Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

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Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
Pit bull restrained.jpg
An American Pit Bull Terrier on a lead and wearing a muzzle
Makes it illegal to own any Specially Controlled Dogs without specific exemption from a court

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (c. 65)[1] is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom prohibiting or restricting certain types of dogs. After eleven horrific attacks in 1991, described in impassioned pleas by several Members of Parliament,[2] Home Secretary Kenneth Baker promised "to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs".[3] The Act has been controversial for failing to stem the rise of dog attacks over time,[4] and for focusing on a dog's breed or looks instead of an individual dog's behavior.[5][6]


The 1991 act[1] was introduced by then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, and was amended in 1997.[7] The Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland, with The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991[8] having a similar effect in Northern Ireland. The intention of the Act was the protection of the people. Prior to the Act there were no criminal penalties for injuries or deaths caused by dog attacks.[9][10]

In summary:

  • Section 1, Dogs bred for fighting, prohibits the ownership of certain types of dogs, unless exempted on the Index of Exempt Dogs. It was intended to have a preventative effect.[9]
  • Section 3, Keeping dogs under proper control, creates a criminal offence of allowing any dog (of any breed or type) to be dangerously out of control, and legal action may be taken against the dog's owner.[9]
  • Section 4, Destruction and disqualification orders, covers orders for destruction of dogs, and orders for prohibiting offenders from the keeping of dogs for a period of time.

Section 1 (Breed Specific Legislation)[edit]

Under the Act, it is illegal to own certain dogs without an exemption from a court.[11] The Act bans the breeding, sale and exchange of these dogs, even if they are on the Index of Exempted Dogs.[12]

Four types in particular were identified by the Act:

The Act also covers cross-breeds of the above four types of dog. Dangerous dogs are classified by "type", not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is prohibited under the Act will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited "type". This assessment of the physical characteristics is made by a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO), a police officer experienced in dog handling and dog legislation, who assists in the investigation of dog-related allegations of crime.[9]

Exempted Dogs[edit]

The process for getting a Section 1 dog exempted includes proving to the court that the dog is not a danger to public safety, that the dog is already neutered and microchipped,[Note 1] and that the owner has obtained third-party insurance that would cover an incident of bodily injury or death of a person caused by the dog. Ongoing conditions include keeping the dog at the address listed, notifying of address changes, notifying of the death or export of the dog, keeping the dog muzzled and on a lead in public places, keeping the dog securely to prevent escape, and maintaining all previous conditions for the life of the dog.[15]

The Animal Welfare section of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) oversees the administration of the Act and the Index of Exempted Dogs.[14]

In 1991 and 1992, details of all Specially Controlled Dogs and their owners and keepers had to be added to the Index of Exempted Dogs. From early 1992 to 1997, no dogs were allowed to be added to the Index. In 1997, The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997 was passed which made some changes.[16]

Case law[edit]

There have been several test cases of the act, including Dempsey, a pit bull terrier which in 1995 was finally reprieved from a destruction order, to widespread media attention.[17][18] The definition of the word "type" in the legislation was of particular controversy, as was the lack of discretion that the Act gives magistrates.

In the case of R (Sandhu) v. Isleworth Crown Court, the claimant Sandhu was in prison and sought to nominate a temporary keeper to have his dog. The judicial review held that a person does have the right to nominate a person to temporarily keep the dog. This decision has more recently been more regulated to only allow for temporary keepership in certain circumstances.[19]

Criticism of the Act[edit]

The act only covers dog attacks causing physical injury to a human, not physical injury or death to other animals, and does not cover mental injury to a human witnessing such an attack (PTSD, for example). Efforts have been made to get the law changed.[20]

The act has been described as a piece of rushed legislation which was an overreaction to a transient public mood.[21][22][23][24] The Act is sometimes cited as an unfavourable example of such legislation,[25][26] and in January 2007, the act was included in public responses to a BBC Radio 4 poll of unpopular UK legislation.[27]

The act has also been criticised as ineffectual because its mandate is limited to the four banned breeds; it has been suggested that the act be amended to expand it remit to deal with dangerous dogs of any kind, irrespective of the breed.[28]

In the Brexit litigation about Article 50 in the Supreme Court (R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union), the Dangerous Dogs Act was used as an example that even such a law cannot be cancelled by the royal prerogative.[29]

Comparable legislation elsewhere[edit]

Many other countries also have laws pertaining to dangerous dogs. These vary in severity. In some jurisdictions in Australia, dogs which have been declared dangerous are required to wear a collar of red and yellow stripes; under the legislation of some municipalities of Queensland, such dogs are seized and killed. In some local government areas, restrictions are very carefully spelt out.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ All dogs in the UK were mandated to be microchipped and registered in one of the authorised commercial databases by 2016.[13][14]


  1. ^ a b "Dangerous Dogs Act 1991". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  2. ^ "Dangerous Dogs (Hansard, 23 May 1991)". api.parliament.uk. 23 May 1991.
  3. ^ Clare, Sean (22 May 2012). "Dangerous dog laws: A history". BBC News – via www.bbc.com.
  4. ^ Barkham, Patrick; Murphy, Simon (18 January 2012). "Bark but no bite: Dangerous Dogs Act in spotlight as attacks rise". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  5. ^ Crookes, Del (13 April 2016). "A short history of the 'dangerous dog' and why certain breeds are banned - BBC Newsbeat". Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  6. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 - what is it?". Blue Cross.
  7. ^ "Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  8. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  9. ^ a b c d "Dangerous dogs law: Guidance for enforcers (PB13225)". GOV.UK. Defra. 2009.
  10. ^ "Dangerous Dog Offences - The Crown Prosecution Service". cps.gov.uk. Crown Prosecution Service.
  11. ^ "Controlling your dog in public". GOV.UK.
  12. ^ "Types of dogs prohibited in Great Britain : Guidance on the recognition of prohibited dogs in Great Britain" (PDF). Defra. 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2007. Retrieved 7 February 2013. via Internet Archive Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Dog microchipping law brings fines risk". BBC News. 6 April 2016.
  14. ^ a b Bennett, Oliver (11 August 2016). "Dangerous Dogs, Briefing Paper number 4348". House of Commons Library – via researchbriefings.parliament.uk.
  15. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015". www.legislation.gov.uk. 2015.
  16. ^ http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/53
  17. ^ "LEADING ARTICLE : Love Dempsey, hate pit-bulls". The Independent. 8 September 1995. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  18. ^ "BBC News - UK - Death row dogs". news.bbc.co.uk. 20 November 1998. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  19. ^ "R (on the application of Sandhu) v Isleworth Crown Court - LexisWeb". lexisweb.co.uk. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  20. ^ "Justice for dog owner after fatal attack". Basingstoke Gazette. 24 March 2018.
  21. ^ Schmidt, William E. (29 May 1991). "London Journal; Bad Dogs and Englishmen, What's to Be Done?". The New York Times.
  22. ^ "Is the Dangerous Dogs Act dangerously out of control?". www.bcu.ac.uk. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  23. ^ "Dog control laws and pit bulls". BBC News. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  24. ^ "The Lords is the more democratic house". The Daily Telegraph. London. 13 April 2004. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  25. ^ "fabians.org.uk". Archived from the original on 12 January 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  26. ^ Hollingshead, Iain (5 November 2005). "Whatever happened to dangerous dogs?". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  27. ^ "Hunting ban tops 'unpopular' poll". BBC News. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  28. ^ "Dangerous Dogs Act has never worked - Andrew Rosindell MP". BBC News. 20 August 2016. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  29. ^ "Government accused of treating Britain's EU laws with contempt". The Guardian. 6 December 2016. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  30. ^ "Restricted Dog Breeds in Rockingham, Western Australia". Retrieved 26 May 2018.


External links[edit]

UK Legislation[edit]