More Jail Terms For Owners Of Dangerous Dogs

Owners of dangerously out of control dogs that harm others in a public place will be jailed for up to 18 months under new guidelines for judges.

More prison sentences will be issued to offenders after the crackdown on dangerous dogs takes effect in August, with more community orders and fewer cases being discharged.

The Sentencing Council also wants courts to ban irresponsible owners who put the public at risk from keeping dogs, order genuinely dangerous dogs to be put down and arrange compensation for victims.

Anyone using an animal as a weapon to attack someone would still be sentenced for assault, but the new guidelines cover both dogs which were dangerously out of control and the possession of banned dogs.

Anne Arnold, of the Sentencing Council, said: "This new sentencing guideline encourages courts to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate.

"It also gives guidance to courts on making the best use of their powers so that people can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims."

Under the tougher guidelines, anyone in charge of a dangerously out of control dog would face up to 18 months in jail, with the sentence rising to the legal maximum of two years in exceptional cases.

Serious injuries during a sustained attack, injuries to children, failing to respond to previous warnings or deliberate goading of the dog by its owner will all be seen as an aggravating factor by judges.

But the owner could walk free from court if the injuries caused were only minor, attempts had been made to regain control of the dog and safety steps had been taken by the owner.

The council also issued guidelines for judges sentencing those involved in the possession of prohibited dogs, including the pitbull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.

Peter Chapman, chairman of the Magistrates' Association sentencing committee, said: "For the first time, magistrates will have all they need in one document to help them sentence the offender, disqualify him from future dog ownership if appropriate, order compensation to the victim and order destruction of the dog if necessary."

The Dogs Trust said the changes would encourage courts to focus on "the key factors of culpability of the owner and the amount of harm to the victim".

But Steve Goody, director of external affairs at animal welfare charity Blue Cross , warned tougher sentencing alone was not enough to prevent dog attacks.

"We believe the introduction of useful, practical measures could be used specifically to target irresponsible dog owners before an attack happens," he said.