Tuesday 28 March 2023

Jail For Killing A Bird or A Fish? Constitutional Court Says It’s Irrational!

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25 March 2023 - At The Banks - BCCR

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If the proposed animal welfare bill is approved in its current text, a person could go to jail for up to 2 years for abuse of a frog or killing a goldfish

Q COSTA RICA – For the second time, the Constitutional Court or Sala IV found problems of constitutionality in the Animal Welfare bill, a piece of legislation that seeks to get tough on animal abuse.

On Wednesday, by a majority, the magistrates declared ‘irrational’ the decision of legislators to impose fines and jail sentences on those who kill or harm “non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and octopods.”

The magistrates considered that such a broad definition violated the principles of minimum intervention, reasonableness and proportionality.

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The original draft of the bill only mentioned the term “animals”. In October last the Sala IV told legislators that the definition was too broad.

In November, the bill was amended to change the word “animals” to “nonhuman mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish and octopus capable of feeling pain.”

Thus, if the law were approved as it reads, a person could go to prison for up to 2 years for killing, say a goldfish or a frog.

Not Binding. The ‘observation’ of the Constitutional Court is not binding on legislators, that means the bill could be approved as it is. However, if the bill is approved without changes, at some point someone could challenge it before the Sala IV and could bring that part of the legislation down.

The long road. The Animal Welfare bill was approved in first debate in July 2016. In September the Sala IV deemed “disproportional” the prison sentence of up to three years for hurting or killing an animal, in addition to the monetary fine of up to two base salaries (¢840,000 colones or US$1,500 dollars) for anyone found guilty of animal cruelty, that included the promotion of animal fights, breeding or training an animal to be more aggressive.

The amended text, among other changes, dropped the fine to a maximum of ¢212,000 colones and the prison term to a max. of 2 years.

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The Constitutional Court also objected to the proposal of fines for animal neglect, that included keeping an animal tied up, intentionally provoking pain and not providing medical treatment.

Although the Constitutional Court considers it excessive to apply protection on such a wide range of animals, it stressed the importance of legislation in this regard.

What’s next? Following the Sala IV review, the bill returns to legislative committee for discussion before it can be presented to the full Legislative Assembly for second and final debate.

Source: La Nacion, with editing by the Q.

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