More tweaks to the Dangerous Dogs Act

Dangerous Dogs ReformsFrom: BBC News 09/09/13:

Dog owners will be safe from prosecution under revised dangerous dogs laws if their pet attacks someone trespassing in their home - even if the "intruder" is doing a good turn.

Ministers say dogs cannot be expected to "ascertain the intentions" of those entering a property before reacting.

The clarification comes in response to MPs who are scrutinising proposals to update the law in England and Wales.

The government plans to extend existing laws to cover dog attacks in homes.

It is currently updating the controversial 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

Ah yes – one of the most heavily criticised pieces of legislation that has ever been enacted!

In fact, in the seven years following the original enactment, there were 35 editorial items in the press that used the Dangerous Dogs Act as an example of bad regulation. And just in case there was any doubt of the extent of the criticism, a very interesting article* I came across sets the record straight:

In public debate the DDA has become a synonym for any unthinking reflex legislative response to media hype. Indeed, the Government's own Better Regulation Task Force (BRTF), the official arbiter of good and bad regulation, has condemned the Act.

Back to the trusty BBC article:

At present, the act covers only attacks by dogs in public places and private areas where animals are banned from being - such as a neighbour's garden or a park.

[D]og owners will not be able to be prosecuted if the victim was trespassing in their home.

In a response to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - which has made a number of recommendations to ministers - the government rejected the idea of a similar exemption in relation to attacks on people trespassing in gardens or outhouses.

"A child retrieving a ball from a garden, or a neighbour retrieving garden cuttings, should be protected from dog attacks," officials said.

I think the drawing the distinction between those trespassing within a dwelling with those trespassing elsewhere is a sensible one (particularly when you consider the scenarios of a friendly neighbour retrieving hedge cuttings or a child collecting a lost ball given above).

However, I’ve long thought that it should be mandatory for all dog owners to erect signage of a specific size which is featured prominently at all likely entrances of premises where a dog is kept.

I accept the point that it’s more likely for a trespasser to have ill-intent if s/he enters a dwelling (compared to just a garden, say) and it’s therefore logical for the Act to not apply should a dog attack subsequently take place. However, we would be on much firmer ground – from a good regulation standpoint – if any trespasser who went on trespass within a dwelling did so knowing that a dog was on the premises.

After all, all dogs have the capacity to be dangerous, but often times you don’t find out which ones actually are until it’s too late.

* Hood, C., Baldwin, R. and Rothstein, H. 2000. Assessing the Dangerous Dogs Act: When does a regulatory law fail? Public Law, Summer 2000: 282-305.

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