Law against animal abuse at risk

Public prosecutor’s office wants it declared unconstitutional

In a week where Faro mayor opened a new animal rehoming facility, declaring the municipality finally ‘animal-friendly’, this 21st sensibility nationally is ‘at risk’: public prosecutors are calling for the law against animal abuse, approved by MPs in a moment of unanimous celebration in 2014, to be deemed unconstitutional.

The reason lies in the fact that condemnations under the law have all fallen on appeal.

Truly hideous crimes against animals do not have “constitutional coverage to accommodate the moulds of the law”, judges have argued. Thus the move now to withdraw it, and start again.

It’s this ‘start again’ possibility that is worrying people – particularly PAN, the political party in parliament that has been whittled down to just one sitting MP whose raison d’être is to protect animals and the natural world.

PAN’s leader and sole MP Inês Sousa Real fears simply removing the law from the penal code is sending out a message that mistreating animals is constitutional.

That said, it looks more than likely now that law-makers will have to go back to the drawing board and devise legislation that will stick.

Explain reports, article 387 in the Penal Code “typifies a crime against pet animals to the behaviour of some who, without legitimate motive, inflicts pain, suffering or any other physical mistreatment on a pet (for example dogs and cats), a crime punishable with up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 120 days”.

Perhaps the worst of this confusion is that the law ONLY seems to cover pet animals (including ferrets). Farm animals and others are not ‘protected’, even though there have been attempts by PAN to do so in the past.

Expresso highlighted the situation in December last year, giving details of the crimes that had ‘won’ on appeal. 

One of them related to the little Pantufa, an animal who died in agony after her owner submitted her to a “cold-blooded caesarian section”, throwing the still-living puppies into the rubbish.

This owner was ‘condemned’ for animal mistreatment by a lower court, but he walked free on appeal because judges considered his jail sentence “excessive and inappropriate”.

PAN worried revocation of  law could open floodgates to “aggressors claiming compensation”

Inês Sousa Real’s concerns go far beyond those relating to how Portugal might look, in terms being of a civilised country (Portugal cannot “be a country where mistreating an animal is constitutional”, she has said). One of her fears is that a decision to overturn the law could open the floodgates to aggressors who have been fined, or sanctioned in the past under the law, deciding to claim compensation.

She has also warned that “violence often begins with animals, and ends with people: a country that does not protect animals from violence, is also not protecting people…”

Thus, a real dilemma. This far roughly 103,000 people have signed a petition in defence of a law protecting animals; more than 40 legal experts are reportedly defending the continuation of the law as it stands – and PAN has prepared a replacement text should the law fall.

According to reports, this replacement text will seek to extend protection against cruelty to “other animals”.

“There is one thing we are sure of: animals cannot remain unprotected in our country, and even less under the tutelage and umbrella of the Constitutional Court”, said Ms Sousa Real.

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