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12/11/01
High Court rule on meaning of dangerous dog

A LEGAL ruling is being sought at the High Court, London, to determine the true meaning of a 'dangerous dog', by defining when a dog "constitutes a danger to public safety".

The action is being brought by well-known solicitor Trevor Cooper, who has defended hundreds of dogs caught up under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

Canterbury-based Cooper is seeking the High Court's Leave To Appeal in respect of a German Shepherd Dog named 'Dino' who was found guilty of a minor biting incident which to place in January of this year.

Dino's owner, Carol Lamont 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.

Ms Lamont duly dismissed her original solicitor and appointed Cooper to act on her behalf at a Crown Court appeal some months later.

The judge at the Crown Court hearing upheld the magistrates' decision, which prompted Cooper to seek 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 hearing will take place next Monday, November 12th.

Rejected

"I've spent several days writing up a deposition on the matter," Mr Cooper told OUR DOGS. "It already stands at 18 pages and will probably be longer by the time we get to court next week. I have compiled a list of all the Section 3 cases I have defended since the DDA was amended in 1997 to remove the mandatory death penalty and allow courts to impose control orders upon dogs found 'guilty'.

"I rejected all those cases concerning non-aggravated offences, all those found Not Guilty and all those which were transferred to proceedings under the 1871 Act. This left me with a total of 39 'Guilty' cases, of which only five dogs were sentenced with destruction orders."

Mr Cooper explained that the court ruling will seek to prove whether the destruction order sentence was "Manifestly excessive or truly astonishing or irrational."

"In effect, this challenges the determination of when a dog constitutes a danger to public safety," added Mr Cooper.

As to whether he felt the action would ultimately be successful, Mr Cooper said: "It really depends on the judge hearing the case, but I think it's fair to say that we have a strong case to present here. The fact is, the incident occurred in January 2001, the dog was not seized and placed in custody, it is still at home with its owner, and yet the magistrates imposed a destruction order. The basic point to address is whether this dog is dangerous or not and just how you define whether a dog is a danger to public safety."