Lagos launches sterilisation campaign for pet animals

New confusion over animal protection legislation

Law in place is unconstitutional; politicians divided over how to fix it

It’s just another issue over the current political pressure to tinker with Portugal’s Constitution.

Right now, animal protection legislation, approved by parliament to enormous fanfare in 2014, is in ‘danger’ following the 5th judicial ruling that it is essentially ‘unconstitutional’.

This has resulted in the failing of a number of cases aimed at criminalising animal mistreatment

So, what is to be done? Politicians have variously suggested ‘tweaks to the Constitution’ as they put forward other arguably much more potentially dangerous proposals. 

Explains Expresso “the idea is that the (changes) will consider welfare as a legal value to be protected by the constitution. But there are various ‘buts’:

“In the 52 pages of their self-proclaimed “realistic, reformist and differentiating” project for constitutional revision, the PSD makes no reference to the issue of animal mistreatment (…) 

Even more disconcerting, a previous project drawn up in the days of the last PSD leader Rui Rio did.

Three words – “and the animals” – were tagged onto a phrase in Article 9 on “defending nature and the environment”. Now they have simply disappeared…

The problem with this is that any voting on changes to the Constitution MUST have a majority of two-thirds’ support by MPs in parliament. 

The current government is already in absolute majority. With the PSD any proposals will easily have two-thirds support. Other parties are therefore extremely worried.

Bloco de Esquerda’s Pedro Filipe Soares says he cannot believe that the PSD would not support what he sees as a “civilizational advance”.

BE’s own proposal calls for the State to “promote animal welfare and guarantee civil and criminal responsibility for the subjection of animals to cruelty”. 

But with the best will in the world, BE’s proposal is unlikely to get majority approval of two-thirds of the House.

The government’s proposal is “more restrictive”, Expresso goes on. It “aims to give constitutional backing to the norms (set out in the 2014 law) that criminalize the mistreatment of certain types of animals”.

CHEGA wants to “ban practices that (…) submit animals to cruelty, in the terms of the law”, while PAN (the party that originally powered the ‘unconstitutional law’) wants to see “a solution similar to the German” solution which is to protectall sentient animals” from cruel treatment.

Just the term ‘sentient animals’ opens up a whole new panorama: at the moment, the law that fails to prosecute animal cruelty effectively seeks only to protect ‘domestic animals’ (which for some reason includes ferrets…)

PAN stresses its proposal “doesn’t seek to prohibit the slaughter of animals for human consumption, nor does it seek to criminalise pig farming”. It simply wants to see the legal framework that currently exists “respected”.

Other parties (Iniciativa Liberal, PCP communists and LIVRE) have not presented any proposals to bring animal welfare into the Constitution.

As Expresso adds, there is so much else at stake, far beyond the scope of animal welfare,  in this current pressure to open-up and change what many see as a kind of Pandora’s Box, ready to go horribly pear-shaped.

Jorge Miranda, often dubbed ‘the father of the Constitution’ as he was one of the legal brains behind the document the country uses today, insists that “we cannot put everything in the Constitution”. In this particular case, he believes questions of animal welfare should be decided by the Penal Code (ie if the current law is unconstitutional, the law should be changed – not the Constitution).

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com