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Clarification on Dangerous Dog Controls

Ned Westaway

The Divisional Court (Beatson LJ and Whipple J) has handed down judgment in Webb v Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary [2017] EWHC 3311 (Admin), an appeal by way of case stated against the decision of the Bristol Crown Court to make a contingent destruction order under s.4B of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (as amended).

The central issues for the Court were whether such orders, which allow dangerous dogs such as pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa and dogo Argentino, to be released and kept under strict conditions may be made in respect of persons other than the owner of the dog or “the person for the time being in charge” and the meaning of the “the person for the time being in charge”.

The Court held that the language of the 1991 Act – famous for its lack of clarity – is not clear on the point, but considering the statutory purpose and its relationship with other provisions, dangerous dogs may only be released to their owners or other persons properly identified as for the time being in charge (para.77).  On the meaning of “for the time being in charge”, the Court held that this means past or present responsibility for the dog (para.88).  As the Crown Court had not considered that question, the case was remitted so that it could be determined.  Webb is the first decision in a number of cases considering the contentious issue of whether dogs that are not to be a danger to the public but are of a prohibited breed have to be destroyed or may be released.

The Court also considered a number of other aspects of the regime for the control of dangerous dogs under the 1991 Act and the Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015.

Ned Westaway appeared for the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who intervened in the appeal.