The Dangerous Dogs Act in Detail & Practice.
Important Changes in Dog Law - Dangerous Dogs Act Amendments - the commencent date for these changes to the DDA is the 13th May 2014
With the Media frenzy reporting of an apparent surge in pit bull types we need to keep our heads and look at what exactly is classed as a “pit bull type” in the U.K, whether or not they do present any danger and the background of the legislation. It is important to note the inclusion of the word 'type' for a dog to be deemed a ' Pit Bull type '
The use of the term “pit bull” is one that over the last few years has become increasingly commonplace yet many people will freely use the term without knowing exactly what it is that they are referring too. So what exactly is a “pit bull” in the United Kingdom?
First and foremost in the UK it is illegal to own any dog that is a type of dog known as a “pit bull type”. The breed American Pit Bull Terrier has never been recognised here by the Government so, instead of banning a breed that they didn’t believe existed, they banned all dogs that looked like them. They attempted to ban a type of dog.
When the first cases of dogs charged with being illegal pit bull terriers went before the courts a huge problem became apparent. The courts had to decide, beyond reasonable doubt, that a dog was indeed a dog that fitted the “type”. Several Home Office Circulars followed issuing advice but it was decided by the High court in 1993 that a dog was a “type known as a pit bull terrier” if it had a substantial number of characteristics of an American Pit Bull Terrier. In order to decide this they need to know what an American Pit bull Terrier should look like. It was then decided in 1993 to use the breed standard as drawn up by the American Dog Breeders Association some years earlier. In recent years the ADBA have changed the standard a number of times however the first standard is the one referred to in UK courts today. The High Court also stated that a dog could be of the “type known as the pit bull terrier” regardless of its parentage and that behaviour was relevant but not conclusive.
Under Section One of the DDA a dog becomes a pit bull type if it has a substantial number or most of the characteristics of an American Pit Bull Terrier as described by the ADBA standard. Substantial or most is normally a dog that scores more than 60 percent. Once an accusation has been made it is up to the defence to prove otherwise, not the prosecution to prove the dog is a pit bull type. The burden of Proof is reversed and although challenged through the courts, this still stands.
The ADBA standard sets out 100 points to consider when looking at the perfect APBT. Out of those 100 points only 10 points can be given in respect of the dogs attitude/behaviour. The way a dog is scored falls down to interpretation. For example a number of points can be given for a dog with a muscular build. Any dog is capable of having a muscular build of varying degrees and each person will have a different idea on how well muscled a dog is, therefore leaving several people giving different scores on the same dog.
The standard also suggests the tail should rest at the hock however some will give points for a tail that rests just above or below. There is also a lot of debate over various points of the standard and how it is to be interpreted still playing out in courts across the UK since 1991.
As all dogs, even litter mates are never identical one dog may score more or less than its sibling. This often leads to dogs with the same parentage being split into “pit bull type” and not “pit bull type” Sometimes simply by being a little taller, having a slightly shorter muzzle and a tail being a little too long can make the distinction between illegal or legal.
Other breeds or cross breeds can and have been, deemed pit bull type. When looking at any dog stated as being another breed, it often falls to which standard scores the most points. If a Stafford for example doesn’t fit the Kennel Club breed standard for a Stafford quite as well as it does the ADBA standard for an APBT then its quite possible a court will find the dog to be pit bull type.
In the court.
Court is often a bizarre experience for an onlooker. Expert witnesses will take the stand in hearings that often take two or more days to hear fully and discuss each point in turn. The very serious topic of dangerous dogs is stripped down to the bare bones, quite literally. The experts will state whether in their opinion the shape of the eyes is correct, whether the coat is a single coat or not. They will argue over whether a tail is pump handled when relaxed.
They will all produce pictures to try and prove their point. Interpretation of each point will be argued. The dog will be weighed and measured and all will be noted and scored. The Judge will then have to decide if the defence have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the dog isn’t a prohibited type. It is not up to the prosecution in Section One cases, to prove the dog is a pit bull type to obtain a guilty verdict.
So there we have it. That’s what a pit bull type aka “dangerous dog” is in the UK legal system today. It's any dog that a judge believes scores enough points, mainly in conformation, on a breed standard that is no longer used in that exact form as a standard for that breed.
A freedom of information request submitted by DDA Watch to DEFRA revealed that there were 2,652 dogs exempted as pit bull types, 2 exempted as Japanese Tosa types, 4 exempted Dogo Argentino types and no Fila Brasiliero types exempted as of March 2014.
Now we have an understanding of just how complex “type” is we can go on to look at the actual legislation itself.
When the Act became law in 1991, many dogs suddenly became a banned dog. Owners were allowed to keep their dog if the dog was registered and followed certain restrictions to avoid death. Registered dogs were recorded with a Government nominated agency called the Index of Exempt Dogs.
The law initially enabled owner led registration (owner led meant the dog stayed with the owners during the registration process, there was no court involvement) but a deadline was given; after which the Index was closed and no further dogs could be added to it. The Index was closed in March 1992.
Dogs entered onto the register had to be:
Kept on a lead and muzzled at ALL times in a public place (Later defined as also including inside your car) Failure to register within the time limit or follow the restrictions resulted in an automatic death sentence if found guilty by the courts.
Between 1991 and 1997 the courts had no discretion when sentencing under this law. If a dog owner was prosecuted for owning an unregistered dog or a registered dog which had broken one of the rules, then the dog would be ordered to be destroyed by a court if found guilty - there wasn’t any other option available. With the confusion surrounding what was and was not a “pit bull type” many owners of cross breeds did not register their dogs while the Index was open. As the law became defined and the dogs seized, many cases of innocent friendly pet dogs were given a death sentence. Uproar against the Act followed and pressure brought to amend the law and in 1997 the law changed due to the introduction of the;
Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997
In 1997 the Dangerous Dogs Act was amended to give the courts discretionary power when sentencing. This meant that if a dog owner was to be prosecuted for owning an unregistered dog and found guilty by the court - the court can order the dog, if it is satisfied that the dog is of no danger to the public and the owner is a responsible owner, to be registered on the Index of Exempt Dogs as an alternative to being destroyed.
Dog owners are not able to themselves apply to register their dog onto the Index of Exempt Dogs, as this remained closed - only a court can make an order for registration.
The law today stands exactly as it did in 1997; there have been no further changes. The legislation still confuses many people as they fail to believe a law based mainly on a dog’s appearance can truly exist; but it does exist and it is the law. If an officer believes a dog is of “type” the following will happen.
(Amendments to the DDA are proposed in the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill which is expected to be passed as law in 2014)
If a dog is thought to look like a Pit Bull type it CAN (and WILL before court) be seized. If you are with the dog in a public place, police or officers authorised by a local authority (for example a Dog Warden) can seize your dog without warrant. Your dog may be on a lead and may or may not be muzzled. Your dog may be with the owner or someone else. Neither the dog nor the owner needs to have done anything in order for an officer to seize the dog. The officer just needs to think your dog MAY be 'f a prohibited type'.
If your dog is in your home (private property) officers need a warrant to search and seize (using such force as is reasonably necessary) and seize any dog or other thing, which may be evidence of an offence. If a justice of the peace is satisfied by information on oath that their are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has been or will be committed - a warrant may be issued and officers will then have a warrant before visiting. Without a warrant you are within your rights to refuse entry. It must be pointed out however, that refusing entry will not stop your dog being taken. Officers will simply get a warrant and return. Whether you refuse entry or not is your choice. If you allow officers access to your property and they believe a dog on that property is of “type” they may seize the dog under the Criminal Evidence Act without warrant.
Officers do NOT need to have proof your dog is ' Type' before they seize it. They just need to believe it could be. In some cases an appointed Breed I.D Expert will be in attendance to examine your dog and may deem your dog to NOT be 'Type' allowing your dog to remain at home with you. It is advisable to note the officers name, collar number, time, date and any other useful information you can, should you be approached again at a later stage.
Whether your dog is seen by an appointed Expert or not, if the officer feels the dog may be of type, they can seize your dog. You do not need to be at home for an officer with a warrant to enter your home and seize any dog they believe to be of the 'Type'. A warrant gives them the right to force entry and seize any dog even if you are not present.
The police or any other relevant authority cannot destroy your dog for being 'Type' without your consent or a court order made by a judge. If you do not wish for your dog to be destroyed you do not have to give consent. Without your consent the relevant authority would need to make an application to the court for a destruction order. This will not automatically result in destruction and could result in your dog being placed on the Index of Exempt Dogs and allowed to return home.
Seek qualified legal assistance immediately. Contact us for advice and support. If your dog is seized it is normal for you to have very little information. It is unlikely you will be told where your dog is being kept or be allowed to visit.
The authority dealing with your case will often only contact you if there is something to tell you regarding your case. This is possibly the hardest part for most dog owners missing out on their dogs day to day life.
Whilst in kennels, whoever has the responsibility for your dog also has a duty of care towards them, to ensure they are kept safe and well. This means your dog should have adequate food, water, exercise and receive veterinary treatment if needed. If your dog needs worming, vaccination boosters or any other medication you must inform the relevant person/authority and they must ensure your dog receives that treatment. It is wise to follow up any requests in writing and keep a record of any correspondence.
Once taken your dog will need to be seen by an appointed Breed I.D. expert who will examine the dog to see if it does, in his opinion, fall within the bracket of 'Pit Bull Type’. It can take several weeks for an Expert to see your dog. During this time your dog will remain in kennels. If, after examination, the I.D expert deems your dog not to fulfil the characteristics of a Pit Bull Type, your dog will be returned to you without charge. You should not incur any costs.
If the I.D expert deems your dog to be ' Pit Bull Type' you will be contacted and informed of their findings. You may well be asked if you wish to consent to your dogs destruction. You do not have to do so. As before, without your consent or without a court order, your dog cannot be destroyed. If you do not give consent you will be taken to court and the court will decide whether or not your dog is of ‘Type’. If found guilty of owning a dog that fits “type”, the court can order registration or destruction.
It is very important you seek qualified legal advice before you go to court, the life of your dog may well depend upon it. Once a dog has been accused of being an unregistered 'Pit Bull Type' and destruction isn't consented to by the owner, legal proceedings may follow. There are two 'routes' open to the authorities to proceed to court under BSL as shown in “Dangerous Dogs Act - An overview”.
While care has been taken to ensure information is correct it must be noted that this site should be considered a guide only. If you find yourself affected by legislation you must seek legal representation. Information given is for England and Wales only. Legislation in Scotland and N. Ireland may differ.