Am I liable if my dog attacks another dog or a person?

Posted by janelle.tarabay on 17 January 2019

It is commonly understood that if a dog attacks another animal or person, it could result in the dog being put down. But what many people do not know, is that the owner of the dog is liable for their dog’s actions, and they could face serious penalties including imprisonment.

In fact, New South Wales has one of the toughest regimes in Australia governing ‘dangerous dogs’ under the Companion Animals Act 1998.

For example, if a dog rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses, or chases any person or animal, even where no injury is caused, the maximum penalty is $11,000. If the dog has previously been declared a ‘dangerous dog’, the penalty increases to $44,000.

Furthermore, if a dog acts in the above manner, and the incident is caused as a result of a reckless act or omission by the owner of the dog, for example, if the dog owner left their front gate open, then the owner could face up to two years in jail. Again, if the dog has previously been declared a ‘dangerous dog’, the maximum penalty increases to 4 years imprisonment.

There is no specific offence created where a dog causes injury, or even death, to a person or animal, however sections 25 and 26 of the Act provide for the potential for an order of civil damages to be made against the owner of the dog.

Pictured: Theodore, who was recently attacked by another dog

 

Case study: Client avoids jail after fifth offence

Posted by Justin Wong on 14 January 2019

In a recent matter, one of Maxine Malaney’s clients avoided jail in a serious case. The man had been charged with his fifth criminal offence within the past year. In doing so, he breached four section 9 bonds.

The offence with which he was charged, drive whilst disqualified, carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and/or a fine of $5500, along with a mandatory period of disqualification from driving.

 

Maxine advised the client that to avoid jail, he would need to gather strong subjective material to counteract the seriousness of the charge. On the day of sentence, Maxine tendered a large bundle of material in the client’s favour, including an expert psychological report. Maxine argued that considering the new information now before the court, the client deserved some leniency.

Ultimately, the Magistrate agreed with Maxine and sentenced the client to a Community Corrections Order, with a condition that he complete a very small amount of community service. The Magistrate also accepted Maxine’s argument that no action should be taken on the four breaches of section 9 bonds. He was given only a short period of disqualification from driving.

As a result, the client avoided jail altogether and was able to move forward with his life.

The Case Against Public Sex Offender Registers in Australia

Posted by Justin Wong on 09 January 2019

Yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton announced his intention for a national “child-sex register”, claiming it would be the “toughest crack down on peadophiles in Australia’s history”.

These are bold claims by the Minister, presumably supported by evidence. However a review of the evidence, and past experience in other jurisdictions where public sex offender registers exist, simply do not support that it would increase community protection, reduce reoffending, or act as a significant deterrent.

A few facts about child sex assault and sex offending generally:

  1. The vast majority of sex offences and assaults are committed by someone known to the victim or the victim’s family, with studies reporting around three-quarters of sexual assault victims knew their offender, and around one-third were assaulted by a family member.
  2. 83% of child sexual assault victims aged under 14 were assaulted by someone they knew, and only 10% were assaulted by someone unknown.
  3. Despite common belief, rates of reoffending for sex offenders is relatively low compared to other offenders.

Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, 2018. 

The notion that a public sex offender register, identifying photos of offenders, their area of residence, personal details and the nature of their offending, will improve public safety, is simply not supported by the evidence.

In the USA, since as early as 1994, public sex offender registers have been in operation in various states, and at different levels. Empirical studies into their effectiveness have been mixed, but significantly:

  1. Several seperate studies have found that public registers did not reduce sex offence recidivism.
  2. A review of the studies by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that although there is some evidence it has a general deterrent effect, there is “little evidence that the US policies have reduced reoffending among registered sex offenders; in fact, some studies have shown that [it has] increased sex offender recidivism”.

Problems with Public Registers

There are a number of concerns with these registers. For example, there is a real danger that public sex offender registers will lead to an false sense of security. This is particularly given the overwhelming majority of offences against young people are committed by someone known or close to the victim, often a family member.

Further, public shaming and ongoing victimisation of sex offenders can lead to isolation, exclusion from employment and opportunities, lack of stable housing and positive social connections. These are all factors that significantly increase the chance of reoffending.

Issues also exists concerning offences such as “sexting” or other offences committed by people at a young age (whilst still over 18), effectively being stigmatised for life.

NSW already has one of the toughest child sex offender registers in the country. Offenders are subjected to regular police visits, must advise police of all electronic devices, email and social media accounts, phone numbers, car registration details and addresses. Penalties for breaching there obligations are severe.

There is little, if any, evidence to suggest that a public register will work. In fact it is likely to draw police resources away from current priorities. Further, it will stigmatise one-off offenders after they have served their sentences and the focus is on rehabilitation and ensuring they do not reoffend.

Note: References to studies and statistics are drawn from the Australian Government’s own report: “What impact do public sex offender registers have on the community?” – Australian Institute of Criminology – May 2018