Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, says that owners of disciplined, well-cared-for and trained dogs are not the target of the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act, 2020.
She noted that the Bill, which provides for criminal and civil liability for an owner of a dog that attacks, injures and/or causes the death of a person, speaks to those dogs that display vicious behaviour and if not kept and restrained properly, pose a danger to members of the public.
“Many Jamaicans bear the physical and mental scars of dog attacks and are terrified of dogs for the rest of their lives,” she noted while opening the debate on the Bill during the sitting of the Senate on Friday (November 27).
She cited cases where persons lost their lives as a result of dog attacks in 2016 and 2018, the mauling of a grade-six teacher last year, and most recently, the vicious attack on five-year old Mickele Allen by a pack of dogs.
Mrs. Johnson Smith stressed that these ordeals “remind us of the importance of what we are doing here… to ensure that the laws protect the people of Jamaica”.
“We want to increase awareness among owners of the importance of keeping their dogs under control. For many years, there has been public outrage at the scant regard that many dog owners have paid to the harm and injury inflicted by the dogs,” she pointed out.
Senator Johnson Smith, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, noted that the Bill, which repeals the Dogs (Liability for Injuries by) Act of 1877, introduces criminal liability in addition to preserving the civil liability that existed before, “so whether a victim pursues a civil remedy or not, the owner may be prosecuted if any of the offences set out in the Bill have been committed”.
“This [legislation] takes us forward, because when a report is made it would be the clerk of the court who would prosecute the matter, which would take the burden off the citizen in seeking justice,” she added.
The legislation provides for a procedure for reporting attacks by dogs and empowering constables to investigate and, in appropriate circumstances, to issue a warning instead of proceeding to criminal charge.
Additionally, the owner of a dog has a duty to ensure that, at all times while the dog is in a public place, it is kept under control and that the dog is fitted with a muzzle that prevents it from biting any individual.
The dog must be fitted with restraint or contained in a receptacle that allows movement to be kept under control and prevents it from biting or presenting a menace to any individual.
The dog is not permitted to enter any public place that prohibits the entry of dogs unless it is for the purpose of security, any lawful purpose by a government agent or is guiding a person with a disability.
The Bill proposes fines ranging from $500,000 to $3 million, or imprisonment from six months to 15 years as criminal penalties, where an individual is attacked by a dog.
Debate on the Bill was suspended and is expected to continue during the next sitting of the Senate.
The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (November 17), with 17 amendments.