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Tougher laws for dangerous dogs

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14 May 2012 Last updated at 20:02 ET By Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent
Police dog handlers seize a dangerous during a raidPolice dog handlers seize a dangerous animal during a raid

Owners of dangerous dogs who are convicted in England and Wales will face tougher punishment under new guidelines.

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales says people who fail to stop their dog harming others should face at least six months in jail.

The body said more offenders would face jail or community orders and fewer would receive discharges.

More than 500 people and organisations lobbied the council over the proposals.

Official figures show there has been a rise in recent years in the number of people sentenced for dangerous dog offences, reaching 1,192 cases in 2010.

The NHS has also estimated that dog injuries cost it more than £3m a year, with the number of bites doubling to more than 6,100 between 1997 and 2010.

The Sentencing Council issues guidelines to help courts across England and Wales to sentence offences more consistently, within the ranges set out by Parliament.

Last December, the council proposed in a consultation that judges should consider a community order as the starting point for sentencing people who allow a dangerous dog to injure someone.

However, the offence will now have a starting point of six months in jail - and where appropriate judges should consider up to 18 months.

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, offenders can face up to two years in jail in the most severe cases.

People convicted of possessing a dangerous dog could face up to six months, said the council. It also said that courts should order a dog's destruction unless there is proof it cannot harm again.

Although the council's guideline has upped the proposed starting point for serious offences, some offenders could still be discharged from court if they can show they tried to stop an attack.

The guideline does not cover incidents where a dog is deliberately used in an attack because the offender would be charged with assault or a serious violent offence.

The council said that following 500 responses to the consultation, the guideline had been amended to allow judges to increase a sentence where the victim was clearly vulnerable, such as if they were blind. The guideline now also covers injuries to other animals, such as pets and guide dogs.

Anne Arnold, a district judge and member of the Sentencing Council, said courts would be encouraged "to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate".

"It also gives guidance to courts on making the best use of their powers so that people can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims."

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