Court tells police to prosecute owner of dog that bit woman's face

The police had not wanted to prosecute the dog's owner, saying the animal was on a leash, but the court, having examined the owner's responsibility, decided there was a basis for prosecution

An American Pit Bull Terrier, a common pit bull breed (Stock photo)
An American Pit Bull Terrier, a common pit bull breed (Stock photo)

A court has ruled that there is a legal basis to prosecute the owner of a pit bull terrier which bit a woman’s lip, despite the animal having been on a leash.

This emerged in challenge proceedings filed against the Commissioner of Police by Lindsey Vella, who had been working at a convenience store when Peter Attard walked in with his pet pit bull.

Vella had told the police that the dog’s owner said it was friendly and so she had asked it to give her its paw, which it did. The woman had then given the animal a treat and leaned into kiss it when the dangerous animal attacked her, tearing off her lip and leaving her permanently scarred.

The woman’s lawyer, Stefano Filletti, had filed a criminal complaint, asking the police to prosecute Attard for keeping the dog unmuzzled in public, despite it being a dangerous breed.

But the police did not want to prosecute the owner of the dog saying that the dog "was under control" with a short leash and that the person had put herself in a dangerous situation with an unfamiliar dog. This necessitated the challenge proceedings, which would force the police to act, if the claim is upheld.

Her lawyer had contended that a short leash was not the sole criterion for responsible pit bull ownership, but that the owner had to be responsible for the actions of his dog and not invite people to play with it whilst providing the treats or allowing people to go near its face. The dog had no muzzle and it being a pit bull – a breed known for unpredictable and ferocious behaviour – the owner should have forseen that the dog might react.

Filletti told magistrate Aaron Bugeja that as a result of the incident, Vella had suffered from a severe tear in her lip which was still visible after reconstructive facial surgery and had been adjudged as having a 5% permanent disability.

The law imposed an obligation on dog owners, who knew or suspected that their dog was temperamental or dangerous, to ensure the canine is muzzled in public, said the magistrate.

The court, in the circumstances, having examined in great detail the responsibility of a dog owner, decided that there is a prima facie legal basis for a criminal prosecution to start and ordered the police to file criminal charges against the dog’s owner.

More in Court & Police