Mr Watson had been charged with the offence of being an owner of a dog dangerously out of control causing injury contrary to section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (“the Act”). The Magistrates’ Court found Mr Watson not guilty on the basis that the postal worker had placed his fingers through Mr Watson’s letter box, failing to use his postal stick which he had in his possession. Royal Mail required its workers to use a postal stick when delivering mail to homes where dogs were present. It was held that by placing his fingers into the property, the postal worker had trespassed. Further, he had not exercised due diligence by using the postal stick and, therefore, placed himself at risk.
Royal Mail Group appealed the decision.
Section 3 of the Act provides that if a dog is dangerously out of control in any place in England and Wales (whether or not in a public place), the owner or the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence. If the dog, while so out of control, injures any person (or assistance dog), an aggravated offence is committed.
This is known as a “strict liability” offence, i.e. the offence is complete when the act is committed. The prosecution only need to prove that an act or omission from the owner or the person in charge of the dog, with or without fault, to more than a minimal degree, caused or permitted the dog to be dangerously out of control
As the offence is ‘strict’, there are limited defences that apply. Mr Watson raised the “householder case” defence in his case, which is provided in section 3 (1A) and (1B) of the Act. The defence provides that a person is not guilty of an offence if the dog is dangerously out of control while in a building, or part of a building that is a dwelling, and the person in relation to whom the dog is dangerously out of control is or believed to be a trespasser.
The appeal court found that a postal worker was not a trespasser for the purposes of the Act, therefore, the householder case defence did not apply. There was no defence of lack of due diligence on the part of the postal worker and his culpability was irrelevant due to the strict nature of the offence.
The householder case was intended to apply to situations involving residential burglars and unwanted intruders and did not extend to the circumstances of Mr Watson’s case.
The letter box is an open invitation to visitors to post mail through it and can involve the insertion of fingers for a short time. The postal worker was, therefore, not a trespasser in these circumstances.
Due to the strict nature of the Act, there are very limited circumstances in which dog owners or those in charge of a dog are afforded a defence. The Act puts the onus on dog owners or those in charge of a dog to ensure that their dog is kept under control.
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