It is very important you seek qualified legal advice before you go to court, the life of your dog may well depend upon it. Once a dog has been accused of being an unregistered ‘Pit Bull Type’ and destruction isn’t consented to by the owner, legal proceedings may follow. There are two ‘ routes’ open to authorities to charge you under.
Section One of the Dangerous Dogs Act
Section one is a criminal charge. To charge a person under Section One of the DDA the authorities must prepare a file to send to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will take a look at the case and decide whether or not to proceed to a court hearing. In the case of a dog identified as a prohibited type they will almost certainly allow the case to go ahead. It can take a number of weeks or more for a decision to be made by the CPS. Once an allegation has been made the owner of any dog may be interviewed and charged.
It is strongly recommended that you take legal advice and have a solicitor with you at all times when being interviewed. You ideally need a solicitor with experience of the DDA. If you have trouble finding one please contact us for help and we will try and put you in touch with someone.
Section one cases can take a long time ; on average 6 months is normal. During this time it is unlikely that your dog will be returned to you, however, whoever is responsible for your dog still has a duty of care towards them whilst the dog is in their kennels.
Burden of Proof
Under Section One the burden of proof is reversed – but what does that mean? This means that it is not up to the prosecution to prove your dog is ‘of Pit Bull Type’. It is up to the defence (you) to prove it is not. In any prosecution it is presumed that the dog is a Pit Bull Terrier unless sufficient evidence to the contrary.
Problems arise in determining whether or not a dog is a type known as a Pit Bull Terrier. Under Section One you can apply for Legal Aid to help fund your defence. Without Legal Aid, any experts or legal representation can be very expensive.
If pleading not guilty – You will need a solicitor to instruct breed identification experts to examine the dog on your behalf and report their findings. If you can satisfy a court that your dog does not have the characteristics of a Pit Bull Type then the court will not order the dog to be destroyed and will allow the dog to return home without any restrictions. If you cannot satisfy the court that your dog is not ‘ Of the Type’ then you can still ask for your dog to be entered onto the Index of Exempt Dogs. A court can make an order for a dog to be added to the Index if the court believes the dog does not pose a danger to the public and the owner is a responsible owner. You will need to satisfy the court of these points before they will consider registration. If you fail to prove your dog is not ‘ Of Type’ and that your dog does not pose a danger or that your are a responsible owner then the court is likely to make an order for destruction. You have the right of appeal against this decision.
Under Section One,
you will recieve a criminal record if found guilty of owning a dog of a Pit Bull type. You may also be fined up to £5000 or recieve up to a 6 month prison term. You may also be disqualified from owning a dog for a period of time if the court thinks fit. Large fines and prison terms are not often given to “normal” responsible dog owners whose dog simply has the misfortune of looking of the Pit Bull type.
DDA Amendment – Section 4-b
Section 4-b of the DDA (Amendment) Act 1997 refers to ‘destruction order otherwise than on conviction’. this section has been inserted into the original DDA of 1991 but what does this mean to you? It means that the relevant authority may apply directly to the civil (not criminal) court for a destruction order where it appears that no person has been, or is to be, prosecuted of an offence, either because the owner cannot be found or for some other reason. It may also be that the dog cannot be released into the custody or possession of the owner without the owner breaking the law (by being in possession of an illegal dog). The judge may order the destruction of the dog – but nothing shall require the dog to be destroyed if the court is satisfied ‘that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety’. A summons will be sent out asking you to attend court. Failure to do so can result in a decision being made in your absence. The decision in your absence is likely to be destruction. Legal Aid isn’t expected to be available for case taken via 4-B. This means if you request a solicitor to act for you or any experts to examine your dog, you must pay for it yourself. Most owners, therefore, represent themselves in court however it is very important that you seek advice beforehand so you are aware of what you need to do in court. Please contact us if this applies to you.
If a case is taken via 4-b it is usually much quicker than Section One. The average time is between 1-6 months, often the quicker end of the scale. In 4-b cases you need to do the same as in Section One, either; prove your dog is not type (many owners under 4-B cannot afford to do this and choose not to argue this point) and/or prove your dog does not pose a danger and that you are a responsible owner. If you cannot satisfy the court of the above the judge will order your dog to be destroyed. You may be able to appeal this decision. If you do satisfy the court that your dog does not pose a danger to public safety then then an order will be made that your dog is allowed to be entered onto the Index of Exempt Dogs. As this is a civil case, should you be found guilty of owning a banned breed, You will not receive a criminal record, prison sentence or fine. You may however be asked to pay costs for kennelling. Should you lose, you may be ordered to pay costs pending destruction and pay for your dogs destruction. In some cases taken via 4-b, dogs are allowed to stay at home until a few days before the court hearing and returned when the work has been completed and the certificate and insurance has been received. Once your dog has been seized, it will not be returned until judgement has been made by the courts.