Tough UK Dog Control Laws Aim to Protect Workers

The Communication Workers Union fought for enactment of new laws in Northern Ireland and Scotland that mean owners of attacking dogs can be imprisoned and fined.

For the first time, a dog's attack on a person or an animal on private property in Northern Ireland can result in the imprisonment of the dog's owner and an unlimited fine. The Communication Workers Union's "CWU Bite-Back Campaign" resulted in enactment of the new law. Its final provisions -- including new Dog Control Notices, which require an owner to keep the dog leashed or muzzled, and both owner and dog may have to attend special training courses -- will take effect Oct. 3.

Owners who fail to comply with Dog Control Notices can be prosecuted.

Dave Joyce, national health, safety & environment officer for the union, said at least 5,000 postal workers are attacked by dogs every year in the United Kingdom, with 70 percent of those attacks occurring on private property. A law similar to Northern Ireland’s is now in effect in Scotland.

"The commencement of these provisions is a major step forward in dealing with the issue of dog attacks and aims to make such horrific attacks, the impact of which we know only too well, a thing of the past," Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said July 28, when some of the law's provisions took effect. "My department has issued guidance to councils to prepare them for enforcement of the new provisions. Anyone who flouts the law by setting, urging, or allowing a dog to attack, be that on a person, livestock or pet animal, can expect tough penalties. The act will provide the most comprehensive powers in these islands to deal with the scourge of uncontrolled dogs. It will allow enforcers to hold owners and keepers to account, especially where they have failed to exercise adequate control of their dogs."

In April 2012, the final provisions of the law -– including compulsory microchipping of dogs -– will take effect. All assistance dogs are exempt from the law. Dog wardens are authorized to enter any land to prevent or stop a dog attacking another dog.

The fines and penalties for an aggravated offence are:

  • On summary conviction, a maximum of 6 months' imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (level 5 on the standard scale, currently £5,000)
  • On conviction on indictment (trial by jury), a maximum of 2 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

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