The Dogs Act 1871 is a civil application usually made by the police or local authority but which can also be actioned by individuals. Unlike Section 3 of the DDA which applies only to public places (or private places where the dog is not permitted to be), the Dogs Act 1871 applies regardless of where the incident takes place. Proceedings under this Act can only be brought against the owner of the dog.
A dog is generally regarded as not being under proper control if:
It is neither on a lead or muzzled.
The dog shows itself to dangerous in its general behaviour, not just in its behaviour towards a person.
A single incident is unlikely to be sufficient to prove that a dog is dangerous, unless the court believes that the single incident is exceptional.
This Act provides for ANY person to make a complaint to the police or Magistrates court that a dog is dangerous. If the court is satisfied that a dog is dangerous and is not being kept under proper control, they make make an order for the dog to be kept under proper control or that it be destroyed.
There is no presumption for destruction under this Act, and control orders can be general in that an order is simply made that the dog be kept under proper control in the future. A court can issue a control order with no restrictions or may attach conditions such as leashing or muzzling. Where a court does make an order for destruction of the dog, it may also, under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989:
Appoint a person to undertake its destruction and require any person having custody of the dog to deliver it up for that purpose and, if they see fit, make an order disqualifying the owner from having custody of a dog for such a period of time as is specified in the order.
Any person who fails to comply with an order under the 1871 Act to keep a dog under proper control, or deliver it up for destruction under the 1989 Act is liable for a fine not exceeding £1000, and the court may also disqualify that person from having custody of a dog.
As the civil standard of proof applies, an order may be made by the court on the balance of probabilities that a dog is dangerous. In addition, where an incident has taken place on private premises, it may be possible for a person to initiate civil proceedings to claim damages on the basis that the person owning or controlling the dog was negligent.
Where a person has been invited on to premises by the occupier, then that occupier may also become liable for any injury suffered by the visitor under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. This Act generally covers the state of the premises but has been applied to cover damage caused by animals present on those premises.
The Animals Act 1971 also provides that in certain circumstances, the keeper of an animal is liable for any damage it causes if he knew it was likely to cause damage or injury unrestrained.