Miscellaneous criminal liabilities relating to the dog owner
In the next in the series of legal articles for vets addressing the criminal liabilities of animal owners in England and Wales from petlaw.co.uk and farmlaw.co.uk, Barrister Alison Howey discusses the legal provisions of a number of Acts, Regulations and Orders that can affect dog owners and the role of the veterinary surgeon, should they be contravened.
Compulsory microchipping – The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015
From April 6th 2016 every keeper of a dog which has not been implanted with a microchip by that date, which is older than 8 weeks; and is not a certified working dog for the purposes of section 6(3) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006(4), must ensure that it is microchipped. However, a veterinary surgeon can certify that a dog should not be microchipped for health reasons. No person may implant a microchip in a dog unless (a) they are a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary nurse acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon; (b) they are a student of veterinary surgery or a student veterinary nurse and in either case acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon; (c) they have been satisfactorily assessed on a training course approved by the Secretary of State for that purpose; or (d) before the day on which these Regulations come into force, they received training on implantation which included practical experience of implanting a microchip.
The microchip must have a unique number and must be entered onto an authorised data base. The Regulations provide a list of details that must be recorded on the data base to include the full name and address of the keeper; the original name or identification number given to the dog; the contact telephone number (if any) for the keeper; the name given to the dog by the keeper, the sex of the dog; the breed of the dog, or a description if it is a cross-breed; the colour of the dog; the most accurate estimate of the dog’s date of birth which the keeper is capable of giving; and the unique number of the microchip implanted in the dog. Where applicable it should be recorded if the keeper is also the breeder; if the keeper is the breeder and is licensed by the local authority under the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973(6)— Section 6(i) the breeder’s licence number; and (ii) the name of the local authority by which they are licensed.
Some of the reasons behind compulsory microchipping of dogs are that it is expected to make it easier for authorities to identify the persons responsible for stray dogs and dangerous dogs, and also to act as a deterrent to dog theft and assist with the identification and return of such dogs.
There will be a financial penalty of up to £500 for keepers failing to comply with these regulations.
Stray dogs – Environmental Protection Act 1990
Stray dogs are no longer the responsibility of the Police and each Local Authority is required to appoint shall appoint officers to discharge functions regarding these dogs. Any dog found in a public place, or on other land or premises, is taken to be a stray and can be seized and detained. If the dog is found on private premises/land, the owner or occupier of the land must provide their consent for the dog to be seized. If the dog is wearing a collar with ownership details then a notice of seizure shall be served upon the owner stating that if the dog is not claimed and expenses of detention are not paid within 7 days, then the dog may be disposed of.
Anyone finding a stray dog shall return the dog to it’sits owner or take it to the Local Authority. The finder may be allowed to keep the dog if it is not claimed and if they inform the Local Authority that they wish to do so. Any finder not complying with these provisions will be liable to conviction to a fine, not exceeding level 2 (£500). The Environmental Protection (Stray Dogs) Regulations 1992 allow local authorities to appoint an officer to deal with stray dogs and oblige that officer to keep a public register of dogs seized.
Noise nuisance – Environmental Protection Act 1990
The above Act also provides for prosecution in relation to nuisance caused by noise including barking dogs. Nuisance is defined as “an unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land or of some right over, or in connection with it”. For noise to amount to a nuisance it must be prejudicial to health or a nuisance under the above Act. If excessive noise is reported to the Local Authority then they have a duty to make enquiries and if they are satisfied that such a nuisance exists they may serve a noise abatement notice.
The notice may require that the noise be stopped altogether or be limited to certain times of the day. There are 21 days in which to appeal that notice. Failure to comply with such a notice, without reasonable excuse, renders the person guilty of an offence and liable to pay a fine not exceeding level 5 (£5000) and a further fine for every day that the nuisance continues post conviction. Excessive noise can also amount to a criminal matter if it amounts to a breach of the peace, or an anti social behaviour issue. Therefore, it is possible to receive an Anti Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) due to being an irresponsible dog owner and allowing a dog(s) to bark to the extent that it causes a nuisance to neighbours. Breaching an ASBO can result in a sentence of imprisonment.
Orders – Animal Health Act 1981
Under this Act orders may be made for the muzzling of dogs and keeping them under control. This includes the seizure, detention and disposal of stray dogs, un-muzzled dogs and dogs not being kept under proper control. Any expenses incurred relating to such steps may be recovered from the owner. There is also provision of a power to order that dogs must wear a collar bearing the details of the owner.
The Control of Dogs Order 1992 also states that any dog in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address, including postcode, of the owner upon it. This is required regardless of whether or not your dog is micro-chipped. There is a fine of up to £5,000 for non compliance. There are exceptions for working dogs during work, guide dogs or for dogs being used for sporting purposes.
Breeding Licence – Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, Breeding of Dogs Act 1991, as amended by The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999
Local Authorities require that a dog breeding licence is required if you breed five5 or more litters of puppies during any 12 month period. This licence will be valid for 1 year and a veterinary surgeon or other appointed inspector may inspect premises to verify that the dog(s) – live in suitable accommodation, receive adequate food, water and bedding, get enough exercise, are transported in safe and comfortable conditions, and are protected from fire and other emergencies and from the spread of disease. Failure to comply with the regulations of this Act can result in a maximum of 3 months imprisonment and/or a fine of £2,500. A recent DEFRA consultation proposed s tothe introducintroduction of e new legislation to improve the welfare of breeding dogs and their puppies, and to strengthen existing regulations. Such proposals seek to include smaller, so called “back street breeders” under the regime of licensing legislation. The results of the consultation can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/552955/animal-establishments-consult-sum-resp.pdf
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014
This Act came into force on 13th May 2014 and made several new provisions regarding anti-social behaviour, crime and disorder (which are in addition to the aforementioned amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act). These new provisions are expected to assist Local Authorities to control and prevent problems caused by irresponsible dog owners, as well as addressing public disorder issues :
- Injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance
The Court may grant a prohibitive injunction against persons conducting behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress or housing related nuisance or annoyance. These behaviours include noise problems caused by dogs and disorder related problems created by dog owners intimidating others, with status type and uncontrolled dogs. These injunctions can prohibit certain behaviour and carry a power of arrest if breached.
- Dog fouling – Public Space Protection Orders
Local Authorities can make a public spaces protection order, to preventwhere activities carried on in a public place, which have a detrimental effect on the quality of life in that area and are unreasonable, persistent and continuing. These orders replace the Dog Control Orders previously made pursuant to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. Similarly to injunctions, such orders may prohibit certain activities and are used by Local Authorities to prohibit dogs from entering play areas or certain parks, which suffer on-going problems with fouling or where there is a requirement to tackle disorder caused by persons with status dogs. These orders are often used to control the problem of dog fouling and make it an offence not to clear up dog faeces in certain areas. The penalty for breaching these orders is either a fine or a fixed penalty notice.
- Community Protection Notices
As with public space protection orders, the Local Authority can issue a community protection notice to either an individual or a body, if satisfied that their conduct is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent and ongoing nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality, and that such conduct is unreasonable. These orders can specify the conduct that must be refrained from or require that certain things must be done, in order to prevent the alleged detrimental effect. For example, a Local Authority can utilise these orders to prevent dog fouling or to prohibit dogs being exercised in play areas. Failure to comply with the notice may result in a fine.
- Criminal Behaviour Orders
Once a person has been convicted of an offence relating to behaviour causing harassment, alarm or distress, a Court will have the power to make a criminal behaviour order. Similarly to the above provisions, these orders may contain prohibitions or requirements to help prevent similar behaviour in the future. For example a convicted person may be prohibited from taking a dog into specified public places, or from using a dog to intimidate persons. Breach of these orders may result in a financial penalty and/or imprisonment.
Sheep worrying – Dogs Protection of Livestock Act 1953
It is an offence for a dog to be at large, off the lead or out of under close control, in a field on enclosure in which there are sheep. The NFU estimate that the worrying of livestock costs the agricultural industry £1.2 million each year, with thousands of sheep and cattle being killed or euthanised as a result of injuries sustained by dogs. Under section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 the landowner is entitled to shoot a dog if they believe the dog is worrying, or about to worry, the livestock, and there is no other reasonable way of preventing that. Allegations under this Act oftenmay require a veterinary surgeon to undertake forensic tests to ascertain a link between the injured or dead sheep and the dog(s) identified as being responsible.
Instructing a dog to attack – Offences Against the Person Act 1861
Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, it is an offence to maliciously wound, or cause grievous bodily harm to another, with or without a weapon or instrument. A person who incites or instructs a dog to do any of these acts may be guilty of the offence and therefore subject to the sentencing powers available to the Court for that offence. For example, a person who intentionally instructs their dog to bite someone and such bite/attack causes grievous bodily harm (really serious harm) then that person could face imprisonment for a life term.
It is very important that dog owners or those in charge or control of a dog, are aware of all of the legal obligations placed upon them by the various legal provisions in place in England and Wales. Ignorance of the law is no defence and being in breach of it may render the dog owner or person in charge liable to prosecution. Sentences range from a fixed penalty or small fine, up to a fine of £5000, deprivation or destruction of the dog, and imprisonment in some cases.
Veterinary surgeons are often called to help the authorities to determine the whether these laws have been contravened by a dog owner, through the identification of primary evidence or by providing expert evidence. It is essential for the veterinary surgeon to have clear understanding of the dog owner’s obligations, to ensure their evidence correctly assists in upholding the law.
Alison Howey LLB (Hons) Barrister at Law, Senior Lecturer in Law at Northumbria University at Newcastle
Originally published in the Vet Times