The suggested reforms to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 would see a dramatic extension of the maximum sentence for the owners of dogs who seriously injure or kill people or guide dogs, which currently stands at two years in prison and an unlimited fine.
The changes would be added into the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is currently being debated in Parliament.
The consultation, which runs until September 1, follows recent efforts to expand the remit of the Act to include dog attacks on all private property, rather than the current system where only incidents occurring in public or private land where the animals were prohibited.
While only 16 people have been killed in dog attacks since 2005, the number of guide dogs attacked has risen to a record high of ten a month and the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) claims 23,000 postal workers have been attacked in the past five years, 70 per cent of which were on private property and hence could not lead to prosecution.
The Government states in the consultation it believes life sentences for some of the more serious aggravated attacks would be “disproportionate”, with death caused by careless or dangerous driving punishable with maximum sentences of five and 14 years.
However, it claimed the consensus was current sentencing limits were too low and with offenders convicted of using a dog as a weapon to commit manslaughter or murder already able to receive life sentences, it is consulting the public to determine the correct level of deterrent.
Lord de Mauley, animal welfare minister, said: “Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control. We are already toughening-up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It is crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents.”
Dave Joyce, national health and safety officer for the CWU, welcomed the proposals and said: “Current sentencing arrangements do not match the serious nature of offences. Only one person has ever been imprisoned for a dog attack on a postal worker when the postman was nearly killed but the sentence was just four and a half months. As the number of dog attacks and number of fatalities continues to grow, sentencing must get tougher to deal with irresponsible, negligent dog owners.”