Attendees and apologies
- Jim Wilson (Chair), Scottish Government (SG), Justice
- Adam Sinclair (AS), SG, Justice
- Mike Flynn (MF), Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
- Lisa Marshall (LM), Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
- [Redacted], COPFS
- Dave Joyce (DJ), Communication Workers Union (CWU)
- Dawn Exley (DE), Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN)
- [Redacted], Police Scotland
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed working group members to the ninth meeting of the group. The Chair provided the group with an update on what has been happening within the SG.
Following the appointment of the new First Minister, Siobhian Brown MSP has been appointed as Minister for Victims and Community Safety. The chair has met with Ms Brown for an introductory discussion on the work of the licensing team, which includes dog control.
More generally, there has also been interest in dog control/dangerous dog matters from MSP’s. With enquiries for updates on the review of the 1991 Act received from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), as well as recent written parliamentary questions tabled in relation to dangerous dogs and dog control.
The Chair advised that Ms Brown has been provided with information about the work of this group and the review of the 1991 Act. Ms Brown will carefully consider the outputs from the working group discussions and will be meeting the Chair to discuss further.
The Chair suggested that a holistic joined up approach to tacking the dangerous dog issue is required. Legislation alone will not solve the problem. It is important to consider how best to ensure the current laws are being used as intended, and to look at ways of strengthening the operational response and approach to effectively tackle dog control issues across the country. SG officials recognise the impact on victims and health services when individuals have been attacked and injured by a dangerously out of control dog. SG officials also recognise the animal welfare impact, for example when dogs are kennelled for substantial periods of time. SG officials also appreciate the pressures placed on the SSPCA and other welfare bodies due to the significant number of dogs they are being asked to care for, with all group members recognising the challenges posed by an increasing dog population that rose significantly during the covid pandemic.
The Chair has met with SG marketing colleagues for an exploratory discussion on the potential for a new marketing campaign. While not guaranteed, and budget issues very much still to be considered, there may be the possibility of the SG carrying out a new campaign in 2024, but this would be subject to Ministerial consideration and agreement
The Chair also advised that SG officials are currently in the process of mapping out some regional engagement activity over the summer months to visit different parts of Scotland to discuss dog control issues with local council officials, policing colleagues, welfare reps etc. Support for these engagements from working group members would be welcomed.
Comments from group members
[Redacted] COPFS, suggested that the costs of prosecuting cases can be an issue, and provided an example of a case where a dog had been kennelled for some length of time. Before reaching a judgment the judge requested a dog behaviour report which cost £700.
In addition to court costs [Redacted] also highlighted the costs to the NHS of dealing with dog bites etc, and suggested that not doing anything to tackle the problem was false economy.
[Redacted] highlighted that many of the cases that she sees are cases where the dog attack happened in the ‘home’, and the victim was friends or family. In addition, the owners of the dog nearly always say that this is the first time that the dog has done anything like that. If the SG was to consider a fresh marketing campaign then this could be the focus of it.
The Chair advised that he had recently had a discussion with a well-known dog behaviourist to get their thoughts on the level of the dog control problem. The behaviourist had said that they having to turn away a significant number of potential new clients, due to their already busy workload.
MF, SSPCA, shared concerns about the costs of keeping dogs in kennels and the welfare impact on the animals. MF highlighted that the Animal Health & Welfare Act 2006 contains provisions that permit dogs to be released from kennels after a short period of time. Looking ahead, similar changes to the 1991 Act would be beneficial.
On the issue of the potential campaign, MF was keen to ensure that any campaign did not just focus on the perceived dangerous breeds.
MF also suggested that it would be helpful if it was made a legal requirement for all dog bites recorded by the NHS to be reported the police.
The Chair drew attention to the dog warden pilot scheme that the SG is funding at Perth and Kinross Council. The member of staff that the council has employed with the money that was made available has a social work background. This is an interesting approach and it has proven to be successful. The staff from the council are due to meet with the Minister for Victims and Community Safety later this month to discuss the pilot.
DJ, CWU, highlighted the impact that the CWU ‘Dog Bite Back Campaign’ had when it ran from 2007 – 2014. The biggest impact being that it helped to change the law so that the law now extends to private property, which is where most attacks on postal workers happen.
DJ remains concerned when group members make reference to costs being an issue. The CWU strongly believe that costs should not have a bearing on changes to law etc that would help to prevent people from being attacked by dogs.
DJ highlighted that there has been a lot of recent press interest on dog attacks. Press reports had suggested that the cost of dog attacks to the NHS across the UK is £71 million.
DJ also highlighted that the recent pay agreement between Royal Mail and CWU will mean that postal workers are going to be working later at night and seven days a week. Therefore increasing their potential exposure to dogs.
DJ informed the group that he will be meeting with Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) officials soon to discuss dangerous dogs and he has also been invited to address a Westminster All Party Group on dog control.
The Chair raised the issue of enforcement agencies understanding of the law in relation to dog attacks/dangerous dogs, pointing towards the joint protocol between Police Scotland and local authorities. There is still a requirement to ensure police officers and local authorities are clear on how dog control incidents should be assessed and dealt with.
In response [Redacted] Police Scotland, agreed that further education of police officers may be required. She will liaise with colleagues to see what can be done to ensure that all officers have knowledge of the control of dogs joint protocol between Police Scotland and Scottish local authorities.
The Police Scotland representative was keen for Police Scotland to support the regional engagement that SG officials are going to undertake over the summer. Perhaps through social media. And also agreed with the earlier comments from the Chair that a collaborative approach was needed to properly tackle the problems.
At the next meeting the Police Scotland representative will provide the group with an update on what action Police Scotland is taking to increase awareness of dog control/dangerous dog issues.
- Police Scotland to provide update at next meeting
On the issue of the planned regional engagement over the summer, the Chair advised that the SG was especially keen to have SSPCA and SCSN involved in engagements where possible.
Similarly, the Chair will arrange a separate call with DJ to discuss CWU’s possible involvement in the engagements.
- SG to arrange meeting with DJ
The SG was keen to ensure that the right people were round the table at each engagement. It is hoped that most engagement will be in person, with perhaps engagement with the Islands undertaken via MS Teams.
DE, SCSN, was happy to support the planned regional events, and agreed that a targeted regional approach was a good idea. DE suggested that some areas have a bigger problem than others, and they would be good ones to target. DE was disappointed however that timings for legislative change could not be set out and clarified at this time.
The Chair confirmed that SG officials will arrange one to one MS Teams calls with group members to discuss the regional engagement plans in more detail.
- SG to arrange meetings with group meetings
The Chair informed the group that SG staff resource situation is challenging, with two members of staff currently in the team that deals with dog control/dangerous dogs policy, among a range of other issues. However, a lot of good work has already been done. Including the establishment of the national dog control notice database; the awareness raising digital campaign to promote responsible dog ownership with the SSPCA; and the development and delivery of a dog warden training fund with a series of training events for dogs wardens successfully delivered.
SG officials do recognise that more work needs to be done. The SG remains open to consultation and legislation. The Chair highlighted the recent statement by the First Minister on the new policy prospectus, setting out how the SG will deliver for Scotland over the next 3 years.
The Chair was keen to ensure that this group continued to work together to consider multi-agency working opportunities, where appropriate, to help shape activities that will help to address dog control issues in our communities.
[Redacted] COPFS, raised the issue of dog breeding legislation. She would be keen to ensure that this is covered during any regional engagement. In response the Chair advised that he is in regular contact with colleagues from SG animal welfare, who lead on this policy issue.
For the regional engagement, [Redacted] advised that she will look into who are the best regional COPFS contacts for outlying areas, and inform the Chair.
- COPFS to provide SG with contact details for relevant staff
DJ expressed concern about Scottish Ministers perhaps not giving this issue the same attention as their predecessors. In addition to having a meeting with the Chair to discuss the planned regional engagement, DJ also wished to discuss the possibility of a meeting with the Minister for Victims and Community Safety.
JW advised that the Minister for Victims and Community Safety continues to meet officials to discuss a range of work, including dog control and would be open to meeting with DJ in the future.
The Chair highlighted that Merseyside has had significant issues in the past with dog control/dangerous dog issues. SG officials plan to speak with their counterparts in Merseyside to find out about their approach to tackling dog control issues. The SG is keen to seek examples of best practice from colleagues across the UK.
In response DJ advised that the Merseyside dog working group includes representatives from a number of bodies, including the police, council and CWU. DJ praised the Merseyside dog working group as a good networking group, and also highlighted that Merseyside police are one of the few police forces that prosecute every section 3 offence case.
Any other business
[Redacted] COPFS, highlighted a previous event with dog wardens that had been recorded, and suggested that this material may be of some use for a future campaign.
In response the Chair advised that the event referred to was one of the dog warden training events for local authority staff funded by the SG to help drive forward national improvement in local authority operational enforcement. A series of training events for council dog wardens were delivered by the Royal Environment Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).
MF was keen to know how many dog control notices (DCNs) in Scotland were not complied with. In response the Chair advised that the SG collects this information annually from councils. This information will be shared with the group.
- SG to provide DCN data to group
The date of the next meeting will follow in due course.
- SG to arrange next meeting
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback