When Ian Price from Stonnall, Staffordshire was attacked and killed by two XL bully dogs while he tried to defend his mother from the animals, the call to ban XL bullies understandably intensified.  However, if you are a dog owner, do you know which criminal charges you would face if your dog attacks someone?

What are XL bullies?

The American XL bully is a breed of dog that was developed in the 1990s.  Several breeds of dogs were involved in its development including the American pit bull terrier, which was itself banned in the UK in 1991 after reports of attacks escalated.

Since its introduction to the UK in 2014, the popularity of XL bullies has soared and puppies now sell for thousands of pounds. However, it is still not recognised as a breed by the Royal Kennel Club so, although it is believed that there are now thousands of XL bullies in the UK, no one knows exactly how many exist in the UK.

Why are American XL bullies being banned?

In the wake of Mr Price’s death, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced that the American XL bully will be banned in the UK by the end of the year.  This follows a wave of serious attacks in recent years, some of which have been fatal.

If the ban is pushed through, the XL bully will be the first breed to be added to the prohibited list under the Dangerous Dogs Act since the law was introduced in 1991 to ban four breeds, the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.  The ban would also provide a conclusion to a campaign begun by the mother of 10-year-old Jack Lis, who was killed by an XL bully in 2021.

Despite Mr Sunak’s eagerness to act, there is still debate as to whether the XL bully is dangerous.  However, the figures certainly suggest they pose a significant risk of committing serious attacks.  In 2022 6 of the 10 fatal dog attacks in the UK were linked to XL bullies.  Already this year they have been linked to 3 of the 7 fatal attacks recorded and, according to online pressure group Bully Watch, 44% of all dog attacks.

One of the reasons an XL bully attack is so serious is the size of the dog.  Another is the exaggerated aggressive behaviour it demonstrates; behaviour experts believe is linked to inbreeding.  In fact, breeding practices for XL bullies have already come under scrutiny.  Previous investigations have uncovered links between the all too often unlicensed XL bully breeders and organised crime.

There is opposition to the ban.  Some organisations – including the RSPCA, Blue Cross and the Kennel Club – believe dogs should be judged on a “deed not breed” basis.  Their argument is the increased popularity of the breed has forced demand which in turn has resulted in irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership which can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour in any breed.

There is also discussion as to whether bans are even effective.  The evidence suggests making breeds illegal will reduce numbers but not eliminate them.

Figures from the Metropolitan Police show that between 2015 and 2016 pit bull terriers were still responsible for 19% of dog attacks across London despite having been banned over 25 years previously.  Similarly, the RSPCA reported that between 1999 and 2019, hospital admissions to treat dog attacks increased by 154% even though the four breeds believed to present the highest risk have all been banned in 1991.

What criminal charges would you face if your dog attacks someone?

Ultimately, as a dog owner you are responsible for the actions of your dog.  You have a responsibility to make sure your dog is properly trained, always under your control, and does not pose a risk to the public.

However, there are laws in place to protect the victims of dog attacks.  The primary laws relating to dog attacks is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997.

While these laws are designed to impose criminal liability on dog owners if their dog attacks someone, the specific criminal charges and penalties an owner would face if their dog attacked someone will vary depending on the circumstances and the severity but include:

  • Dangerous Dog Offence

If a dog injures a person, the owner can be charged with having a dog that is “dangerously out of control.”  This is a criminal offense under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the penalties could include fines, imprisonment, and a dog control order that places restrictions on the dog so that the dog is no longer a risk to the public.

  • Death Caused by a Dog

If a dog kills a person, the owner could be charged with manslaughter.  This would likely lead to a lengthy custodial sentence if the owner is convicted.

  • Civil Compensation

In addition to criminal charges and penalties, the victim may also be liable to claim for financial compensation from the owner because of the injuries sustained during the dog attack.

It’s also important to note that under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro are all banned.  This means owning, breeding, or selling these breeds is a serious criminal offense.  If the dog involved is one of these breeds, you will likely face fines, imprisonment and the destruction of the dog.

If you or someone you know is involved in a dog attack incident in the UK, you should take legal advice immediately.  Our team of experienced criminal barristers can help.  If you’d like to speak to one of them about any type of criminal case, please contact us today.

One Reply to “Which criminal charges would you face if your dog attacks someone?”

Chambers Marketing
24 Sep 2023 Reply

We were sorry to see that only hours after this blog was written, a man was rushed to hospital on Friday evening having been attacked by a dog in Paslay Park, South London by a dog believed to be an XL Bully. The dog and its owner fled the scene and the police are continuing their search for both.

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