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)
- Dawn Exley, Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN)
- Iain Sadler, Police Scotland
- [Redacted], Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
- [Redacted], COPFS
- Scott Blair (SB), Advocate, Edinburgh
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed working group members to the sixth meeting of the group, and advised that the Royal Mail and CWU representatives had passed on their apologies for today’s meeting.
Working group members were thanked for all of the work undertaken to this point. The SG has received over 60 pages of comments from working group members and other stakeholders in relation to the policy options discussion paper.
The Chair was of the opinion that the meetings are making good progress, but the work of the group is not yet done. The working group members agreed.
The Chair emphasised that ultimately any final policy proposals would be subject to approval by Ministers. SG officials met with the Minister for Community Safety last week to provide an update on issues in relation to control of dogs and dangerous dogs policy. The Minister had been keen to hear how this group was working.
It was also stressed to the working group that there should be a strong evidence base to support any potential reforms/law change. To assist with this, SG officials will be speaking with their Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) counterparts regarding management information and any available data on dog attacks, and to also discuss what action they may take in England.
The Chair referenced the SG Justice Analytical Services Literature (LIT) review of dangerous dogs/dog control criminal law measures applied in other countries and jurisdictions that was undertaken earlier this year. No stand out jurisdictions were identified in the report. This therefore represented an opportunity for the SG to be creative and innovative in its dangerous dogs/dog control policy going forward.
Policy options discussion paper – the use of ancillary orders by the courts
The primary focus of the meeting was to look at the use of ancillary orders by the courts. The Chair invited group members to speak about the comments they had provided to the SG in relation to this issue on the policy options discussion paper.
The SCSN representative was keen to know why courts are perhaps not utilising their powers to issue ancillary orders as part of sentencing. The SCSN also stressed that any legislative changes needed to be fully resourced.
Following discussion about how orders are issued by courts, the Chair reminded the group that the independence of the judiciary had to be respected.
The SSPCA representative was keen to see legislation consolidated. He felt that this would help simplify the law for the police, local authorities and the public. The SSPCA wanted to see legislation that would help to expedite cases, so that dogs are not kept in kennels for lengthy spells. He also suggested that a requirement for insurance could be a condition that was included when a DCN is issued to a dog’s owner.
The Chair agreed that it was desirable to consolidate law. However doing so could take some time. This would ultimately be a matter for Ministers to consider.
In response to comments about whether cases should be dealt with by the police or local authority dog wardens, the Chair highlighted the work undertaken by the SG led dog control and dangerous dogs working group last year to review the control of dogs joint protocol agreement between Police Scotland and Local Authorities.
The Chair informed the group that SG officials had recently visited the Dundee dog warden service to discuss issues in relation to dog control. That visit had highlighted issues when it came to whether a dangerous dog case should be dealt with by either the police or council.
The Chair also advised the group that the Minister for Community Safety is visiting the Dogs Trust in Uddingston on 28 September to discuss control of dogs policy and fireworks policy issue.
[Redacted] from COPFS considered that the range of ancillary orders available to the court was broadly fine. It was though a matter for the judiciary how they applied the orders.
He highlighted comments in the discussion paper that consideration should be given to providing courts with the ability to impose not only a dog ownership ban but also disqualification from being in control of a dog. He supported this suggestion.
Following a discussion about dogs being out of control in a public place, the Chair highlighted that the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 had amended section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (“the 1991 Act) to set out that it was an offence if a dog is dangerously out of control ‘in any place’.
The Police Scotland representative would also be keen to see the power to disqualify from ownership extended to disqualify from being in control of a dog. In response to the earlier comments from the SSPCA, the Police Scotland representative advised the group that he was due to have a meeting on 28 September with the Criminal Justice Partnership Group to discuss kennelling costs.
On the issue of kennelling, the Chair advised that this was an issue raised at the meeting of the Dog Control and Dangerous Dogs Working Group on 26 September. At that meeting concerns had been raised about the lack of kennel facilities for stray/ dangerous dogs in Aberdeenshire.
The SSPCA representative advised that a lot of private kennels will not look after dogs that are considered dangerous. Those that do charge a premium. He felt that this further underlined why it was important to get cases through courts as soon as possible.
[Redacted] from COPFS raised the issue of how orders are enforced. She informed the group that proving ownership of a dog is often time consuming, and has led to situations where the police are having to visit a dogs vet to seek information on ownership.
[Redacted] also raised concerns about the use of contingent destruction orders. COPFS have had cases reported featuring dogs who have behaved aggressively, and it becomes apparent that a contingent destruction order is in place but has not been complied with. There are no methods of bringing that matter before the court.
A suggestion was put forward that the SG may want to consider an ancillary order to reflect that people can be charged to help to reimburse for the cost of kennelling etc.
In response the Chair highlighted the backlog in court cases as a result of the covid pandemic. The pressure on courts remains great.
SB raised the issue of dog licencing, and put forward that in licensing law it is normal to expect people to have to pay a fee, and this was partially to cover the costs of enforcement. SB suggested that this therefore may be an opportunity to explore a registration system for dogs. SB was of the opinion that people are paying thousands of pounds for a dog, so a licence fee should not be a significant financial burden.
SB was supportive of the idea of charging people to cover the costs of looking after their dog, however he recognised that getting payment may be difficult.
SB agreed with the earlier comments from the SSPCA about the need to consolidate legislation, and also agreed with the earlier comments from group members about the power to disqualify from ownership being extended to disqualify from being in control of a dog.
The Chair advised the group that the issue of an ‘ownership register’ would be added to the agenda for the next meeting of the working group in late October/ early November.
- SG to add this to agenda for next meeting
The Chair advised that SG officials had previously discussed dog licensing with counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, where a dog licensing system is in place. It is operated by the Irish Post Office. Group members agreed that the SG should invite their contacts in the Republic of Ireland to participate in the next meeting of the working group. This will provide an opportunity to ask questions about how the system works in Ireland, what the penalties for no compliance are etc.
- SG to invite counterparts in the Republic of Ireland to next meeting
Turning back to the issue of kennelling fees, the SSPCA representative cautioned against charging dog owners for kennelling fees, as cases can take a considerable length of time to make their way through the court. Which is further exacerbated by the delays caused by covid. This was not the owners fault, so it would seem unfair to penalise them in this way.
The Police Scotland representative proposed that it may be worth considering if the recording of ancillary orders could be information that is added to the national Dog Control Notice database.
[Redacted] from COPFS was attracted to the idea of insurance, rather than licensing. As it would place a responsibility on the dog owner from day one. She also felt that the public may view the idea of re-introducing a dog licence regime as somewhat antiquated.
The Chair highlighted that as part of the SG consultation on dog microchipping in 2014, the issue of dog licencing was raised. The majority of respondents to the consultation were opposed to a licensing regime being re-introduced.
The Police Scotland representative raised the subject of cross border issues. He is aware of instances in the Borders area (Eyemouth) where people have claimed that a dog involved in an incident is owned by someone in England, not Scotland.
The police would also be keen to know what sanction there would be for not having a dog licenced. In addition, consideration would also have to be given to who would have access to any future dog licensing/ dog insurance national database.
[Redacted] from COPFS raised one final issue in relation to kennelling, which was the instances where pregnant dogs are sized, and give birth to their puppies in the kennels. This obviously leads to a situation where the kennels are left caring for a significant number of dogs. The SSPCA also recognised this as an issue.
The Chair advised that the Royal Mail and CWU representatives of the working group had provided written comments on the use of ancillary orders ahead of the meeting. The comments from both group members will be shared with group members.
- SG to share comments
Date of next meeting
The SG will be in touch with working group members to arrange two further meetings. One in late October/early November and another in early December.
- SG to arrange meetings
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