The law relating to dogs is far from simple, either in a criminal prosecution or a civil action. If you are either informed that you may be prosecuted for an offence or that you may be the subject of a civil action you need to contact your solicitor. Your solicitor will advise you on what to do next, including whether you need to consult an expert witness.
The information on this website is not intended to provide legal advice, but to give an overview on the law in relation to dogs and how an expert witness may be able to help.
The major dangerous dogs criminal legislation in England and Wales is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was later amended by the 1997 Dangerous Dogs Amendment Act. In Scotland some aspects of this Act were amended by the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.
Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act deals with the prohibition of four types of dog: the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero. An expert witness can help by identifying the type of dog and assessing its behaviour to prevent it being destroyed.
Section 3 of the Act deals with all dogs that are dangerously out of control (whether they have caused injury or not). An expert witness can help by examining the dog’s behaviour to show that it does not constitute a danger to public safety and thereby escape destruction.
Section 4B deals with a civil application to have a prohibited dog entered onto the Index of Exempted Dogs otherwise than on conviction. Again an expert witness can help the owner show that it does not constitute a danger to public safety and thus gain entry to the Index.
Dogs Act 1871 Although not criminal law, Section 2 of the Act allows a complaint to be made to a Magistrates Court for a dog to be kept under proper control or destroyed. An expert assessment and testimony can prevent an order for the dog to be destroyed.
The police use general purpose dogs to search, track and “hold” suspects. Specialist dogs search for evidence such as illegal drugs, weapons, spots of blood and body fluid. To allow their evidence to be admitted in Court all police dogs and their handlers must be trained in accordance with specified standards. Whilst they are an invaluable tool in the preservation of law and order police dogs are not infallible. Sometimes when police dogs make mistakes, or more is assumed from their actions than can actually be projected in evidence, it can take an independent expert, standing back with a detached view, to interpret their behaviour for the Court.
Civil law deals with disputes between individuals. In terms of dogs this is most often when a person is bitten by another person’s dog.
The crucial legislation when dealing with dogs that have bitten is Section 2 (2) of The Animals Act 1971. This apparently unnecessarily complicated Act can be difficult to fathom because of the double-negatives it contains, but it rests upon whether or not the characteristics of the animal were normal and it was likely to cause the damage (injuries).
An expert in dog behaviour can explain whether or not the behaviour that caused the injuries is normally found in dogs or specific breeds of dogs, and whether or not the injuries were likely to be caused.
Anyone who is subject to an injury caused by a police dog also has redress through the civil law. Police dogs are an invaluable tool in the preservation of law and order but they are not infallible and sometimes make mistakes. When police dogs make mistakes it can take an independent expert in police dog training and behaviour, standing back with a detached view, to interpret what is or can be expected of them, especially in relation to the Animals Act.