The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) is one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in UK law, and is one that is virtually guaranteed to polarise the opinions of both dog owners and the wider public.
Under the remit of the Dangerous Dogs Act (or DDA), certain dog breeds and types are banned from being owned within the UK (unless specific, individual dogs of these breeds are exempted and kept in compliance with certain requirements).
In the almost three decades since the Dangerous Dogs Act passed into law, the controversy over the law itself has never really gone away – and debates over how effective the legislation actually is at achieving its goal of making the public safer have, if anything, only increased during this time.
Many animal charities and lobbying organisations on both sides of the divide have lobbied parliament to review the remit of the Act and make changes – either to tighten up the law or to relax it – which has resulted in the beginning of a recent government enquiry into the exact relevance of the Act itself.
The public call for submissions consultation stage of the government inquiry finished on the 6th June – and the public and dog owners in the UK are waiting anxiously to find out what conclusions will be drawn from the results of the inquiry.
In this article we will look at what the government’s inquiry into the remit of the Dangerous Dogs Act will examine, why the inquiry was instigated, and how the Dangerous Dogs Act has worked out in practice since its inception. Read on to learn more.
The Dangerous Dogs Act came into law in 1991, with the goal of protecting the public from attacks by dangerous dogs. Ultimately, the Law’s introduction outlawed the ownership of four specific breeds of dog in the UK, and these four breeds were singled out because they were considered to be both potentially aggressive by nature, as well as large and strong enough to inflict serious injury or even fatal wounds with relative ease.
The four banned breeds in the UK are:
The only exceptions to the ban on ownership of these four breeds is for dogs that have been issued with an exemption with a number of caveats placed on their ownership and handling – and legal exceptions are very rare.
Looking at statistics for fatal dog attacks in the UK between 1991 and 2016 as collated by the RSPCA, a total of 30 people died during that time as a direct result of a dog attack or dog-related incident.
Of those thirty fatal attacks, only nine of them were perpetrated by dog breeds currently on the banned list.
The total number of serious dog attacks (determined as those requiring hospital treatment) in the UK have been rising over time too – with an increase in hospital admissions for dog attacks of 76% between 2006-2016.
The figures above indicate two things very clearly – dog attacks in the UK have become more, not less, common since the introduction of the DDA – and that the majority of fatal dog attacks during that time were perpetrated by breeds that are not on the DDA ban list.
At a glance, this might make it appear obvious that the DDA legislation isn’t working, and that the four currently banned breeds are not as big of a problem as they are perceived to be, as evinced by the number of non-banned breed attacks.
However, this information needs to be analysed in context in order to determine the Act’s success or failure since its inception.
Nine out of the thirty fatal attacks being perpetrated by members of the four banned breeds represents almost a third of all fatal dog attacks – and this is an undeniably high number. Added to this, you have to consider the fact that these breeds are banned and so, incredibly rare in the UK – most people below a certain age will never have seen an example of one of those four breeds in the flesh, so uncommon are they as a result of the DDA legislation.
This means that nine fatal dog attacks occurred during the recording period that were perpetrated by breeds that are hugely rare – which does little to suggest that such breeds are not dangerous, and could also be seen as reinforcing the value of the legislation. If dogs of these four breeds could be owned legally in the UK, the chances are that there would be many more of them – which could result in a correlating and significant increase in the number of fatal attacks perpetrated by them.
On the other side of the coin, whilst the statistics for dog attacks by banned breeds cannot be ignored or minimised, the fact that 21 of those fatal 30 attacks were perpetrated by legal breeds – coupled with the fact that dog attacks as a whole are on the rise – indicates that the danger posed by any given dog is not something that can be established from their breeding alone.
Finally, the statistics for fatal attacks by banned breeds could also potentially indicate that whilst these breeds themselves cannot be legally owned in the UK and are theoretically rare, that the number of illegally owned dogs of these breeds – including mixed breeds of these types, and dogs with full or partial banned breed heritage being passed off as another legal breed – might be higher than we think.
Getting to the bottom of the meaning of the statistics and the wider impact that the DDA has had on public safety is the core of what the Dangerous Dogs Act inquiry is designed to achieve.
The committee overseeing the inquiry is overseen by chairperson Neil Parish MP, of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. When launching the inquiry, Parish stated:
“The Government is responsible for protecting the public from dangerous animals, so it is essential that laws evolve alongside our understanding of what works. The 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act banned four specific types of dog, but since then attacks have continued and 21 people have been killed by non-banned types. My Committee will investigate whether the Government's current approach is having the desired effect, and whether any changes are needed to ensure that the public is properly protected and that animal welfare concerns are properly addressed”.
The committee’s recent call for submissions as part of the inquiry was designed to get answers to the following four questions:
At present (June 2018) the inquiry’s call for submissions has closed, and the information is currently being analysed and collated. Next, an oral evidence session will take place, before the inquiry proceeds further, and a final report of the committee’s findings is drawn up.
The report itself will ultimately be presented before parliament, and will be debated in order to establish whether or not improvements can or should be made under the umbrella of the four questions posed above.
From that point, a motion may be made to change the Dangerous Dogs Act accordingly – which requires a parliamentary vote, and will certainly make headlines in the run-up to it.
We’ll keep you up to date with the latest news on the Dangerous Dogs Act inquiry and the legislation surrounding it – and let you know if and how you can have your say.