R v PC X (Newcastle Crown Court and Court of Appeal Criminal Division, 2018 and 2019)
Selva Ramasamy QC defended a police dog handler whose dog bit and seriously injured a runner in training for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The officer was charged with having a dog dangerously out of control (s.3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991).
The case involved a number of significant and novel legal challenges, spanning almost 18 months, and involving a hearing in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division which created new binding authority in two areas of law. Ultimately, Selva succeeded in persuading the Crown Court to stay the proceedings as an abuse of process.
The incident occurred while the dog was being exercised. Police dog handlers are under a recognised duty to exercise their dogs. The first issue was whether this meant the dog was being “used for a lawful purpose” within the exemption created by s.10(3) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This was a point which had never been considered by the higher courts - as such there was a complete absence of binding authority. Selva argued that the exemption applied (by reference to established cases showing that exercising of police dogs was a duty) and at first instance the judge in the Crown Court agreed. The prosecution appealed this decision as a “terminating ruling” under s.58 of the CJA 2003. The case was then heard by the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, and was reserved to the Lord Chief Justice given it would affect all users of service dogs nationwide.
The prosecution had served their notice of intention to appeal via email.
The second legal challenge was created because there was a question as to whether the use of email was a permissible means of serving notice under s.58. There was no binding authority on this point either.
When the case came before the CACD, there were therefore two novel points of law to consider: the scope of the s.10(3) exemption AND the scope for using email to serve notice under s.58. The Attorney General instructed Queen’s Counsel to act as Amicus to the Court in relation to the s.58 point.
The CACD ruled that the use of email was a permissible means of serving s.58 notice. Further, the Court overturned the decision of the Crown Court, ruling that the s.10(3) exemption did not apply to the exercising of police dogs - see  EWCA Crim. 17. The CACD refused to certify a point of law of public importance for the Supreme Court.
The case was remitted to the Crown Court for the case to continue.
Selva then ran an abuse of process argument – repeated requests for disclosure had revealed that the dog had previously been owned by a different police force and in that time had bitten and seriously injured a bystander during a training exercise. The dog had been identified as a safety risk and had been deemed unfit for work as a general purpose police dog. It had then been sold to PC X’s police force, and notwithstanding the finding of unfitness/risk had been put back into use as a general purpose police dog. While there was a question as to what PC X’s superiors knew, it could be shown that PC X was never told about this history.
Selva successfully argued that the effect of this sequence was that the State had known about the risk, had failed to deal with the risk properly and indeed had put PC X and the public at risk. Selva argued that to then seek to prosecute PC X for the consequences of that risk materialising brought the administration of justice into disrepute.
The Crown Court agreed with Selva’s submissions that the prosecution was "an affront to the integrity of the criminal justice system”, exercising its rarely used discretion to stay the proceedings. PC X retained his good character.
Selva was instructed by Taylor Law and supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales.