Partner Ernest Aduwa and Solicitor Rhianna Tsiattalou argue that a ban on American XL Bully dogs will be a challenge to enforce, but may be a necessity to protect the public.

Ernest and Rhianna’s article was published in The Times, 21 September 2023, and can be found here.

It is 32 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed, prohibiting certain dog breeds and restricting other types of dog which present a serious danger to the public. Currently, the Act prohibits four breeds: pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino, and fila Brasileiro. Last week, Rishi Sunak announced that the American XL bully will be added to the list by the end of 2023 – a decision that is supported by the Labour party.

Lord Baker, who introduced the Act as home secretary in 1991, suggested that XL bullys should be “neutered or destroyed”. Opposing the idea, the RSPCA has argued that dog attacks are due to “irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership” and breed-specific bans should end to prevent innocent animals being put down.

A ban was already being considered after an attack in Birmingham left an 11-year-old girl with serious injuries. XL bullys have been responsible for a spate of such attacks resulting in several fatalities, the most recent of which finally provoked Sunak to act when a man died after being attacked by two XL bullys in Staffordshire last week.

But legislation can sometimes be a blunt instrument. The cross-bred nature of XL bullys means that when the ban is implemented, it will be a challenge to enforce in many cases. Careful framing of the legislation will therefore focus primarily on trying to minimise problems that might arise in relation to enforcement.

The key issue is one of definition: the XL bully is not officially recognised as a breed by the Royal Kennel Club. Defining a breed can be hard. The XL bully ban could inadvertently lead to other dog breeds being included under the same definition and banned as a result.

The imminent ban creates a further logistical problem. The vast majority of dogs in England and Wales are not dangerous and their owners are responsible. The government must recognise that many XL bully owners could not have anticipated when they bought their dog that it might subsequently be classified as dangerous by an act of parliament.

It is therefore important to give these owners an appropriate opportunity to take steps in order to avoid being criminalised. The most serious offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act can result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Some media reports have suggested that an outright XL bully ban will not come into force until 2025 giving owners an amnesty period. But that may simply delay the problem, rather than solve it.

Notwithstanding these myriad challenges, a ban on the XL bully is the right thing to do. In amending legislation to protect the public, the government will need to tread carefully in order to avoid unintended consequences, such as the alarming rise in abandoned bully dogs we are already seeing as a result of the proposed ban.

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