In 1990 and 1991 there was a sudden increase in the number of dog attacks reported by the UK media. Initially, these reports concentrated on the Rottweiler breed but during 1991 the emphasis seemed to shift to the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). Despite no apparent rise in the number of dog bite incidents to support this trend, in 1991, in a knee-jerk reaction to public outrage, the Government introduced a hastily produced and poorly thought out piece of legislation, The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991.
The DDA 1991 contains two main sections:
• Section 1 of the Act stipulates that owners of the ‘type of dog known as a pit bull terrier’ and three other breed types (Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero) must fulfill certain strict requirements. These requirements include keeping the dog muzzled and on a lead at all times whilst in a public place, having the dog micro-chipped, keeping the dog insured against third party liability and having the dog neutered with the aim that these types of dogs would eventually become extinct in the UK. The dog also had to have its details registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs maintained by DEFRA on behalf of the Government.
Owners of these types of dogs could no longer give away or sell their dogs. Unless the requirements were met, keeping such a dog in the UK would become illegal and any person who owned a prohibited type dog would be committing an offence unless the dog had been registered on the Index. Owners were offered the option of accepting a token compensation from the Government if they chose to have their dogs voluntarily destroyed.
• The second part of the DDA 1991, Section 3, affects all dogs regardless of breed or type. It makes it a criminal offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. This includes any instance during which an injury of any sort occurs or there is a fear that an injury might occur. In addition, under Section 3(3) of the Act, the owner (or person in charge at the time) of a dog can be prosecuted if an incident occurs in a non- public place where the dog was not permitted to be.
Before the introduction of The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment Act) 1997, owners convicted under the 1991 Act of having either a prohibited dog or a dog which had injured a person, no matter how minor the injury, faced a mandatory Court Order to have the dog destroyed.
The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment Act) 1997:
The introduction of the 1997 Act gave the Courts discretion on sentencing. Provided the Court is satisfied that the dog will not constitute a danger to public safety, as an alternative to making a compulsory order for the destruction of the dog, the Court can instead impose a control order specifying the measures the owner must take to keep the dog under proper control. These measures can include muzzling, keeping the dog on a lead and neutering if appropriate.
The 1997 Act also reopened the Index of Exempted Dogs. As a result, in cases involving dogs of a prohibited type, when the Court is satisfied that the dog will not pose a risk to the safety of the public, the Court has the power to make a contingent destruction order to allow the dog to be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs within two months of the date of the order provided the conditions of the order are met.
This legislation currently applies in England and Wales and Scotland although in Scotland, the provisions of The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 will come into force in early 2011. The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 has a similar effect in Northern Ireland.