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ANIMALS: Regina v Robinson-Pierre

Dog - Out of control

20 January 2014

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Regina v Robinson-Pierre

[2013] EWCA Crim 2396; [2013] WLR (D) 517

CA: Pitchford LJ, Nicola Davies J, Judge Collier QC: 20 December 2013

An offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place, contrary to section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, was a strict liability offence but nevertheless required proof by the prosecution of an act or omission on the part of the defendant (with or without fault) that to some (more than minimal) degree caused or permitted that prohibited state of affairs to come about.

Police officers went to the defendant's home address to execute a search warrant. An enforcer was used to break open the front door and the officers entered the house. There was silence within but by inference the defendant and another were inside the house, probably on the first floor. Almost immediately after the officers entered a pit bull terrier belonging to the defendant descended the stairs and attacked one of the police constables. The police officers backed away through the garden on to the public highway. The dog followed and attacked three other police officers before being destroyed by armed officers called to the scene. At the defendant's trial on charges of being the owner of a dog which caused injury while dangerously out of control in a public place, contrary to section 3(1) and (4) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the judge ruled, following a submission of no case to answer, that the offence was one of strict liability which did not require proof of any action or inaction on the part of the owner to bring about the consequences either of the dog being in a public place or of the dog being dangerously out of control. The defendant was convicted. He appealed against conviction, contending that, although section 3(1) did create a strict liability offence requiring no mens rea, the minimum requirement for a conviction under that section was that the defendant had caused or contributed to the prohibited event by his voluntary act or omission, and that accordingly, where the act of a third party, without the defendant's knowledge or consent, was the sole cause of the state of affairs the defendant should be excused because he neither did nor omitted to do something that brought about the prohibited state of affairs.

Appeal allowed.

It was not the law of England and Wales that Parliament could not provide for criminal liability when there was no causative link between the act or omission of the defendant and the prohibited event. There was, accordingly, no principle of law that even in the case of "absolute" liability it had to be shown that the defendant had caused the prohibited state of affairs. However, although section 3(1) of the 1991 Act did indeed create an offence of strict liability, the underlying assumption of the defence provided by section 3(2) was that someone, whether the owner or "a person whom he reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of [the dog]", would be in charge of the dog so as to prevent the prohibited state of affairs arising. It followed that it was not Parliament's intention to render the owner absolutely liable in all circumstances for the existence of the prohibited state of affairs, however it arose. Accordingly, there had to be some causal connection between having charge of the dog and the prohibited state of affairs that had arisen and section 3(1) therefore required proof by the prosecution of an act or omission on the part of the defendant (with or without fault) that to some (more than minimal) degree caused or permitted the prohibited state of affairs to come about.

Appearances: Craig Harris (assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the defendant; Sam Brown (instructed byCrown Prosecution Service, Appeals Unit) for the Crown.

Reported by: Clare Barsby, Barrister.

Solicitors Journal case summaries are prepared by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting

Categorised in:

Procedures