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Police dog handler acquitted in significant case for UK dog handlers

Related Member(s):
Jamas Hodivala QC

An Essex Police dog handler was acquitted after facing the allegation that he was in charge of a dangerously out of control dog in February 2019. Essex police require their dog handlers to train their dogs whilst off duty, and as the handler was doing so the dog bit a member of the public.

There is a statutory exclusion from liability in s.10(3) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 if the dog was being “used by a constable for a lawful purpose”. Whilst the Crown accepted that formal police dog training satisfies this exclusion, its objection was that off-duty training does not satisfy the exclusion, making this case of national significance to police dog handlers around the country.

This prosecution is believed to be the first to have been brought following the decision of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division in the recent case of R v PY [2019] 1 WLR 3249, where it was decided that exercising a police dog does not amount to ‘using a dog for a lawful purpose’. In this case the judge made a significant ruling that it was the Crown that must prove the dog was not being used by a constable for a lawful purpose on two grounds. First, he concluded that this was an essential element of the offence as a matter of statutory construction. Secondly, if wrong about this, the judge ruled that he would have used s.3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to “read down” s.10(3) to impose only an evidential burden on the defence.

Jamas Hodivala QC was instructed by Russell Haldane from THB solicitors.