It is a downright shame that almost 11 years after its passage in Parliament, the Dangerous Dogs Act (hereinafter referred to as the Act) has never been proclaimed and implemented as law. One could understand the legislative lethargy if the problem of attacks by dogs deemed dangerous had abated but the situation is quite the converse. Since the Act was assented to and apparently left to collect dust on the shelves, there have been reports of vicious attacks by dogs, especially pit bulls and within recent time gruesome deaths have resulted from these animals literally proving their killer instincts. It is unfortunate that it took deaths of innocent people and the near fatalities of others who were the subject of dog attacks to wake the sleeping giants to address the matter of the implementation of the legislation. And let this not be interpreted as an indictment against this re-gime because nothing prevented the last government from reviewing and revising legislation, such as this Act, which although assented to was not implemented.
Taking a revisit
In the particular instance of the recent pit bull attacks, the Prime Minister has acted with rapidity and directed the Attorney General to put his eyes on the legislation with a view to its implementation. This will be no easy task for obviously there are challenges and perhaps even flaws in the existing Act, which may mean the introduction of new legislation. The AG currently has his hands full so it is expected that the relevant departments, commissions and committees within his ministry, as well as independent law bodies, will play an active role in ensuring that we get the legislation right. Without daring to advise the AG as to the approach he should adopt in this matter which continues to be the subject of urgent, national importance, resort should be had, in the first instance, to the Hansard record of the debate. In May 2000, the AG at that time, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, took pains as he piloted the bill to explain its controversial history and the fact that several months before, when debated in its earlier form, various matters were considered before bringing the amended legislation to the Parliament. The debate was lengthy but instructive as the government and opposition at the time sought to address and resolve the concerns raised by sectors of the society who held opposing positions. It is interesting that the issues that were pertinent then remain relevant now and so, thankfully, it is not a case of starting from scratch. In any event this AG has proven himself a hard worker who is performance driven and even as I write, I anticipate that a committee will be established with the specific mandate to advise the AG as to the best way forward.
Ban or regulate
A major issue of debate has always been whether dangerous dogs as defined in the Act should be banned in this country or their ownership made part of a regulatory framework which includes licensing and control. Those who advocate an outright ban believe that dangerous dogs pose a live and continuing threat to innocent people and that responsible ownership is a concept that will be appreciated by few and practised by little. On the other hand, those in favour of regulation maintain that dangerous dogs can be controlled and the focus should be on encouraging responsible ownership. The Act in its current form, by virtue of section five, provides for the neutering and prohibition of breeding of dangerous dogs. There are sections in the Act that provide for the registration and licensing of dangerous dogs so that there is not a total ban but rather a clear intention that owners of dogs defined as dangerous in the Act, including pit bull terriers and any dog bred from the pit bull terrier, would be subject to strict regulatory requirements as sated in the legislation. This was the approach taken by the Government back then to prevent owners of dangerous dogs from the ordeal of having to hand over their dogs to the State to be put away permanently. It was a means of compromise and therefore one has to consider whether, in light of the recent horrific deaths, a draconian approach is preferred.
Much more in Act
The scope of this article does not allow a detailed discussion on the main provisions of the Act but mention must be made of the fear that, once implemented, owners of dangerous dogs unable to comply with the strict requirements of ownership as prescribed in the Act might opt to let their dogs loose, thereby creating further havoc. Although there is a specific provision criminalising such action, it would be difficult to monitor the actions of such owners, especially with no system of registration in place.
Then there is the matter of the investigation and prosecution of offences contained in the Act and the practical problems associated with keeping live exhibits, in this case dangerous dogs. The Act is modelled after the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 UK and in that jurisdiction there were amendments to the law and the issuance of several circulars from the Home Office in order to implement the law and correct deficiencies in the legislation. The job of implementation calls for an appreciation of the entire process from ownership to successful prosecution of the matters and the timeline for rectification is understandably short.
Step in time
It seems that we always suffer the adverse repercussions of acting too late or sitting idly by while disasters strike. To date many innocent lives have been lost as a result of attacks by dogs and such deaths could have been prevented if proper caution had been taken. There are instances in which warnings about dangerous behaviour by dogs were ignored by their owners and these dogs eventually killed, maimed or injured vulnerable people. The situation is out of control and has evoked the strongest outcry from those who already feel insecure and unsafe in our high-crime environment. We have already shown the inability to effectively deal with serious criminals, let us hope that our fate is not the same with killer dogs.