Update: Please note that the legislations mentioned have been amended since this interview was published (15/03/2013)
Trevor has been qualified as a Solicitor for 25 years and is widely regarded as
the leading solicitor in England and Wales who specialises in the dog law.
Trevor currently splits his time between acting as the Doglaw Specialist for Dogs Trust in London and continuing to represent dog owners in both criminal and civil matters. He maintains his website www.doglaw.co.uk and is regularly in demand for lectures and media interviews such as BBC One News and Radio 5.
Q. What made you decide to specialise in dog law?
A. It was a complete accident. I was previously a commercial lawyer doing landlord and tenant work for a firm in Whitstable. A friend of mine was a local journalist who reported on a case where a GSD was ordered to be destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (the DDA). As the dog had done nothing wrong before this it seemed unfair and he asked me to look into it and see if there was anything that could be done to save the dog. I did that one case which made headlines and after that people have ‘hunted’ me down to take on more cases. So it was never a deliberate choice, it was completely accidental. I didn’t own a dog before and I knew nothing about the DDA before that first case. The next case I took on was Dempsey the pit bull terrier which made headlines throughout the world and highlighted the flaws in breed specific legislation.
Q. So do you own any dogs yourself?
A. Oh no far too dangerous! *chuckle* No I don’t own a dog because of the way my life is at the moment, I’m here, there and everywhere and do a lot of travelling and I live on my own so I know I can’t have a dog because that wouldn’t be fair. However, I do seem to be surrounded by dogs most of the time.
Q. You’ve been on television and the radio a lot lately, how will the changes in dog legislation affect the everyday dog owner?
A. There’s a tremendous amount of change; certainly since I’ve been doing dog law for 20 years it’s the most change we’ve had. Every dog owner will of course have to get their dog micro-chipped from the 6th of April 2016 so that’s the biggest move forward for dog welfare. Every dog owner will of course have to get their dog micro-chipped from the 6th of April 2016
Every dog owner will of course have to get their dog micro-chipped from the 6th of April 2016
Q. So is legislation slightly different in various regions like Scotland?
A. Yes, both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own procedures and they have their own laws – it mirrors largely to what we have here in England and Wales, but they have important differences in certain aspects. One difference is the dog licence, which only exists in Northern Ireland – I do hope it stays there as that’s one form of tax that we shouldn’t return to.
Q. So how will dog owners and professionals benefit in taking your dog law seminars?
A. Hopefully they will learn more before than they did before they started. Getting people to understand that it’s just not the question of getting a dog and then just having it at home and that’s the end of it, because there are responsibilities that you have as a dog owner and they include your legal responsibilities and I try to make sure people know what will happen if they breach them.
But it’s not just about the criminal law, it is also about civil disputes between people and I also talk about those, and how expensive it can be to go to court. The best thing is to avoid the problem before it happens. The best thing is to avoid the problem before it happens.
The best thing is to avoid the problem before it happens.
Certainly one of the things I promote is all dog owners getting insurance; ideally getting vet health care insurance for their dog but I appreciate that it is not within everyone’s budget, so if they can’t afford that then at the very least all dog owners should have a Third Party Liability insurance which will pay out for compensation claims if they are found to be legal liable if their dog injures a person, another animal or damages anyone’s property. People often say to me that their dog has never done anything wrong before, so why should they worry about insurance? Well, that’s what insurance is all about : responsible dog owners get insured not because they think their dog is going to do something wrong, what they need to consider is: IF their dog is going to do something wrong can they afford not to be insured? People who become members of Dogs Trust get free Third Party Liability insurance as part of membership, so £25 a year that’s all it costs, per member, it’s not per dog and it’s half that price if you’re over 60. With that you get cover for up to a £1 Million per claim, [other insurers are available, terms and conditions apply].
It’s not just a question of lecturing at people. I do hope that in addition to informing, I also entertain in my talks. That’s not to say I do a song & dance routine nor tell jokes, but the law can be a dry and dusty subject and I do try to make it as fun as possible.
Q. How many cases relating to the dangerous dogs act do you deal with on a weekly basis?
A. I couldn’t put it into numbers. The figures go up and down. I certainly don’t do all of the cases and to some extent I wish I did… *chuckle* I’m sure there are lawyers out there who take on cases thinking they are easy and when they get into it they perhaps realise they aren’t. You do need to understand about these very complicated laws to do an effective job for your clients. I think nationally there are about a thousand cases that go to court each year. We will probably see that increasing significantly if the Government extends Section 3 of the DDA as it will cover private places as well.
I probably do far more advice work than I do court work. I work for Dogs Trust during most of the week so I can’t be everywhere. I have an assistant, Nik, who works for me full time and he takes the lion’s share of the advice calls. We advise a lot of people but I can’t always be in court for them but we can arrange representation from one of the barristers we have worked with before or we can provide assistance over the phone.
Q. So, with the recent and proposed changes, do you think the situation will get worse?
A. Well, it depends on what you mean by worse. Do I think that there will be an increasing number of prosecutions? Yes I do. I’m not sure that that’s a bad thing though, as it seems to me that dog owners do have a responsibility even to people on their own land. Provided that those people are present on their land lawfully then it seems to me that they have a right to be there free from any interference from a dangerous dog so it’s right that that should be a criminal offence if your dog injures a lawful visitor. But I certainly don’t want dog owners criminalised if their dog should chase off a burglar. It seems to me that that would be preposterous. At the moment in Wales their draft legislation does not provide for any exemption if the dog should chase a burglar whereas the anticipation is in England that it will, so hopefully the Welsh Government will reflect on their current view.
Please visit http://www.doglaw.co.uk/seminars-owners-clubs.php for information on lectures around the country. There are lectures suited for any type of dog owner from everyday dog owners and dog show exhibitors to dog professionals. Having been myself, I couldn’t recommend it more highly.