London: Dog owners in the UK whose animals kill or injure people could face life in prison under a new government plan to make punishments tougher for owners of dangerous pets.
At present, if a dog injures someone the owner can be sent to prison for up to two years and face a fine. Proposals for a significant jump from the current maximum jail sentence of two years to up to life imprisonment were launched today by Lord de Mauley, the animal welfare minister.
"Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control," Mauley said.
"We`re already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It`s crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents," the minister said.
The government has proposed a number of sentencing options for a fatal dog attack - from seven years to life.
Currently, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 covers only attacks by dogs in public places and private areas where animals are prohibited from being, such as a neighbour`s garden or a park.
A government consultation on the new proposals, which will run until September 1, follows the announcement in February of plans to extend the scope of the law to enable a prosecution to be brought against anyone whose dog injures someone or acts aggressively in a private place where they are permitted to be, such as the owner`s home, the BBC reported.
Sixteen people have been killed by dangerous dogs since 2005, including a 14-year-old girl who was savaged by four dogs - believed to be two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers - as she was visiting the home of a friend near Wigan, Greater Manchester, in March.
More than 200,000 people a year are estimated to be bitten by dogs in the country. The annual cost to the government for treating injuries due to dog bites is about 3 million pounds.
For owners with dogs that maim but do not kill, 10 years is the maximum term suggested for injuring a person. 10 years will also be the sentence handed to owners of dogs that kill assistance and guide dogs.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents postmen and women and telecoms engineers, welcomed the consultation. Their workers suffer an estimated 5,000 dog attacks each year, the Independent reported.