Lawyer Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt explains the legal consequences of animal cruelty in Spain.
By Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt
Lawyer – Abogado
8th of January 2016
This has been a pet article of mine (pun intended) that I have wanted to write for quite some time now. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do so until Spain’s Criminal Code was amended last year by Law 1/2015 punishing animal cruelty, for the first time, with jail terms.
Spain’s historical disposition towards animal’s rights has been, let us say, somewhat hazy at best; to put it mildly and avoid ruffling feathers. This situation has changed dramatically post-Constitution as new open-minded generations, imbued by democratic ideals, seize power to shape laws in line with the core values that behove a modern society.
Animal Cruelty – Laws
There are three tiers of laws in Spain:
- National level: common to all 17 autonomous regions, which make up Spain, is the Criminal Code (article 337 explained below).
- Administrative level: each of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions has (schizophrenically) also passed its own legislation on animal cruelty.
- Local level: Spain has over 8,000 town halls. Each town hall is also empowered (did you even doubt it?) to pass its own regulation on the matter (ordenanza municipal). EU residents, which are ‘empadronados‘ or registered at the municipality’s census, can vote to elect mayors which can pass such laws. Just saying…
Ideally, as in it’s a matter of common sense and not rocket science, we should have a common law that works throughout the whole nation so people don’t lose the plot on choosing from umpteen million laws – I’ll await with bated breath.
Criminal Code – Article 337
Punishment ranging from three months up to one year in prison for those found guilty of mistreating animals unjustifiably in any manner or else inflicting them injury or submitting them to sexual abuse (sic).
Animals object of protection are:
1. Domesticated or tamed animals.
2. Animals that are normally domesticated i.e. stray cats and dogs.
3. An animal that temporarily or permanently lives under human control.
4. Any animal that does not live in wilderness.
The criminal punishment will be significantly aggravated when one of the following concurs:
1. The use of weapons or instruments harmful to an animal’s well-being.
2. Viciousness concurring in the offender.
3. If the animal loses an extremity or vital organ as a consequence of the torture inflicted.
4. The animal abuse takes place before an underage.
Death of an animal can lead to serve a sentence of up to 18 months in jail.
Abandoning Domesticated Animals
This is a despicable spectacle that takes place every summer break. Many of those animals that were gifted during the height of the Christmas season are abandoned to their own devices by their masters during the summer holidays.
Spain’s Criminal Code now punishes those that purposely abandon domesticated animals to their own luck with fines ranging from one to six months.
A Note on Jail Terms
It should be noted that a judge, at his sole discretion, may commute a prison sentence when the offender has no prior felony record and the sentence is two years or less. Normally the defendant is ordered to perform community service instead. Historically there has been only one exception to this rule which involved a popular folk singer. On analysing animal cruelty it can be surmised from the above that most sentences will be for less than two years. So it is unlikely first-time offenders will be jailed unless they have a previous criminal record (which hasn’t been struck off).
Spain, being Spain, has 17 autonomous regions which legislation on animal cruelty varies considerably from one to the next. The most advanced one is that of Catalonia with Madrid’s being the oldest (1990).
Fines, for animal cruelty, vary significantly ranging from a few thousand euros in Navarre up to over a hundred thousand euros in Aragon.
Local Town Hall
You can acquaint yourself with your local regulation on animal cruelty on visiting your town hall.
How to Report Animal Cruelty
Just make a police report (denuncia), either physically or over the phone, in the territory over which the police force is competent. It doesn’t have to be the SEPRONA (Guardia Civil); although they are normally more sensitive towards these reports as they are tasked to protect and overview wild nature and I know for a fact they are fond of animals.
Evolution of Animal Rights
It is clear to those that practice law that lawmakers are gently, albeit relentlessly, nudging the idea of equating the protection of animal rights to closely resemble that of human rights. Even the circumstances which aggravate punishment closely mimic those that deal with humans in other sections of the Criminal Code. It is truly commendable that the sensitivity has gradually shifted to encompass the protection of animal rights to the point of awarding jail terms to human offenders.
In October 2.015, for the first time ever, an individual was charged, found guilty and convicted of beating to death his own racehorse after losing a competition in what now constitutes a landmark case. Not a stranger to breaking laws, he had been previously convicted for DUI. He is now serving his sentence in jail. Source: El Pais daily.
The amendment of article 337 is a great leap forward that reflects modern’s society gravitational shift towards animal’s rights. However, the law focuses only on domesticated animals and purposely excludes animals in wilderness.
There is still much work to be done to lobby and push hard for an agenda that extends jail terms to those few who would abuse wild animal life. In any case, to my mind, it is a clear victory that animal’s rights in Spain have (finally) become a tenet of our society which can now be upheld legally. Ah, so many laws to choose from; you will be spoilt for choice!
So next time you spot a miserable git torturing some poor defenceless animal, know that YOU can make a difference.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. AKA Mahatma (‘Great Soul’) Gandhi.
Father of the modern Indian Nation. Led the country to a peaceful independence from the rule of the British Empire. Author, journalist, editor, staunch human rights activist and founder of the non-violent movement that influenced so many others to follow (Martin Luther King). Even career politician and lawyer in his spare time; nobody’s perfect. Arguably the 21st century’s most towering historical figure.
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2016 © Raymundo Larraín Nesbitt. All rights reserved.
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