Attendees and apologies
- Jim Wilson, Scottish Government (SG), Justice (Chair)
- 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
- [Redacted], COPFS
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed all members to the first meeting of the working group, and invited each member to introduce themselves and briefly explain their role within their respective organisations.
Background and context
The Chair highlighted the political interest on dog control/dangerous dogs during the last Parliamentary term and highlighted the work and report produced by the Public Audit Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee to assess the impact and effectiveness of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 ("the 2010 Act").
There was a brief discussion around the SG commitment (manifesto commitment and Programme For Government 2021 commitment – “We will also review the Dangerous Dogs Act to inform future policy and legislative changes to tackle irresponsible dog Ownership”).
A reminder of work already undertaken by the SG through its discussion paper seeking views on steps that might be taken to improve the way in which the criminal law may deal with dog owners where their dogs act in a dangerous way, was also provided.
A link to the consultation paper and subsequent factual high level analysis of the responses received to our discussion paper on the criminal law dealing with dangerous dogs which ran between 5 February 2021 and 30 April 2021, is provided. In total 188 responses were received. Members recognised the level of public, media and political interest on dangerous dogs will be increasing due to recent tragedies regarding fatal dog attacks on young children in St Helens, Wales and Birmingham. A common thread in many of these types of cases are that the dogs had been passed around between owners.
The group discussed the increase in dog population during the Covid-19 Pandemic with people locked-down and isolated working from home etc. Estimates suggest an extra 3.5 million pets were obtained by new owners, mainly dogs and many are now unwanted and being given up for re-homing, presenting a problem for animal welfare charities.
Make-up/membership of the working group
Members discussed the make-up and membership of the working group, and were broadly content that the group have a number of key organisations coming together to collectively consider a range of matters under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (“the 1991 Act”). A question was posed on whether the group would benefit from bringing in any further additional expertise. A suggestion was floated on the opportunity to consider bringing in a veterinary specialist who deals with dangerous dog matters (for example, cases which require identification/measurement checks to be conducted to ascertain whether a dog is a banned breed). The group agreed the suggestion should be considered by SG. There was some discussion on the need to ensure wider engagement with other key stakeholders, such as local authorities to help inform policy thinking. It was recognised that there is also another working group that was established by the SG to look at dog control that can be tapped into to ensure local authorities (and others) are engaged in the review work.
- chair to contact SG Animal Welfare policy colleagues to explore further
Frequency of meetings
The chair advised his current thinking was to run the working group for a period of 6 months, but there may be a requirement to extend beyond 6 months. Meetings will be scheduled monthly, but progress on particular policy issues/questions can be advanced through correspondence in between arranged meetings. All members agreed more time will need to be allocated to monthly discussions.
- Adam to consider suitable dates/times for monthly working group meetings and send MS Teams invites to members
Terms of reference
The Chair invited members to individually comment on the Terms of Reference (TOR) document. Members were broadly content with the TOR, recognising this would be a living document that could be subject to change if required. A number of issues were helpfully aired by members that should be considered as part of collective effort to review the 1991 Act. The main issues raised related to the sale of dogs online, issues around ancillary orders and whether sentencing guidelines and prosecutorial guidelines could be considered by the independent Scottish Sentencing Council and Law Officers (COPFS/Lord Advocate/Solicitor General) to achieve to support a consistent approach when it comes to sentencing and prosecution of cases. It was noted that the courts can utilise their powers to issue ancillary orders - these include; destruction orders, contingency destruction orders, dog ownership bans, victim compensation orders and remedial section orders.
There is a need to consider any inter-dependencies with provisions contained within relevant dog control legislation (animal welfare legislation, Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, the 2010 Act), and the need to consider the proportionality and fairness of any planned policy change/future reforms through a ‘human rights laws’ lens. There is also a need to have a fresh look at the seizure of dangerous dogs and the impact of long term kennel costs. The group discussed the current issues around ‘reasonable apprehension’. CWU helpfully shared their written submission to the Scottish Parliament to inform discussions going forward.
On breed specific legislation (BSL) members agreed this was an area that needs to be looked at. For the CWU the issue is ‘the deed not the breed’, and BSL is a distraction from the central problem. Postal workers get attacked by every breed and cross-breed in existence.
In summary, the TOR of the working group are broad enough to cover what the group needs to do to take the review forward and meet the aims to inform the SG on changes to the 1991 Act.
The group agreed that it will be important to begin the process of breaking down the key work areas identified within the TOR to help assess what the provisions actually mean in practice with a view to identifying opportunities (pros and cons) for legislative/non-legislative change to strengthen our policies on dangerous dogs and dog control.
SG literature review
The Chair mentioned current work being led by the SG’s Justice Analytical Services to assess some of approaches introduced in some other jurisdictions to tackle dangerously out of control dogs. A report is due to be submitted in the coming weeks and will be shared with members in due course.
- SG to share LIT Review report with all group members
Any other business
No matters were raised under any other business.
Date of next meeting
To be confirmed.
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