Change Exempted Dog Owner

One of the results of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was to bring in restricted exemption regimes; if your dog is of a prohibited breed (or ‘type’ – as is the case with many dogs determined to be pit bulls), you can prevent their destruction by entering a restricted exemption regime.

However, this prevents the dog from changing keeper – which has left many people having to give up their dog feeling as if they’re condemning them.

Don’t despair. As with everything else about this Act the rules about keepership are confused and incoherent and widely misunderstood.

What You Should Know

The rules on keepership come from three sources:

  • The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
  • The Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015
  • Decided cases of the Senior Courts.

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 defines what a dangerous dog is and creates a number of offences related to them.

In particular, the Act makes it an offence to keep such a dog, sell or exchange it or make a gift of it. A person in possession of such a dog can be prosecuted for that offence and if convicted the court must make an order that requires the dog to be destroyed. However, section 4 of the Act provides that provided the court is satisfied that the dog would not pose a risk to public safety the court may make a suspended destruction order and, provided all the exemption conditions are complied with and DEFRA issues an exemption certificate within two months of that order, the dog can be released into the care of the person named on that certificate.

Additionally, it has never been the case in English law that every offence should result in prosecution. If the CPS are the prosecutor they must consider not only whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute an individual but also whether it is in the public interest to do so. For that reason section 4B of the Act provides a civil scheme that enables an application for a destruction order in respect of a prohibited dog to be made to a magistrates court and again provides that the dog need not be destroyed if the court is satisfied that the dog would not pose a risk to public safety.

What about changes in ownership after exemption?

Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015 creates a scheme that enables the transfer of keepership without the dog losing exempted status where the nominated keeper has died or has become too ill to care for the dog.

There may, of course, be cases where a keeper cannot continue to keep the dog through no fault of their own which are not catered for by the scheme.

The answer can be found in the regulations at Clauses 5(b) and 19 which provide that if the conditions of exemption are not complied with the dog ceases to be exempt. So if the soldier leaves the dog with his wife or family when he is to be deployed then the dog ceases to have exempted status because the dog is not being kept by its nominated keeper.

The consequences of a dog losing its exempted status were spelled out by Mr Justice King in a High Court Case, R (Ali) v Chief Constable of Merseyside, which was a case brought by this firm with the assistance of Pam Rose of 1MCB, following the unlawful summary killing of 27 dogs by Merseyside police because the owners’ insurance was said to have lapsed. The court held that there was no summary power of execution, but a dog that had lost its exempted status was entitled to all the protection of the court which must consider whether or not to order the destruction of the dog in accordance with section 4 or 4B of the Act.

Are we sure about this? Yes, we are. We have used this argument previously with success and are continuing to do so.

It is important to remember that this is very badly drafted legislation and that it does not always say what the police or DEFRA wanted it say or thought it should say. It is possible for a prepared and experienced legal team to protect your dog even as it changes ownership.