The Supreme Court of Victoria (AU) has dealt a major blow to the Baillieu State Government of Victoria’s campaign to, among other things, exterminate pit bull-type dogs in Australia. The Court overturned a decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) which upheld a ruling that two dogs, deemed to be American pit bull terriers by the councils of Darebin and Monash, complied with the legal definition of a restricted breed and should be put down. The Court ruled that VCAT made an error of law in ruling the dogs were American pit bulls, said Justice Stephen Kaye, who ruled the physical characteristics of a dog must have a closer association with government guidelines for dangerous breeds.
A Darebin council spokeswoman said the Court’s decision would not be appealed, but would instead serve as a guide when assessing dogs in future.
Monash Mayor Micaela Drieberg urged the state government to amend the legislation following the recent Supreme Court decision, which had ”raised the bar very high”. She went on to say:
The government brought in these laws with the best of intentions, but the laws are not working. We’re keen to see the state government refine the laws to address the issues that are coming up.
The appeal case highlights the difficulties in identifying dogs believed to be pit bull terriers, and could undermine the laws introduced in September 2011. Under the law, all American pit bull terriers must be placed on a dangerous dog register, microchipped, spayed/neutered, and muzzled when in public. Councils were given the power to destroy dogs whose owners failed to comply. Owners face 10 years’ prison if their pets are responsible for the death of a person.
The Court ruling has been hailed as a victory by owners of affected breeds, who have vowed to mount further court action against councils. The American Pit Bull Terrier Club of Australia president Colin Muir said the recent decision would provide greater certainty for owners and discourage councils from taking legal action without proof a dog was one of the five breeds designated as dangerous by the government.
The Supreme Court ordered the councils of Monash and Darebin to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees and pound costs, a move expected to deter other legal challenges by local governments. Councils now know that in the future, they will face massive legal costs every time a dog is declared to be a member of a restricted breed.
Victoria’s Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has advised that the laws governing restricted dog breeds will be reviewed as a result of the court decision. However, despite the Court’s strong ruling against the law, Mr. Walsh advised that any legislative amendments made to the law would be in order to improve the ability of councils to “manage these types of dogs” in the community.
Last, but certainly not least, the dogs at the center of the legal dispute have been returned to their owners!
We hope this will serve as a wake up call to all governmental bodies that breed specific laws are arbitrary, unreasonable, and vague and, in that respect, leave them (more specifically, leave their tax paying citizens) wide open to costly legal actions, as well as more vulnerable to the truly dangerous dogs in the community that don’t happen to meet the biased criteria to be judged as such.