosecution for the cruel ill treatment of that same animal under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 may also be appropriate. 

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Procedure - Pre-Trial

In order to institute proceedings under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 the prosecutor must obtain written consent from the Chief Constable of Police, or the owner of the livestock, or the occupier of the land where the incident occurred.

Time Limits

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 extended time limits for prosecutions. Section 31 provides that notwithstanding anything that is in section 127(1) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, a magistrates' court may try an information if it is laid:

  • before the end of the period of three years beginning with the date of the offence; and
  • before the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which the evidence which the prosecutor thinks is sufficient to justify the proceedings comes to his knowledge.

Prosecutors are reminded that for the purposes of the above, a certificate signed by, or on behalf of the prosecutor with the date that sufficient evidence came to his knowledge is conclusive evidence of that date. Furthermore, the signed certificate shall be so acknowledged unless the contrary is proven.

Relations with Other Agencies

The Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has a long established expertise in both the investigation and prosecution of cases involving animal welfare and has built up a useful body of precedent and case law.

General guidance may be obtained from:

Head of Prosecutions
RSPCA
Headquarters
Wilberforce Way
Southwater Horsham
West Sussex, RH13 9RS

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Procedure - Post-Trial

For either offence under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, where a dog is dangerously out of control and injures any person or an assistance dog, the owner or the person in charge of the dog may be punished by:

  • a fine and/or imprisonment (fourteen years where the death of a person is involved, 5 years where a person is injured and 3 years for an aggravated attack on an assistance dog);
  • an order for the dog to be kept under proper control;
  • an order for the dog to be destroyed and/or to disqualify the offender from having custody of a dog for such period as the court sees fit.

Section 107 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 inserts S.1(6A), S.4(1B) and S.4B(2A) into the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 require a court, when deciding whether a dog would constitute a danger to public safety or considering Destruction or Contingent Destruction Orders, to consider the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour and 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 a dog, and the court may consider any other relevant circumstances.

Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 1 or 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 or of an offence under an order made under section 2, the court may order the destruction of any dog in respect of which the offence was committed. Following a conviction for an offence under section 1 or the aggravated offence under section 3(1) of the 1991 Act, section 4(1)(a) of the 1991 Act states that an order for the destruction of the dog "shall" be made unless the court is satisfied that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety, or there is good reasons for the dog not to have been exempted from the prohibition in section 1(3).

If the defendant is only the keeper, then any known owner of the dog must be given notice of the hearing before an order for destruction is made. More information can be found in the Sentencing section below.

The Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015

In relation to a conviction involving a prohibited dog the court must order either the immediate destruction of the dog or, if satisfied that the dog is not a danger to public safety, the contingent destruction of the dog. A Contingent Destruction Order requires the dog to be exempted under The Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and wales) Order 2015 ("2015 Order") within two months of the court making the Order. The 2015 Order replaces The Dangerous Dogs Compensation and Exemption Schemes Order 1991 ("1991 Order") in relation to England and Wales only. It came into force on 3 March 2015.

The 2015 Order sets out conditions that must be met in relation to the prohibited dog itself and also the requirements that the person in charge of the dog must comply with in order for the dog to remain exempted from prohibition on possession. A failure to meet the requirements may result in an offence under the 1991 Act being committed. The purpose of the changes are to reflect the amendments made to the primary legislation introducing a link between the person in charge of a prohibited dog and whether the dog is a danger to public safety.

The 2015 Order also restricts when keepership of a prohibited dog that has been exempted may be transferred to another person. Under the 2015 Order the transfer of previously exempted dogs is only permitted if the person in charge dies or is seriously ill. These provisions prevent a prohibited dog being informally transferred to a person who has not been approved by the court as a fit and proper person. A failure to comply with the procedure set out in the 2015 Order may result in an offence under the 1991 Act being committed as the prohibited dog will no longer be exempt.

The 2015 Order also allows for the police to release a suspected prohibited dog to the person intending to apply for a Contingent Destruction Order under strict conditions similar to those under the court-ordered Exemption Scheme.

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Sentencing

The Sentencing Council published a revised Definitive Guideline on Dangerous Dog Offences on 17 March 2016.  This Guideline applies to all offenders who are sentenced on or after 1 July 2016 regardless of the date of offence.

The Guideline has been revised following changes to the dangerous dogs legislation made by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 ("the 2014 Act"), which extended the law to cover attacks that occur on private property and introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs.

The 2014 Act also increased the maximum penalties for aggravated offences under section 3 to 14 years' imprisonment where the death of a person is involved, 5 years' imprisonment where a person is injured and 3 years' imprisonment for an aggravated attack on an assistance dog. The top of the sentencing range for possession of a prohibited dog remains at six months' custody.

The guideline covers the following offences:

  • dog dangerously out of control in any place where death is caused;
  • dog dangerously out of control in any place where a person is injured;
  • dog dangerously out of control in any place where an assistance dog is injured or killed;
  • dog dangerously out of control in any place;
  • possession of a prohibited dog, breeding, selling, exchanging or advertising a prohibited dog.

It aims to provide clear guidance to sentencers so that there is a consistent approach to sentencing and to ensure that appropriate sentences are given to the owners of dangerous dogs where an offence has been committed. The Guideline also sets out the relevant ancillary orders, including compensation, which are available on conviction.

The Guideline states that for the more serious offences relating to non-prohibited dogs (section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991), where a dog injures or kills a person or where it injures an assistance dog, the Court shall make a destruction order unless it is satisfied that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety. However, in relation to less serious offences where dogs are dangerously out of control, the court may make a destruction order.

In deciding whether to make a destruction order the court must consider the temperament of the dog, its past behaviour and whether the owner or person in charge at the time is fit to be in charge of a dog.

The Guideline also makes it clear that contingent destruction orders are available should a destruction order not be made.

In relation to prohibited dogs (section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991), the Court shall either make a destruction order or a contingent destruction order, depending on the danger to public safety.

Prosecutors should remind the court of the ancillary orders available on conviction, including destruction orders and contingent destruction orders.

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