Attendees and apologies
- Jim Wilson, Scottish Government (SG), Justice (Chair)
- Adam Sinclair, SG, Justice
- Mike Flynn, Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
- Dave Joyce, Communication Workers Union (CWU)
- Dawn Exley, Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN)
- Michael Munn, Royal Mail
- Iain Sadler, Police Scotland
- Scott Blair, Advocate, Edinburgh
- [Redacted], Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
- [Redacted], COPFS
- Nicola Robison, Police Scotland
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed members to the second meeting of the working group.
Outstanding actions from last meeting
Make-up/membership of the working group – at the last meeting a suggestion was floated on the opportunity to consider bringing in a veterinary specialist who deals with dangerous dogs matters. The group agreed the suggestion should be considered by the SG.
- SG officials to contact SG Animal Welfare policy colleagues to explore further
Literature (LIT) Review of dangerous dogs/dog control criminal law measures applied in other countries/jurisdictions
In order to help inform consideration of policy options, SG Justice Analytical Services have undertaken a LIT review of dangerous dogs/dog control criminal law measures applied in 15 countries/jurisdictions.
The Chair informed the working group that the final draft of the report has now been received by SG policy, and provided a brief overview of the key findings.
Breed-specific legislation and breed bans
Most of the countries/jurisdictions included in this review have breed-specific legislation; and many also combine breed-specific legislation with other/wider dogs-related measures, such as dog licensing and microchipping.
Sweden appears to be unique in that it has never had breed-specific legislation; instead, it is prohibited in Sweden to own or breed dogs that are: 1) exceptionally aggressive; 2) irritable and bite; 3) difficult to restrain once they have started an attack; and 4) inclined to direct their aggression at people or other dogs.
In 2009, the Netherlands moved away from breed-specific legislation, putting in place an alternative approach which focuses on the risks posed by individual rather than breeds/types of dogs.
Dog owner liability and prosecution in the case of dog bites/attacks
Six of the 15 countries/jurisdictions appear to have strict owner liability, and many American states also seem to follow this approach, although there is a particular lack of research available on summarising liability in America and there also appear to be key differences in how strict liability is interpreted and applied in the various states.
Other issues covered in LIT review report
The LIT review also looks at issues with wider/additional dog control measures, including dog licensing, registration, microchipping, lead/leash rules, and owner-focused penalties, as well as public engagement and owner-focused activities and campaigns.
The SG aims to share the final version of LIT review report with working group members within 7 days of this meeting.
- SG to e-mail LIT review
The Chair also placed on record his thanks to SG Justice Analytical Service’s colleagues for the work undertaken to produce the LIT review report.
At the first meeting of the working group on 22 March, the key work areas identified within the Terms of Reference for the group were discussed. Following that meeting a draft policy options discussion paper was circulated by the SG to group members for comment. The aim of the discussion paper was to help assess what each of the key work areas mean in practice, with a view to identifying opportunities for change.
The Chair asked that all group members provide their written comments on the draft policy options discussion paper to the SG. Each member of the group agreed to provide their written comments within 3 weeks of this meeting.
- All – written comments required by 10 May 2022
The Chair emphasised that it was important to start flushing out the main points worthy of discussion, for example the pros and cons of changing a specific bit of the law. Working group members were therefore invited to provide as much detail as they thought necessary when providing their comments on the policy options discussion paper. The Chair expected the comments received to then trigger further discussion and debate.
The Chair also reiterated that the aim of this working group was to support and inform policy thinking on prospective changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (“the 1991 Act”). The agreed policy options would then be presented to the Minister for Community Safety, with a view to public consultation in 2023, and to legislation within this Parliamentary session.
The Chair invited group members to comment on the policy options discussion paper. In response members advised that they were broadly content with the paper.
A number of specific issues were also highlighted by members as matters that should be considered as part of the review of the 1991 Act.
Issues raised included the breed specific legislation (BSL) in the 1991 Act. With a number of group members agreeing that this was an area that the group should look at. The CWU in particular consider BSL to be a distraction. With postal workers facing attack by a wide variety of dogs, not only banned breeds. Group members agreed that any dog can be aggressive and cause problems, not just certain breeds.
The two working group members from Police Scotland advised that they would coordinate their response to the discussion paper to the SG.
- Police Scotland to provide response
In response to a query from the SCSN, the Chair confirmed that prior to the planned formal consultation in 2023 it was expected that there would be the opportunity to have informal consultation/engagement with bodies such as the law society, and also local authority representatives who sit on the SG led working group on dog control – under the umbrella of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) 2010 Act ("the 2010 Act").
The group agreed that the SG should approach their counterparts in the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to see if an official from DEFRA would be available to join a future meeting of this working group to talk about what is happening in England.
- SG to contact DEFRA
In response, the CWU provided the group with a brief update on what they believed to be the current policy position in other parts of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland the Executive has no plans at present to do anything on dangerous dogs. Meanwhile the Welsh Government has referred the matter to DEFRA, allowing DEFRA to deal with dangerous dog policy matters in England and Wales together.
The CWU were of the opinion that this review of the 1991 Act by the SG therefore provided an opportunity for the SG to be seen to be leading the way.
The CWU highlighted the issue of strict liability, confirming their support for a law change so that dog owners are held responsible for the actions of their dogs regardless of the owner’s prior knowledge about the dog’s (dangerous) behaviour and the owner’s prior control (or lack thereof) of their dog.
The COPFS confirmed that they are committed to prosecuting as many dangerous dog cases as possible. But are aware that in such cases the dog owner will often say that their dog has never acted in such a way before.
The Chair advised the group that the SG will need a strong evidence base to support any policy changes. It was therefore important to see if data was available that supported legislative change.
In response to further issues raised by the CWU about how the law operates at present, the Chair advised that it was likely that the SG would be looking at a number of legislative changes in the planned bill.
The CWU also highlighted Police Scotland’s response to the Scottish Parliament Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee call for evidence in relation to the 2010 Act during the last session of Parliament. The SG will share that Police Scotland paper with these minutes for information.
- SG – link to minutes is provided
Other issues raised included whether it would be possible to introduce a new licensing system for particular types of dogs to help to act as a deterrent to people purchasing specific breeds.
The length of time that some dogs are kept in kennels as they await the outcome of court cases was also highlighted by the SSPCA.
There was also concern that the law remains reactive, rather than proactive. In response a suggestion was put forward that this review of legislation presented an opportunity for the law to clearly set out that dog owners should be required to take reasonable steps to prevent their dog from causing harm to someone.
The SG will arrange for the figures that they receive from Public Health Scotland (PHS) which show recorded NHS ‘attendances with dog bites diagnosis’ to be circulated to the group. Working group members are asked not to circulate the figures any wider, they are shared in confidence.
- SG to share PHS data with group
Any other business
No matters were raised under any other business.
Date of next meeting
The next meeting is scheduled for 24 May 2022.
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