Key Issue: Proper Application of Legal Principles in Destruction Order for Prohibited Type Dog under Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

Citation: [2024] EWCA Civ 75
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Kayleigh Dawson, R (on the application of) v Crown Court Sitting at Preston, the Court of Appeal was faced with assessing the correct application of legal principles under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 relating to the destruction of a dog, Lightning, deemed a “pit bull terrier type” and thus falling under the category of dogs bred for fighting—a type prohibited unless certain conditions are met. The appellant contended that the lower courts improperly applied the statute, erroneously factored certain considerations, and failed to analogize appropriately with pertinent case law.

Key Facts

The appellant’s dog, Lightning, had been seized under suspicion of being a prohibited type and was subject to a contingent destruction order (CDO) which mandated stringent conditions such as being muzzled and on a lead in public, being insured, and kept secured. Despite this, Lightning attacked another dog and its owner when he escaped—a significant breach of the CDO. Subsequently, the appellant sought judicial review when the Crown Court refused to state a case after dismissing her appeal against the Magistrates’ Court order to destroy Lightning.

The Court of Appeal analyzed the case under the legal framework provided by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and its amendments. The Act mandates the destruction of certain types of dogs unless the court is satisfied that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety, taking into account:

  1. The temperament and past behavior of the dog.
  2. Whether the owner is a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog.
  3. Any other relevant circumstances (section 4B(2A)).

It was argued that the court must consider potential mitigating circumstances such as measures the owner could take to reduce the risk of the dog constituting a danger to public safety—specifically, whether the conditions attached to a CDO should be factored into assessing the potential danger the dog poses.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on all grounds, holding:

  1. The Crown Court did not apply a higher standard to Lightning due to its prohibited type, but recognized the statutory default assumption that such a dog represents a danger.
  2. The Crown Court correctly identified the facts, notably the dog’s behavior when unrestrained.
  3. The Crown Court considered all relevant factors, including those indicating the appellant as a fit and proper person, giving weight to the “slippage” in compliance simply as risk indicators rather than direct criticisms of the appellant’s character.
  4. The analogy to the case R v Singh was found inapplicable since the Crown Court had provided a detailed assessment, unlike the situation in Singh where inadequate reasoning led to the quashing of the destruction order.

Additionally, the Court of Appeal declined to settle the broader issue of whether potential CDO measures could count as “any other relevant circumstances,” as the Crown Court had already considered and accounted for the possibility of imposing conditions in its decision-making process.

Conclusion

The decision reinforces the strict adherence to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and its subsequent amendments while providing clarity on judicial discretion when considering potential future conditions attached to CDOs as a relevant circumstance in determining whether a dog constitutes a danger to public safety. Moreover, the judgment underscores the importance of comprehensive judicial decision-making supported by clear reasons, especially when dealing with the potential destruction of an animal.

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