Attendees and apologies
- Jim Wilson, Scottish Government (SG), Justice (Chair)
- Adam Sinclair, SG, Justice
- Mike Flynn, Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
- Dave Joyce, Communication Workers Union (CWU)
- Michael Munn, Royal Mail
- Iain Sadler, Police Scotland
- [Redacted], Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
- [Redacted], COPFS
- [Redacted], Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed working group members to the fifth meeting of the group. As this was the first group meeting that the DEFRA representative had attended the Chair invited everyone to introduce themselves. The Chair also provided a brief run through of the history of the working group.
The Chair advised that the SG has now responded to the recent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) request for information in relation to the working group. The SG has provided SPICe with the Terms of Reference for the group, as well as the minutes of all previous meetings of the group. As requested, the names of Police Scotland and COPFS officials have been redacted from these documents.
The Chair informed the group that the data from Public Health Scotland (PHS) which shows recorded NHS ‘attendances with dog bites diagnosis’ management information, which is provided by PHS to the SG was generally not for public release.
Policy options discussion paper - breed specific legislation (BSL) in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (“the 1991 Act”)
The Chair set out that the focus of this meeting was to look at the current BSL at section 1 of the 1991 Act. The Chair invited working group members to speak about the comments they had provided to the SG in relation to BSL on the policy options discussion paper.
The Royal Mail representative is of the opinion that BSL is a distraction from what they see as the real issue, which is the suitability of the dog owner, and whether or not they should be permitted to own a dog. He also suggested that there is no clear evidence that one breed of dog is more dangerous than any other.
The CWU highlighted the previous evidence provided by the CWU to both DEFRA and the Scottish Parliament Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny (PAPLS) Committee on this issue. The CWU do not support BSL, and also see it as a distraction. Similar to the Royal Mail, CWU consider the real issue to be irresponsible dog owners, not the breed of the dog.
The CWU also do not believe that adding further breeds of dogs to the banned list in the BSL will solve the problem. CWU highlighted that of 58 fatalities following dog attacks, the numbers involving banned breeds were not in double figures. The CWU emphasised that they want to see legislation and enforcement in place to deal with bad ownership.
Police Scotland highlighted that the current need to prove the breed of dog involved in an incident creates issues for the police. It was suggested that the behaviour of the animal while with the owner/person in charge of the animal is the main issue, whereas the type/breed of dog was not such an issue.
The SSPCA representative was of the opinion that the 1991 Act does not adequately protect the public at present. He considered it absurd that people can end up in court based on how their dog looks, and suggested that it is the person that is in control of the dog that is the issue, rather than the breed. The SSPCA representative would be in favour of scrapping BSL, and increasing the penalties at section 3 of the 1991 Act (keeping dogs under proper control).
[Redacted] from COPFS acknowledged the points made by group members. She advised that it was rare for her to see section 1 offences in court. Rather the vast majority of cases she sees are section 3.
She suggested that perhaps section 1 of the 1991 Act had worked, by limiting those problematic breeds. COPFS would be concerned about the message given to the public if the SG allowed the re-introduction of banned breeds. COPFS are of the opinion that preventive measures such as section 1 of the 1991 Act are important to ensure that legislation works.
The Chair acknowledged the points made by group members that any dog has the potential to be a dangerous dog. However he suggested that there is a need to consider this issue in a holistic way. We cannot have an over reliance on criminal convictions. As tougher penalties are not the sole solution to tackling issues regarding irresponsible dog ownership and attacks by dogs that are dangerously out of control.
The SSPCA representative acknowledged the political sensitivity of repealing the BSL. However he felt that there was a lack of public confidence in the 1991 Act at present.
The DEFRA representative highlighted that across the UK there are just over 3,500 dogs registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs. Of those, 11 are in Scotland.
The conversation turned to the potential risk from large breeds of dogs. With a suggestion put forward that the SG should consider legislation in relation to large breeds of dogs.
However the Chair felt that there would be difficulties in defining in legislation what was and wasn’t a dangerous large breed of dog.
[Redacted] from COPFS suggested that the size/weight of the dog shouldn’t have a bearing on whether or not it was considered to be dangerous. He was though in favour of retaining BSL, and would be in favour of expanding it to a three tier system. With dogs in tier one banned outright, dogs in tier two being those breeds of dogs where owners have to take certain actions, such as keeping the dog on a lead or muzzled, and tier three being all remaining dog breeds. He also agreed with the earlier comments from the SSPCA, that it would be a brave politician that repealed BSL.
In response the Chair advised that feedback from other stakeholders not on this working group was mixed when it came to the issue of BSL. With some in favour of repeal, and others wanting to see additional dog breeds added to BSL.
The Royal Mail representative acknowledged the points made by COPFS in relation to retaining BSL. However he was also of the opinion that the law needed to change, and suggested that new legislation should impose an obligation on owners to take positive steps to ensure that their dog does not injure someone.
The Chair raised the issue of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, where the focus was on the ‘deed not the breed’.
The CWU strongly hold the view that the focus should be on the ‘deed not the breed’. The CWU highlighted that of the last 15 fatalities as a result of a dog attack, six of those had been caused by the American Bully XL breed of dog, a dog that is not covered by the BSL.
The CWU representative suggested that rather than focusing on dog breeds, it needs to be the irresponsible dog owners that are dealt with. He also felt that the legislation needs to be easier to understand and enforce.
Police Scotland agreed with the earlier comments from COPFS that repealing the BSL at section 1 of the 1991 Act would send out the wrong message.
ER from COPFS raised the issue of the surge in dog ownership during the pandemic, and the subsequent increase in the amount of dogs that are now being walked in public parks etc. This can have an effect on those members of the public who are anxious around dogs. The suggestion was put forward that the SG may therefore want to consider legislation that requires dogs to be kept on a lead or muzzled in certain circumstances.
The Chair reiterated his earlier point that we should not over rely on legislation. Further, any future legislative change will also need to be well publicized, perhaps through a responsible dog ownership campaign.
The CWU raised the issue of placing strict responsibility on dog owners as to the behaviour of their dogs. The strongly held view of the CWU is that owners being ‘surprised’ by the behaviour of their dog is not a reasonable excuse. Owners have a duty of care, and need to exercise that duty of care. It should not be a defence that the dog has never done something like that before.
The issue of dog owner insurance was raised by CWU, As previously mentioned at earlier meetings of the working group, the CWU highlighted that Dogs Trust membership includes third party public liability insurance for their dog.
It was noted that the Dogs Trust team that deals with insurance is a small team of just three people. They are not necessarily going to be in a position to insure hundreds of thousands of dogs.
On this issue of dog owner insurance, [Redacted] from COPFS highlighted that insurance regimes will impose certain conditions that dog owners need to comply with without the need for this to be done via legislation. The SSPCA confirmed that dog owner insurance does include conditions.
Update from DEFRA
The official from DEFRA advised the group that in December 2021, DEFRA published research in collaboration with Middlesex University investigating measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible dog ownership across all breeds of dog.
The research considers the effectiveness of current dog control measures and makes several recommendations relating to consistency in enforcement practice and greater use of preventative enforcement models, improved knowledge and awareness of appropriate behaviour around dogs, and improved data recording and collection.
In response to this research, DEFRA recently established a responsible dog ownership project involving police, local authorities and animal welfare organisations. This is actively developing reforms in relation to each of the four main strands of the Middlesex report. Conclusions and policy reform recommendations are expected next year. These should address all aspects of tackling irresponsible dog ownership effectively, from prevention to robust, consistent enforcement, focussing on owners as well as on their dogs.
DEFRA officials remain in close liaison with SG officials to update them on the direction of travel of the responsible dog ownership project, and receive updates on the progress of the SG review of the 1991 Act.
Any other business
No matters were raised by group members.
The SG will circulate a minute of this meeting to group members.
- SG to circulate Minutes
Date of next meeting
The next meeting is due to take place on 27 September 2022.
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