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19/11/01
High Court upholds dog death sentence

A BID to save the life of a dog condemned to death under the Dangerous Dogs Act failed last Monday in a High Court appeal to determine when a dog 'constitutes a danger to public safety'.

As reported in last week's OUR DOGS, the action was brought by well-known dog defence solicitor Trevor Cooper who was 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 appeal failed, so 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 hearing was scheduled to take place on Monday, November 12th.

Bryan and Carol Lamont, of East Hunsbury, Northampton, are currently taking advice from Mr Cooper on the possibility of one last appeal to either the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords, still using the same legal argument The couple have.14 days in which to decide whether to appeal.

Magistrates issued a destruction order in January this year after Dino became involved in a fight with another dog. The other animal's female owner stepped in to separate them and Dino bit her, breaking her finger.

The Lamonts 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.

Barrister Shiraz Rustom, represented the family in the High Court and, in seeking the judicial review, argued that canine behaviourist Mike Mullan had supported their view that the attack was 'out of character' and a 'one off'.

Mr Rustom said ordering Dino's destruction was unreasonable because there was evidence that the dog did not pose a threat, and any further risk would be eliminated by fitting him with a muzzle when in public. However, the application was dismissed by 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'.

The ruling is a blow for Trevor Cooper, who presented a large deposition to the court containing information pertaining to 39 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'.

Mr Cooper explained that the court ruling was sought 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.

The Lamonts were supported in their legal fight by the National Canine Defence League and the Fury Defence Fund.

Carol Lamont, 39, spoke to OUR DOGS on Tuesday of this week. "Obviously we are extremely disappointed by what happened. We were badly advised by our original solicitor who advised us that we had no option but to plead guilty. If we'd known Trevor then, things would have been different.

"I have to say, we are very surprised that things have gone this far - it's almost as if the courts are trying to make an example of us. Dino is not a vicious dog. If we thought he was dangerous in any way, then we would not keep him. After all, we have children of our own and you can't rake risks. But this was an isolated incident and we are prepared to take steps to make sure that he couldn't react like this again, maybe by using a muzzle or head restraint, but the court has rejected all our assurances. The High Court judges didn't even look at Trevor's deposition; all they seemed concerned about was quoting the Dangerous Dogs Act which said that courts could impose a destruction order.

"We're very grateful for everybody's support and we are going to fight on as far as we can. Dino is still at home with us and he hasn't caused any further trouble. We can't just give up on him."