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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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The Law

Animals in General

Relevant Legislation

Much of the law and practice concerning animal welfare is now 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 This Act came into force on 6 April 2007 and repealed a number of Acts (see Schedule 4).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 you are 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 - 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, s.1 Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 (Stones 8-1520). Also refer to Wildlife Offences, elsewhere in the Legal Guidance.

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The person in charge of a dog who attacks or chases livestock commits a summary offence; section1 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 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 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 of the Dogs Act 1871 (Stones 8-7510) for an Order for the control or destruction of a dog and a criminal prosecution under of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Stones 8-7617).

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.

A civil complaint under section 2 of the 1871 Act need only be proved on a balance of probabilities. However, such an application also has the following disadvantages:

  • an Order may only be made against a dog's owner, not its temporary keeper;
  • section 9 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 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.

Unders 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 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Stones 8-7615) specifically control 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;
  • allowing 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. The burden of proof is placed on the defendant to show that a dog which is the object of such proceedings is not of such a type.

You should instruct an expert witness who should be asked to examine the dog and prepare a report dealing with both appearance and behaviour. These might include veterinary surgeons with experience in dealing with pit bull terriers or the other types of specially controlled dog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier judges, experienced police dog handlers or representatives of animal welfare organisations.

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
Tel: 0300 123 0100


Kennel Club
1-5 Clarges Street
London W1Y 8AB


The Secretary
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Council
5 Marlage Ashgill
Larkhall ML9 3DJ.

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Charging Practice

Every instance of unnecessary suffering etc 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 Animal Welfare Act 2006 may also be appropriate.

In dangerous dogs' offences, when considering whether to charge under 1871 or 1991 Act, appropriate matters to take into consideration are the disadvantages indicated above in this section to charges under the 1871 Act. If the CPS charges under 1871, we are then the informant.

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Procedure - pre-trial

In order to institute proceedings under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) 1953 you 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.

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Time Limits

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 has also 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 3 years beginning with the date of the offence; and 
  • before the end of the period of 6 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. Furthermore the signed certificate shall be so acknowledged unless the contrary is proven

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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
Wilberforce Way
Southwater Horsham
West Sussex, RH13 9RS
Tel: 0300 123 0100

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Procedure - post-trial

For either offence under section 3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, where a dog is dangerously out of control and injures any person or 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 aggraveted attack on an assistance dog); or by an order for the dog to be kept under proper control, or 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 inserts S.1(6A), S.4(1B) and S.1.(2A) into the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to require a court 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 may consider any other relevant circumstances when deciding whether a dog would constitute a danger to public safety or considering destruction or disqualification orders.

An order for the destruction of the dog is, in most cases, mandatory following a conviction for the aggravated offence under the 1991 Act. 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.

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