12/12/01
Dino decision is deferred: -
judicial review for important GSD case

THE LATEST High Court ruling in the case of ‘Dino’, the GSD sentenced to death for nipping the owner of another dog last January was deferred by the judges in order to consider various points of law relating to a possible appeal to the House of Lords, and also to study further submissions from the Defence.

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 dismissed the argument put forward by barrister Shiraz Rustom who said the destruction was unreasonable because there was evidence that the dog did not pose a threat. Mr Rustom had said that fitting him with a muzzle when in public would eliminate any further risk. He was backed by the expert testimony of canine behaviourist Mike Mullan, who said that the attack by Dino was “out of character.”

However, Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Crane, who both agreed the Crown Court and magistrates had acted reasonably and within their powers.

Lord Justice Laws said that if a defendant could not demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court that a dog was not a danger to public safety, “the court was bound to make a destruction order”.

Mr Cooper’s latest appeal, which took place last Wednesday, 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. Their Lordships 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 will have to be destroyed.”

At last Wednesday’s hearing, again heard before Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Crane, the justices first considered the preliminary issue, this being whether the High Court had the power to certify a question of law in the House of Lords, as this had never been undertaken before in the circumstances of Dino’s case. Mr Rustom, for the defence, pointed out that their Lordships had asked for this submission to be made, to which Lord Justice Laws responded, “Even if we did, you cannot get jurisdiction from that direction [the Lords].”

Mr Rustom then pointed out that under the Administration of Justice Act 1960, ANY criminal case appealed to the High Court could be referred to the Lords. As an aggravated offence under Section 3 of the DDA was classed as a criminal offence, then the case could, indeed, be referred to the Lords. Lord Justice Laws, seemingly surprised, replied; “This is very interesting. On the face of it, it looks as if you are completely right.” He then went on to say: “But why is this an important point of law? We understand that it is important to your client, as her dog’s life is at stake, but why is the point of law of general importance? This is the question we must consider.” Mr Rustom replied that the DDA was a flawed law, and explained the ramifications of a guilty verdict and control orders in the context of this, as previously outlined by Mr Cooper.

Lord Justice Laws concluded: “We are very doubtful indeed. However, we will make no decision today but will consider this point of law. We invite you to redraft your questions, submit them to us, and we will decide on this without a hearing.”

Their Lordships gave the Defence a week 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.

Trevor Cooper commented afterwards: “This case is so very important, I can’t emphasise just how important this is. However, I am very pleased that the Judges are thinking long and hard over this. They have promised us a response ‘ at some stage’, and I am hopeful that this will be delivered before Christmas.”

Mr Cooper added that he intended to bring a QC in to further present the court’s case and to assist Mr Rustom. Well-known barrister Pamela Rose, who has widespread experience of defending DDA cases, has also been brought on board to advise the next stage of the appeals process.

Should the Justices refuse permission to appeal the case to the House of Lords, Mr Cooper is considering a possible appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Carol Lamont, 39 told OUR DOGS: “It’s a further stay of execution for Dino. We know he’s not a dangerous dog and we would comply with any reasonable restraint order that the courts dictated. But to have him destroyed for one random bite is grossly unfair. We are keeping our fingers crossed and praying for a good decision by the High Court.”




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