A dog owner who breeds or trains an animal to attack people and whose dog then kills someone could be jailed for up to 14 years under new sentencing guidelines issued today (March 17, 2015).

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales, which promotes greater consistency in sentencing, has published proposals for dealing with offenders convicted of dangerous dog offences.

The proposals follow changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which came into force last year. These made very substantial increases to the maximum sentences, extended the law to cover offences on private property and introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs.

The new guidelines have been drawn up to reflect the changes to legislation and provide updated guidance for judges and magistrates to use in sentencing these cases, which can include those involving a fatality.

Sentence levels in the proposed guidelines have increased in line with changes to the law, which increased maximum sentences for offences where someone is killed by a dangerous dog from two years to 14 years. The council says its proposed sentencing ranges, which go up to this new maximum, can accommodate more effectively the variety of offenders who come before the courts.

At the top end, they could involve someone who has bred or trained a dog to be aggressive and uses the dog as a weapon or to intimidate people, and whose dog carries out a fatal attack.

The guidelines also cover incidents where the dog owner was much less culpable. This could include someone who has been a responsible dog owner and taken safety measures, but an unforeseen incident happens where his or her dog escapes from the house and attacks someone in the street and, despite his or her efforts to restrain the dog, the victim dies.

The proposed guidelines also reflect the increase in the legal maximum from two to five years where a person is injured by a dangerous dog with sentencing ranges that go up to four years, allowing courts to go outside the guideline in exceptional cases.

The law also introduced a new offence of a dog being dangerously out of control and killing or injuring a guide dog or other assistance dog. A guideline will now cover this offence, accommodating the varying levels of harm and culpability that can arise.

It takes into account both the harm to the assistance dog and the potential impact on the assisted person of being without their trained dog for any period of time.

In line with the extension of the law, the draft guidelines now cover incidents that happen on private property, as well as in public spaces. This means they will apply to incidents such as when a postal worker is attacked by a dog in a garden or when a guest at someone’s house is injured.

As well as setting out appropriate sentence ranges for these offences, the guidelines aim to make sure courts use the full range of their powers, for example, awarding compensation to victims or banning irresponsible owners who put the public at risk from keeping dogs.

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