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

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 31 October 2022.

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)
  • Nick Clasper, 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 seventh meeting of the group, and advised that the Royal Mail and SCSN representatives had passed on their apologies for the meeting.

The Chair informed the group that following Ms Regan’s resignation, no replacement as Minister for Community Safety has yet been announced. SG officials will take the opportunity, as part of wider introductory briefs produced to support the introduction to justice and safer communities portfolio, to ensure that the next Minister is brought up to speed with the work of this group.


  • SG officials will provide update to next Minister

Policy options discussion paper – dog licensing/dog owner registration scheme

A guest speaker from the Northern Ireland Dog Advisory Group had been invited to attend today’s meeting to talk about the dog licensing system in place in Northern Ireland. However they were unable to attend. The SG will invite counterparts from Northern Ireland to the next meeting of the working group.


  • SG officials to invite colleagues from Northern Ireland to next meeting

The Chair would be keen to know if the dog licensing system in place in Northern Ireland has led to a reduction in dog attacks etc.

The SG previously sought views on dog licensing through a public consultation in 2014 on microchipping and other measures. The majority of consultation respondents were opposed to the reintroduction of a dog licensing scheme.

The Chair also informed the group that dog licensing is not an issue that the SG receives much correspondence on. However he was keen to hear the views of group members.

The SSPCA representative would want any licensing system, if introduced, to hold dog owners legally accountable for their dogs. However he had concerns that introducing a licensing system would penalise the vast majority of dog owners who’s pets do not cause any problems.

The SSPCA representatives view is that a dog simply being licensed doesn’t stop that dog from being dangerous. He therefore could not see any real benefit of a licensing system in regard to dangerous dogs policy, and felt that the reintroduction of a licensing scheme could be seen as overkill by the general public, who may not see it as proportionate or fair

The CWU representative was in favour of introducing a dog licensing scheme. He advised that he had worked with the Northern Ireland Government and local authorities on dog licensing matters in the past. A dog licence in Northern Ireland costs £12.50 (annually), with reduced licence fees for some dog owners.

The CWU representative advised that the money received from the dog licensing scheme in Northern Ireland is ring fenced for dog control policy issues.

The CWU representative also asked that the minutes of the meeting noted his thanks and appreciation for the work that Ms Regan did in her role as Minister for Community Safety.

SB would also be supportive of a licensing/registration scheme. But recognised that there may be issues with enforcement of any such scheme.

SB provided examples of other licensing regimes such as alcohol and taxi licensing and the payment of fees by licence holders that help to administer and enforce these licencing regimes. SB put forward that it is in the interest of all licence holders that the ‘bad people’ are tackled.

SB suggested that it would be beneficial if a dog licence contained conditions. For example, ‘your dog will not be dangerously out of control’. It would therefore be a breach of a licence if this condition was broken. This would mean that the licence was more than just permission to have a dog, it would also place responsibilities on dog owners.

SB could also see the benefit in a dog licence identifying who the registered keeper/owner of a dog was. This would help to identify who was legally responsible for the dog. This may, for example, encourage dog owners not to leave their dogs in the care of someone who isn’t capable of looking after the dog and keeping it under proper control etc.

The Chair informed the group that the latest statistics from the national dog control notice (DCN) database indicated that there are just over 1,000 live DCNs in place across Scotland.

The Police Scotland representative queried what exactly it was we were seeking to achieve with a dog licence. He gave the example of an air weapons licence, which includes a fit and proper person test. He also echoed the earlier comments from SB in relation to placing conditions in a licence. Doing so would show owners they have legal obligations as a dog owner.

In response the Chair put forward that the key aim of any licensing regime would be to keep our communities safe, and lower the number of dog attacks/incidents.

SB highlighted air weapons and fireworks as two recent examples of issues that historically were not licenced, but public perceptions had changed. Leading to the introduction of licensing regimes for both. SB suggested that there may well be public appetite for dog licensing now.

In response the Chair advised that any policy proposals from the SG would be subject to public consultation.

[Redacted] from COPFS could see the benefit of a dog licence database that contained accurate information about the legal owners of dogs. This would be of assistance to COPFS. However he would also be wary of any possible unintended consequences. For example, if a dog isn’t licenced, would the dog’s owner be less likely to take that dog to the vet when it was unwell.

Further if a dog licencing scheme was introduced, consideration would have to be given as to what age a dog would be legally required to be licenced. For example, would dog breeders be required to licence a puppy. Which would mean that ownership details would have to be updated on the licence when the puppy was sold.

[Redacted] also queried whether bodies such as the SSPCA would require a dog licence for every dog in their care, or would a blanket licence be sufficient. Also, would all current dog owners require a licence when a licensing scheme was introduced, or would it just be new dog owners from a certain ‘start date’.

The Chair advised that these were all issues that would have to be worked though in due course if a dog licensing scheme was to be introduced.

[Redacted] from COPFS queried whether there would be scope for a dog licence application to be refused. If that is unlikely then a dog registration scheme is perhaps more appropriate than a dog licence scheme. 

With that in mind, it was suggested that instead of a new scheme, maybe the answer is that the current microchipping scheme needs to be better enforced. [Redacted] had never seen a case about a dog not being microchipped coming before her at COPFS and was of the opinion that we are not utilising the regulatory framework (microchipping) that we already have in place. If such schemes are not enforced, then the point of them has to be questioned.

In response the Chair advised that this was the reason that he was keen to hear from colleagues in Northern Ireland about their dog licensing scheme. Such a meeting would provide members of the working group with an opportunity to ask questions about the impact and success or otherwise of the scheme. This would then help to inform the policy position taken by the SG.

[Redacted] proposed that instead of licensing dog owners, another option to consider would be a licensing scheme for dog breeders.

In response the Chair informed the group that he would contact animal welfare colleagues in the SG that lead on dog breeding to have an exploratory conversation about this.


  • SG officials will contact SG animal welfare colleagues

Looking ahead, the Chair suggested that it was important to consider how we would gauge the success of any licensing regime. Further, it would also be important to consider if the necessary resources are in place to ensure that any licensing scheme is effective.

On the issue of resources, the Chair provided the group with information about the funding that the SG had awarded to two local authorities to fund recruitment of additional dog warden staff to help enforce the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. This is an 18 month pilot to gauge if additional resource provided in such a manner helped to reduce the number of dog attacks/incidents in both local authority areas. However given the current economic difficulties, the SG could not give any assurances about guaranteed funding after the pilot scheme had finished.

LM from COPFS introduced herself to the working group, this was the first meeting of the group that she had attended.

LM suggested that the group needed to consider how any licensing regime would reduce dangerously out of control dogs. Other issues to consider include, how people would pay for a licence; would a person have to pass a fit and proper test to qualify for a licence; would it be a criminal offence not to hold a licence if you are a dog owner; would responsibility for investigating such matters be for the police or local authorities; would rough sleepers who have dogs as companions face penalties if not licenced.

In response the Chair advised that as with the other similar questions put forward at today’s meeting, these would all be issues that would need to be thought through.

Any other business

The SSPCA representative recommended that it was important to remember that a major purpose of this working group was to find ways of preventing certain people from obtaining certain dogs. He was of the opinion that such irresponsible people would not buy a dog licence. Therefore the benefit of any licensing system was questionable. He was of the opinion that the microchipping scheme, if properly enforced, offered more benefit.

LM from COPFS raised an issue in relation to any possible dog licensing regime. LM queried if someone was looking after a friends dog, would that person who was looking after the dog have committed an offence by assuming temporary responsibility for a dog if they did not have a dog licence themselves. For example, in an emergency scenario where someone goes into hospital, and the friend is responsible for a dog, would there be a reasonable excuse for not having a licence, or could a licence be applied for retrospectively.

In response the Chair highlighted that the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny (PAPLS) Committee, when looking at the 2010 Act during the last session of parliament, had also raised a handful of issues in relation to the 1991 Act. One of which was the issue of strict liability.

The CWU representative was open to any ideas that improved the current situation. The CWU continues to have concerns about lack of enforcement of the current legislation. The CWU want to see the law enforced and courts taking action.

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