In light of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s calls to define and ban American XL Bully dogs after a series of recent attacks, Solicitor Rhianna Tstiattalou comments on the challenges the government will face in enforcing this ban and the importance of protecting the public.

Rhianna’s comments were published in The Daily Mail Online, 31 October 2023, The Guardian and The Daily Mail, 15 September 2023.

“With XL bullies not being an officially recognised breed by the Royal Kennel Club, a ban on these dogs could inadvertently lead to other dog breeds being included under the same category and consequently banned in the UK. While legislation can be black and white, the cross-bred nature of these dogs means that even if this ban comes into force, it would be a challenge to enforce it in every case.

“The vast majority of dogs in England and Wales are not dangerous with responsible owners. The government now needs to act to ensure that the public is protected, while recognising that many XL bully owners could not have appreciated at the time that their dog might be classified as dangerous in the eyes of the law. Therefore, if we are moving towards a ban on XL bullies, it is important to give current owners the opportunity to avoid being criminalised.

“If the data available to the government and experts is that these dogs are, in fact, inherently dangerous, then Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act will not go far enough to protect the public.”

 

Rhianna also commented on several key concerns around the proposed ban on BBC News.

Rhianna’s comments were published in BBC News, 15 September 2023, and can be found here.

Will the government try to ban all types of American bully dogs?

“Experts will need to work with the government to define “XL bully” dogs for the purposes of the legislation as it is not currently a breed defined in law. If your dog fits within the definition under the Act it will be deemed to be one of the inherently dangerous breeds of dog under the 1991 Act (Section 1).

“However, the Dangerous Dogs Act focuses on ‘types’ rather than ‘breeds’, which provides the courts with discretion in determining whether a particular dog falls within a category under this section.

“Under the Act, if the prosecution alleges that a dog falls under Section 1, it is presumed that such a dog “unless the contrary is shown by the accused by such evidence as the court considers sufficient”.

“If banned, will the owners of these dogs be prosecuted or will more cautions be given which is proven to not be a deterrent?

“Possessing a prohibited dog under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act carries a maximum sentence of six months. If the dog does fall under Section 1 of the Act, but does not present any danger to the public, a court could require the owner to register the animal on the Index of Exempted Dogs, a record maintained by DEFRA.  The owner would then be issued with a certificate of exemption which would apply for the rest of the dog’s life.

“The owner would then be allowed to keep their dog but only on the condition that they complied with a comprehensive list of requirements, such as; having to take out liability insurance against their dog injuring other people, having your dog neutered, microchipped, kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public, and kept in a secure place so it cannot escape.”

Can I return to the UK with my dog if it gets banned?

“Prosecutions can be brought before a court based on just the physical characteristics of the dog (i.e. what it looks like). Therefore, upon travelling back to the UK, if the authorities believe your dog looks like an XL bully they can prosecute you under the act for owning a prohibited dog and subsequently seize your dog.

“If you have a banned dog, the police or local council dog warden can take it away and keep it, even if it is not acting dangerously and there has not been a complaint. The police may need permission from a court to do this if your dog is in a private place.”

Why not ban these dogs today?

“Bully XLs are not officially recognised as a breed by the Royal Kennel Club, and defining a breed can be challenging. As a result, a ban on bully XLs could inadvertently lead to other dog breeds being included under the same definition and banned as a result. Meanwhile, the RSPCA has argued that attacks are due to “irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership” and breed-specific bans should end to prevent innocent animals being put down.

“As well as problems with defining the breed, a ban on bully XLs creates a further logistical challenge.

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

“So, if we do move towards a ban, it is important to give current bully XL owners an appropriate opportunity to take steps in order to avoid being criminalised, as serious offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act could result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years.”

Why aren’t muzzles enough?

“The government’s aim in banning these types of dogs is to ensure their future extinction within England and Wales. With this in mind, the ban looks to not only protect the public, but also prevent these breeds from being bred in future.

“While a muzzle ban could prevent the severity of attacks we have seen in recent weeks, it would likely be a challenge for authorities to enforce and some owners may not comply with these restrictions.”

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