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by Nick Mays

THE ON GOING case of Dino, the GSD sentenced to death by magistrates under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act for a minor biting incident in January 2001 has now been referred to the House of Lords.

As reported previously in OUR DOGS, Dino’s owner, Carol Lamont from East Hunsbury, Northampton, was advised by her original solicitor to plead guilty to the charge of “allowing her dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place” under Section 3 of the DDA. Magistrates accepted the plea and ordered that Dino be destroyed, even though this was the dog’s first and only offence. Mrs Lamont and her husband Bryan then engaged Trevor Cooper to act on their behalf, and he challenged the destruction order at Northampton Crown Court in September, but Mr Recorder Edelman upheld the magistrates' decision, saying that Dino had attacked the other dog without any provocation and continued to pose a danger to public safety.

After the appeal failed, Mr Cooper sought Permission to Appeal to the High Court for a Judicial Review of the case, using the legal technicality of when a dog constitutes a danger to public safety. The appeal hearing was heard on November 12th, but the High Court Judges Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Crane, both agreed the Crown Court and magistrates had acted reasonably and within their powers.

A further appeal took place on November 28th, hinged on the fact that if the High Court ruling was followed, then this would set a precedent that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1997 Amendment was fatally flawed. Mr Cooper explained: “If the dog is genuinely NOT a danger to the public and the court has accepted that it will not bite again, then it should be found Not Guilty. Why should you need to muzzle the dog in public if you have proved that it does not constitute a danger? Conditions to control the dog can only be imposed to prevent further incidents, and this happens in many cases where the dog is found guilty and a control order is issued. The Justices can argue that the magistrate acted correctly by issuing a destruction order because there is no way of proving that the dog will not bite again. If, on this basis, the High Court dismisses the appeal again, it could have serious implications for every dog in the country. The 1997 Amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act, which allows courts discretion in sentencing dogs for aggravated offences, would effectively be dead in the water. It won’t affect rulings where guilty dogs have been subject to control orders in the past, but it could set a serious precedent for all such future cases. The bottom line will be, if you cannot prove that the dog is not a danger to public safety, then it should be destroyed.

Their Lordships gave the Defence two weeks to submit their questions and precedents. Mr Cooper had already compiled a dossier of 40 similar cases brought under Section 3 of the DDA since the Act was amended in 1997 to remove the mandatory death sentence and allow courts to impose control orders upon dogs found 'guilty.' Of these, 35 were given control orders and only five were sentenced to be destroyed.

On Wednesday 19th December, their Lordships announced that they had agreed to certify “points of law of general public importance”. They had allowed three questions to be certified (lodged) with the House of Lords to consider the finer points of the ruling. Trevor Cooper was given until January 3rd to formally lodge the petition with the House of Lords.

Mr Cooper told OUR DOGS: “The ruling and with it, the whole crux of the DDA Amendment Act 1997 is to be scrutinised by the highest court in the land – the House of Lords. I cannot say with any certainty what their Lordships ruling may be – but this is of crucial importance to dogs everywhere. Let us hope that the new year brings with it some good news for Dino, his owners and everybody else.”

(c) Nick Mays/OUR DOGS 2002