For farms, estates and other animal owners, sheep worrying is a recurring concern. That concern is heightened in current circumstances where COVID restrictions mean that outdoor walking is one of the limited types of exercise permitted. Increased footfall over land increases the risk of sheep worrying. Recent press coverage confirms the risk.

The offence

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, a dog owner commits a criminal offence where their dog "worries livestock on any agricultural land". Worrying is defined as (1) attacking livestock; (2) chasing livestock in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or, in the case of females, abortion, or loss of or diminution in their produce; or (3) being at large i.e. not on a lead or otherwise under close control in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep (subject to certain exceptions such as dogs owned by the land occupier and police dogs).

The offence carries a maximum fine of £1,000. A Bill aiming to increase the maximum fine to £5,000 and introduce further penalties for owners, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, is currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament.

What about the livestock owner?

Both the existing and proposed legislation are aimed at compelling responsible behaviour by dog owners - neither makes provision for the owner of the affected livestock to be compensated.

The owner of livestock affected by an incident, will want to understand what steps can be taken to recover their losses. Private civil action is one option. A separate option is to engage with the Scottish prosecution service – the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) - to seek a compensation order from the dog owner at the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

Compensation order

A compensation order is a financial penalty imposed on a convicted person, the proceeds of which are paid to the victim of crime. This is in order to compensate them for “personal injury, loss or damage caused directly or indirectly; or alarm or distress caused directly” caused by the offence.

If an owner of livestock impacted by sheep worrying seeks recovery of their losses, they can raise this with COPFS. Ultimately, it is for a criminal court to decide whether to grant a compensation order.

What is involved?

We have experience of advising clients in these circumstances. Our practice is to work with animal owners to gather all relevant material at the time of the incident (including photographs of damage / injury, vet reports on injury and valuations of loss). We then engage with COPFS to present that material together with an explanation as to why they should seek a compensation order in the event of a successful prosecution. We have worked with COPFS to prepare written submissions for a criminal court as to why compensation orders are appropriate.

Those steps require quick and effective action following an incident. If an animal owner has experienced sheep worrying, they should seek legal support as soon as possible following an incident to understand their recovery options and in particular to seek advice around the potential for a compensation order.

Contributor

Ramsay Hall

Legal Director