Prosecution for owning a prohibited dog

Prosecution for owning a prohibited dog. Even if you dog has not attacked anyone or been a nuisance it can still be seized and destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

If your dog is seized by the police then you need to seek immediate legal advice:

Section 1 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

This section of the Dangerous Dogs Act states owning certain types of dog is unlawful.

This applies to:

  • the Pit Bull Terrier
  • the Japanese Tosa
  • the Dogo Argentino
  • the Fila Braziliero

If the Police or a Local Authority Officer believe your dog is ‘of type’ it may be seized and kept in secure kennels. There are occasions where the dog can be released subject to conditions under the 2015 Exemption Scheme. This is at the discretion of the Police (and can be a ‘postcode lottery’). The Chief Officer of Police would need to be satisfied that the dog does not constitute a danger to public safety.

The seizing of your dog.

The Police need a warrant to enter your home to seize your dog. If your dog is in a public place a Police officer or Local Authority Officer can legally seize your dog without a warrant. The Police or Council cannot destroy your dog for being ‘of type’ without a Court Order unless you consent to the dog being euthanized.

Determination of breed by reference to physical characteristics

The Police or Local Authority Officer only need to believe your dog is ‘of type’ to seize it. They will then have your dog examined by their expert to confirm if the dog is ‘of type’. If they do not assess it as being ‘ of type’ on examination, your dog will be returned to you. No further action will be taken.

The pit bull terrier

The type of dog subject to the most cases has been the Pit Bull Terrier. The High Court has decided that for a dog to be of ‘pit bull type’ it is not in its breeding but on its physical characteristics. A dog must have a substantial number of the characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier as referred to by the American Dog Breeders Association and relied upon by the courts.

A dog does not need to have all the characteristics to be considered ‘of type’. The behaviour of the dog is taken into account when assessing the dog, but it is not conclusive.

Prosecution for owning a prohibited dog

You could be prosecuted under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and unless you prove your dog isn’t ‘of type’,  you will be convicted. You have the right to dispute type (and plead not guilty to owning a banned breed). In these circumstances, we would instruct an independent expert to examine your dog and report on their findings.

Section 1 is a criminal charge, and if you are found guilty you will receive a criminal record, and maybe fined or receive a prison sentence. Although large fines and prison sentences are rare for responsible dog owners who unfortunately find their dog is deemed ‘of type’.

Under Section 1, the normal criminal burden of proof is reserved. You would need to show your dog isn’t pitbull-type (usually by way of the Court preferring the defence expert evidence)

If you are found by the Court to own a prohibited type, the Court must order a destruction order. The only exception is where the Court is satisfied you are suitable owner and your dog does not pose a danger to the public. In these circumstances, a contingent destruction order may be made.

Contingent order for a suitable owner

If a contingent destruction order is made specific conditions must be satisfied the animal must be:

  • neutered, microchipped and third party liability insurance must be in force.
  • muzzled, kept on a lead at all times in public places. It must not walked by anyone under the age of sixteen.
  • kept at the same address as the person whom the certificate is issued (except for up to 30 days in a 12 month period).

The exemption fee would also be payable to Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs), currently £92.40.

It is an offence to breed from the dog, sell the dog, gift the dog or abandon the dog.

You cannot voluntarily register a prohibited dog, a dog can only be exempted by Court Order, and then registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs with Defra.

Section 4B Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

In the alternative, the relevant authority often use the civil provisions in Section 4B of the Dangerous Dogs Act, which allows the relevant authority to apply to the Magistrates Court for a destruction order, or a contingent destruction order, without the owner being prosecuted (therefore you would not have a criminal record). The court only has the power to impose a costs order on the owner.

In these circumstances, legal aid is unlikely to be available (as it is not criminal in nature) which can create a problem for owners who want to present a defence, especially given the cost of expert evidence (although there are charitable/ not for profit organisations which may be able to assist).

If your dog is accused of being a banned breed, please contact us without delay.