Justice Minister, Hon. Delroy Chuck, says the pending Dog (Liability for Attacks) Act is not meant to punish owners of these animals.
The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 17, and will now go before the Senate for its approval.
In an interview with JIS News, the Minister said unless the dog attack is considered serious and results in the death of the victim, criminal liability will not be recorded.
He explained that the offence is not like most criminal acts, where persons get a criminal record, so for most attacks, owners will be fined or serve a term of imprisonment.
“Though it does not occur very often, there are cases where the dog owner can do something, seeing the dog attacking the person, or maybe even encourage the dog to attack the person and the person suffers death. From there, the matter goes to the Supreme Court and then there is the likelihood that persons will serve a term of imprisonment, because they have weaponised the dog,” he noted.
“In those cases it might be considered manslaughter, there might be a term of imprisonment and there will be a criminal record. But, if the matter is in the Parish Courts, there won’t be a criminal record and it is unlikely that there will be a term of imprisonment,” the Minister added.
Mr. Chuck said that some dog owners have expressed that there should not be any criminal liability.
However, the Minister reiterated that the Act seeks to deter dog attacks by encouraging owners to take the necessary steps to secure their dogs and their property.
“This legislation is not meant to punish dog owners, but it is meant to urge them to ensure that their private space is well secured. Too often you drive around communities and you see dogs running up and down the road. You have people who take walks in the morning and in the evening being chased by dogs who are supposed to be contained in the householder’s private space. We are saying when that occurs, the dog owner will be responsible and there could be a significant fine,” he said.
Meanwhile, dog owners should be mindful of the various avenues their dogs could use to escape and cause harm.
“Persons have come to me and said, ‘what happens if it is the helper, gardener or a visitor who leaves the gate open?’, I said, I’m sorry; if that is the case during the day, then put a muzzle on the dog or make sure during the day the dog is tied. We have too many cases of persons being severely, grievously injured by dogs, which for one reason or another have escaped or have left the private space of the owner,” Mr. Chuck said.
For persons walking their dogs, the Minister suggests that extra care should be taken.
“Now there are dog owners who walk their dogs who say that this legislation is frightening, because [what happens] if the dog escapes from their hand? I said, well you would take the error, because if you have six dogs and while holding them, one of them gets loose and bites someone, whose fault is it? Why should the victim suffer because you have taken it on yourself not to be in a position to control your dog that you are walking on the street?” Mr. Chuck asked.
The Minister pointed out that the main consideration “is for the citizens of this country who have a right to walk in a public space”.
“If dog owners cause their dogs to bite anyone in the public space, they will be held liable,” Mr. Chuck emphasised.