Dangerous Dogs Act – Short Life Working Group minutes: December 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 16 December 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Jim Wilson, Scottish Government (SG), Justice (Chair)
  • Adam Sinclair, SG, Justice
  • [Redacted], Northern Ireland Dog Advisory Group
  • Mike Flynn, Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
  • [Redacted], Police Scotland
  • Morag Lister (ML), Police Scotland
  • Geoff Smith (GS), Police Scotland
  • Lisa Marshall (LM), Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • [Redacted], COPFS
  • [Redacted], COPFS
  • Scott Blair (SB), Advocate, Edinburgh
  • Dave Joyce, Communication Workers Union (CWU)

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed working group members to the eighth meeting of the group.

Following round table introductions, the Chair invited the guest speaker from the Northern Ireland Dog Advisory Group (NIDAG) to talk to the group about the dog licensing system in place in Northern Ireland.

Dog licensing regime in Northern Ireland

The NIDAG guest speaker is the Principal Environmental Health Officer at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

The dog licensing regime has been in place in Northern Ireland since 1983 (The Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983), with legislation making changes to aspects of the licensing regime in 2011. Local councils are the prosecuting authorities, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) having no enforcement role in relation to dangerous dogs.

In Northern Ireland it is an offence to own an unlicensed dog, with some exceptions. A dog licence costs £12.50 a year. However a concessionary licence, at a cost of £5, is also available for some dog owners. It was suggested that if the SG was to proceed with a dog licencing regime of its own then the SG would want to consider the merit of offering a concessionary fee, when the ‘full price cost’ is already so little. The concessionary fee creates a considerable amount of work for councils. In the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area, some 60% of dog licences are a concessionary licence. With the income from the circa 20,000 dog licences issued per year being approximately £120,000.

In addition to the basic dog licence, other forms of dog licence include the ‘block licence’. In certain circumstances, the owner of three or more dogs kept on the same premises may apply for a ‘block licence’ at an annual fee of £32.

There is also a separate dog breeders licence. Further information about that licence can be found on the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) website.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is also involved in the green dog walkers scheme. This is a UK wide community-based campaign to change attitudes about dog fouling.

The guest speaker highlighted that in the Republic of Ireland it is possible to buy a lifetime dog licence for your dog, at a cost of €140, and would like to see a similar lifetime licence made available in Northern Ireland. A lifetime licence is useful for dog owners, and would also reduce council administrative costs.

The Chair was keen to know if the licensing regime has had a positive impact on reducing the level of issues/incidents reported to councils.

In response the guest speaker suggested that one of the main benefits is ability to attach control conditions to a licence following an alleged attack which can include: (a) that the dog be securely fitted with a muzzle sufficient to prevent the dog biting any person when in a public place; (b) that the dog be kept under control when in a public place; (c) that the dog (when not under control) be kept securely confined in a building, yard or other enclosure; (d) that the dog be excluded from any place, or any type of place, specified in the notice; (e) that the dog (if male) be neutered before the end of the period of 30 days from the date on which the notice takes effect; and (f) that the keeper, with the dog, attend and complete a specified course of training in the control of dogs before the end of the period of 6 months from the date on which the notice takes effect.

The guest speaker advised that officials in the Republic of Ireland are also now considering introducing similar control conditions.

Conversation turned to dog control orders in Northern Ireland, with the guest speaker explaining that these relate to public places, and issues such as dog fouling. Further information is available on the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council website.

The group were advised that the DAERA publishes annual statistics on a range of dog related topics, including dog licensing, dog attacks and dog warden enforcement actions across Northern Ireland. Those statistics can be viewed on the DAERA website.

In the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area some 300 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) are issued per annum. The council has a strict enforcement policy. The FPN is £80, although that drops to £50 if paid within 10 days.

To encourage dog owners to renew their dog licence in time, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council send texts to owners 2 weeks before the licence is due to expire to remind them of this. The council also send out texts 2 weeks after the expiry date of the licence to remind owners that they should renew. The council will also send letter reminders to those who have not provided a mobile telephone number following the same timescale.

The Chair asked if the licensing regime had led to a reduction in the number of citizens admitted to accident and emergency as a consequence of a dog bite/attack.

In response the guest speaker advised that she did not hold such statistics. However in the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area there are, per annum, less than 50 attacks reported/investigated. With 20,000 licences issued, this means that just 0.0025% of licensed dogs are reported/investigated.

The guest speaker is of the opinion that the licence greatly assists investigations, it helps to quickly identify ownership, and it allows the council to add control conditions to the licenced dog. The licensing regime has also proven helpful in animal welfare investigations.

The Chair asked if there were any plans to make changes to the licensing regime in Northern Ireland. In response the guest speaker advised that the NIDAG had actually written to DAERA to request a review of current dog control legislation, in particular the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983.

In response to a query about how much the regime costs to administer, the guest speaker advised that this information is available in the statistical information provided on the DAERA website. With regard to income, the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council receives approximately £120,000 in licence income. While across the country the total income received is £1,000,000.

On the issue of how quickly cases are dealt with, the guest speaker informed the group that there is a six month statutory time bar in place in Northern Ireland, which means that council officials have that length of time to have the investigation completed and any summons served.

The SSPCA representative asked about strict liability, for example if a licence holder allowed someone else to walk their dog and the dog attacked someone, who would be held responsible. The guest speaker advised that an exemption would kick in, so there was no strict liability in such cases.

ML from Police Scotland raised the issue of kennelling. In response the guest speaker advised that her council uses two private kennel providers. The kennels are not council run.

The group were also informed that there is an information sharing agreement in place between all 11 councils in Northern Ireland. This means that, for example, information about a person who is disqualified from owing a dog can be quickly shared between council areas if that person changes address.

The Chair advised the guest speaker that across Scotland resourcing is one of the biggest issues facing councils. The Chair provided an example of a visit to Dundee earlier this year by SG officials to meet with the dog warden team there. The city of Dundee is covered by just two dog wardens. Meanwhile Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, has faced difficulties trying to recruit dog wardens. This is likely to remain an issue across the country.

SB asked if there was a national dog licence register in place in Northern Ireland. In response the guest speaker advised that there is no national register, instead each council has its own database. Councils will provide some limited information in relation to the dog licence regime (this will not include personal information such as names and addresses of licence holders) if someone requests it from the council, but this information is not proactively made available.

In response to a question about the specified course of training that a dog owner can be ordered to undertake, the guest speaker advised that two specific dog behaviourists are used for the training.

The guest speaker informed the group that the council also works with local veterinary practices to help to raise awareness of the need for all dogs to be licensed. The vets will inform dog owners of this when they bring their pet in to the veterinary practice for microchipping etc. There is no evidence to suggest that people who have not licensed their dogs are not taking their pets to the vet for treatment.

Following a discussion about what happens if a dog is given to a new owner, the CWU representative advised that in Northern Ireland transfer of ownership needs to be notified as part of the dog licence scheme.

The guest speaker also informed the group that dog attacks on other pets are covered by the legislation in place in Norther Ireland. If a dog attacks and injures another person’s pet, the owner is guilty of an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.

The CWU representative is of the opinion that enforcement of the law is the most effective method of compliance. However he was concerned about a reduction in the number of dog wardens across Scotland due to council budget pressures.

In response the Chair suggested that having new laws will only take us so far. How to deliver and enforce any new laws will also have to be carefully considered.

Following queries from group members, the guest speaker confirmed that the PSNI has no enforcement role in relation to dangerous dogs. However the council does have a good working relationship with local police teams, with council Environmental Health Officers working closely with the police when necessary.

Any other business

The CWU representative informed the group that there has been a recent article in the Guardian about dog attacks. He will share this with the group.


  • CWU to share article from Guardian newspaper

The date of the next meeting will follow in due course.


  • SG officials will provide group with date of next meeting
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