This briefing explains the law on assisted suicide in England and Wales. It examines recent parliamentary activity, developments in other legal jurisdictions, human rights challenges, and stakeholders' views.
e-petition 603988 on breed specific legislation for dogs has received 114,969 signatures and closes on 21 June 2022. It calls for an amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to repeal the ban on specific dog breeds. The petition states:
The Government should repeal breed specific provisions in dangerous dogs legislation. We believe these provisions are a flawed approach to public safety and an ethical failing with regards to animal welfare.
We are not satisfied with the response to previous petitions making requests relating to breed specific legislation, and the recent report by Middlesex University, commissioned by the Government at a cost of £71,621, has now cast doubt on one of the core assumptions of the Dangerous Dogs Act: that certain breeds of dogs are inherently more dangerous. The Government should therefore immediately repeal breed specific legislation.
The previous petition referred to above, e-petition 300561, on the legislation relating to “dangerous dogs”, had received 118,641 signatures when it closed on 11 September 2020. It called for the Government to replace breed specific legislation (BSL) with a new statutory framework:
Breed Specific Legislation fails to achieve what Parliament intended, to protect the public. It focuses on specific breeds, which fails to appreciate a dog is not aggressive purely on the basis of its breed. It allows seizure of other breeds, but the rules are not applied homogeneously by councils.
We need a system that focuses on the aggressive behaviour of dogs, and the failure of owners to control their dog, rather than the way a dog looks. Reconsider a licensing system. The framework must be applied by local authorities the same, whereas currently some destroy dogs with no court order. It must be much more strictly controlled than it is currently. The system needs to be fairer for all, dogs and humans. We are touched by cases of people committing suicide over the current system.
That petition was debated in Westminster Hall on 5 July 2021. The Government response to the July 2021 petition did not support lifting the ban, and its response to the current petition also sets out its intention to maintain breed specific legislation and the reasons for this:
Simply repealing the breed specific provisions in dangerous dogs legislation with no other changes would increase the risks to public safety, which the Government is unwilling to do.
I recognise that many people are opposed to the prohibitions placed on the four types of dog – Pit Bull terrier; Dogo Argentino; Fila Brasileiro and the Japanese Tosa. However, the Government must balance the views of those who want to repeal or amend the breed specific legislation with our responsibility to ensure that the public is properly protected from dog attacks.
Historically, pit bull types are powerful dogs which have been traditionally bred in the UK for dog fighting. Data gathered from 2005 onwards on fatal dog attacks show that pit bulls were involved in around one in six tragic incidents, despite the prohibitions that we have in place that have significantly limited the numbers of pit bulls in the UK. Furthermore, according to information from the Metropolitan Police, nearly 20 per cent of dogs found to be dangerously out of control in Greater London were pit bulls.
The Government, therefore, considers that a lifting of the restrictions on these types of dogs would more likely result in an increase in dog attacks, rather than contributing to any reduction in such incidents. This position is supported by the police.
- the Pit Bull Terrier
- the Japanese Tosa
- the Dogo Argentino
- the Fila Brasileiro
However, Government guidance on controlling your dog in public also states that “whether your dog is a banned type depends on what it looks like, rather than its breed or name.” Whether a dog is a banned type is determined by a police or council dog expert examining to what extent its physical characteristics conform with a banned breed. Under the DDA it is also illegal to sell a banned dog, abandon a banned dog or breed from a banned dog.
The Sentencing Council published guidelines in October 2020 on how different offences committed under the 1991 Act can be dealt with and outlines the factors a court must take into account make when issuing sentences.
An Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee report Controlling dangerous dogs published in September 2018 concluded that there was a lack of robust evidence for breed specific legislation:
We are concerned that Defra’s arguments in favour of maintaining Breed Specific Legislation are not substantiated by robust evidence. It is even more worrying that non-existent evidence appears to have been cited before a Parliamentary Committee in support of current Government policy. This lack of clarity indicates a disturbing disregard for evidence – based policy making.
The Committee recommended a review of evidence on factors involved in canine aggression, the determinants of risk, and whether banned breeds pose an inherently greater threat. The Government response to the Committee published in January 2019 included details of a Defra commissioned research commissioned in collaboration with Middlesex University to examine the following:
- Assess the effectiveness of current dog control measures including the use of the powers provided to police and local authorities in 2014.
- Identify and examine the factors and situations that may cause dog attacks, including whether any particular types of situation or domestic setting influence dog aggression and dog attacks; how behavioural problems among dogs might best be addressed; and how policy might need to develop to deal with dog behavioural problems.
- How to promote responsible dog ownership and, in particular, identify the help and information needed for dog owners who have experienced dog control issues or who are vulnerable to these (this includes evaluation of risk factors).
A Commons Research Briefing published in advance of the July 2021 debate provides further background information including on dangerous dog legislation, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee report on Controlling dangerous dogs published in September 2018, and stakeholder views.
Middlesex University report
The Defra Commissioned report Investigation of measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible ownership amongst dog owners with dog control issues in the UK was published in February 2021.
The report explained the research was not intended to examine the merits of BSL:
We were careful to objectively investigate the issues. Accordingly, we should make clear that our research does not extend to specifically assessing the merits of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 or BSL as a policy response. While we encountered a considerable amount of literature on BSL, this material was included in our analysis only where it was considered relevant to our research questions. We noted studies which indicated that dog bite incidents should not, by themselves, be taken as an indication of dog aggression requiring a regulatory response. Statistical data on the extent of dog attacks thus requires careful interpretation and examination of the extent to which an attack may be symptomatic of other issues.
In summarising its findings, the review did identify some key themes, including the difficulty of linking behavioural problems to specific dog breeds:
Both the literature we analysed, and the evidence provided by research, participants indicated difficulties in identifying which breeds are most likely to present behavioural problems that result in dog attacks or strikes. Elsewhere, we note the difficulties of classifying dog attacks and dog bites as inherently linked to problems of aggression. The veterinary literature and our interview data identify multiple causes, such that any arguments that dog attacks are linked to particular breeds, becomes difficult to sustain. The evidence we have examined also identifies that dog breeds other than those classified as ‘problem’ breeds or identified as innately dangerous are similarly involved in dog attacks and dog bite incidents. Accordingly, we argue a need to consider a range of factors alongside ‘breed’ to also include situational factors (e.g. proximity between larger and smaller dogs in public places, children’s interactions with poorly socialised dogs in the home), trigger incidents such as a dog experiencing fear or excitement, predatory behaviour from other dogs, being in unfamiliar settings, provocation by humans, understanding the individual dog’s needs and characteristics by owners and responsible persons.
The review recommendations focused on several areas and included the following:
- Improved recording of data on dog attacks, including types of incidents.
- Introduce a statutory enforcement duty for local authorities
- Promote better information sharing between enforcement authorities
- Implement greater use of preventative enforcement models for low level dog control issues
- Update guidance to encourage greater usage of community protection notices (CPN)
- Accreditation of dog trainers and dog awareness courses for those with dog control issues
- New legal requirements on dog ownership including checks on previous history and demonstration of a minimum standard of dog knowledge.
The Government set out its approach in response to the report in a Written Question in January 2022:
The report will provide the basis for the consideration of reform in this area and the Government is already working with the police, local authorities, and stakeholders to consider the recommendations further.
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