A big step forward has been taken by Portugal’s parliament in animal rights legislation, led by pressure from the People Animals Nature party’s lone MP, André Silva.
In brief, animals in future legislation will not be treated as ‘things’ and will have their own distinct legal status, somewhere in the legal continuum between a thing and a person.
All Portugal’s parties agree the change and legislation will be approved to cement the new classification meaning Portugal will be catching up with Austria, the first country to approve a legal status for animals in 1988, but also with France, Switzerland, New Zealand and Germany among others.
This amendment to Portugal’s civil code does not confer an animal with a legal personality but it does create a legal ‘half-way’ status based on the existence of rights and its sentience.
Until now Portuguese civil law only has regulated the relationship between people and between people and things.
PAN’s MP André Silva explains that "We have qualified animals as things and have been able to treat them badly, but that has changed and this change also will enable the robust enforcement of the Abuse of Pets laws."
The criminal law framework surrounding the mistreatment of pets clearly calls needs review and change – now this can happen.
The new draft Law to be adopted resulted from contributions and amendments after having heard the opinions of the Bar Association, the Office of the Attorney General and the Superior Council of the Judiciary.
This project reinforces the legal regime applicable to animals and intends to criminalise the death of an animal - even without it being preceded by mistreatment which is the case in the current law.
The proposal also criminalises the abandonment of an animal and wants to go a step forward and extend the current abuse laws to cover animals that currently are outside the criminal legislation such as livestock and working animals.
"However, parliament clearly is not prepared to take another step in this direction. There continues to be an ideological stubbornness linked to deep corporate interests and lobbies in the livestock sector. We still live in a time when economic agents are the ones who matter the most. The animal husbandry sector, by not fully condemning the frequent mistreatment of animals, by maintaining a remote and silent position and by opposing the adoption of amendments to the law on ill-treatment of companion animals, only reinforces the status quo that aggression and ill-treatment to animals is a reality unanimously accepted in the daily work of Portuguese livestock production," added André Silva.
Portugal is way behind on convictions and penalties for crimes of animal abuse. Although maltreatment has been criminalised, law enforcement has fallen far short of acceptable.
"This is a very important week for a small party such as PAN, we feel the real possibility, even with all the restrictions and resistance, that we can continue to function as the political spokesperson of those citizens, associations and non-governmental organizations who have been working for decades on the defence of animal rights and environmental protection. This is the path we want to continue to follow and that motivates us for next year," said André Silva.