Provisions have been made under the soon-to-be enacted Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act, 2020, for presumptions that hold dog owners accountable if the animals attack an individual in a public space, whether or not there is formal proof of ownership.
This was noted by Leader of Government Business in the Upper House, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, who pointed out that on the matter of presumptions and defences, “the scheme of the Act is set up to ensure that our many informalities are taken into consideration.”
“We need to ensure that responsibility is therefore still applicable more widely, so that the victim this Act is intended to protect…(is) not only protected, but given recourse, and that persons are held accountable and not able to simply slip out of the clutches of the law by saying that they never paid (any) money for the dog or that there is nothing to prove that it is their dog,” she said.
Mrs. Johnson Smith, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, was responding to issues raised in debate on the Bill, during the sitting of the Senate on Friday (December 4).
The Bill was approved with 24 amendments.
The Senator said presumptions are needed in law “that allow a court and guide a court to make sensible and clear deductions in respect of who is responsible for a dog which committed an attack.”
Under the legislation, a dog owner is defined as the person who occupies premises where a dog is kept; has custody and care of the dog when the injury occurred; or who caused the dog to be in the public place where the injury occurred.
It posits that where there is more than one occupier of the premises in question, being premises comprising separate apartments, the occupier of that particular part of the premises, at which the dog is kept or permitted to live or remain at the time of the incident, shall be presumed to be the owner of the dog.
The Bill provides for criminal and civil liability for an owner of a dog that attacks, injures and/or causes the death of a person. It is aimed at encouraging dog owners to exercise appropriate care in managing and controlling their dogs, so that dogs do not harm or injure persons or animals in a public space.
The new legislation repeals the Dogs (Liability for Injuries by) Act of 1877, which has not been amended since its enactment. It had no provision for criminal sanctions for negligence of persons whose dogs attack or injure members of the public.
It now introduces criminal liability in addition to preserving the civil liability which 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.
The legislation provides for criminal and civil liability for an owner of a dog that attacks, injures and/or causes the death of a person. It also provides for civil liability in respect of injury caused by a dog and criminal liability where an individual is attacked by a dog, along with the appropriate penalties.
The Bill proposes fines ranging from $500,000 to $3 million, or imprisonment from six months to 15 years as criminal penalties.