The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

The rule of law: Animal rights, human wrongs

Malta Independent Monday, 17 March 2014, 07:57 Last update: about 7 years ago

The headline of this leading article is borrowed from a book published by Vernon Coleman, an author who has penned numerous books, the one being quoted from about a decade ago, in which some of the blatant ill treatment of animals in Malta was dealt with.

Animal rights have long been on the agenda, and were, largely, ignored by the previous government. The Labour government has been the target of flak for what have been perceived as double standards in terms of the “Government that listens” slogan.

But on the issue of animal rights, the government has listened to people. It has taken about a year to get the ball rolling and really come up with legislation that is befitting to the 21st century.

The government launched an extensive consultation process and as a result, PS for Animal Rights Roderick Galdes yesterday presented a White Paper on the proposed amendments of the Animal Welfare Act. The Labour Party has been consistent in this. The proposals were first made in its electoral manifesto and, as mentioned above, it launched an extensive consultation process on the issue before moving ahead.

By far, the biggest issue which has been addressed is the long-standing opposition to circuses that feature animals. The government has gone one step ahead and seeks to legislate not only against wild animals, but the use of any animals (one assumes pets aside). The Government will endeavour to introduce a ban on the use of all species of animals in circuses, whether a circus is a travelling circus or permanently established in Malta.

The White Paper also recommends that on first conviction, the minimum and maximum fine be doubled – this would bring them up to €1,000 and €55,000. In addition, an effective prison term of three years can be imposed. If the guilty party is a repeat offender, then the fines increase.

This is all positive. However, the new laws will not be a means to an end. While the previous government was lax in implementing laws, it was active in terms of hearts and minds – education of children being one of the focal points. And this  needs to be built on further. People who abuse animals often have more underlying problems that set off their behaviour. And that also needs to be examined. Some children and adolescents – normally males – have been found to engage in behaviour involving cruelty to animals and there have been cases where these have evolved into cases where violence on fellow humans comes through. Such cases need to be monitored, and social workers should be informed by the courts when such cases do occur in an effort to follow them up and ensure that the right treatment or counselling is given.

The government deserves praise on this. It has struck a chord with voters from both sides of the spectrum, and it is a promise that has been (or on the way to being) delivered. But, aside from legislation and education, we also need more enforcement. The Animal Welfare Unit, set up in the last legislature, has its hands full. It works with the police, but it needs a bigger complement, more funds and more legislative powers. It’s these guys who are out on the street every day, sometimes dealing with violent people, they deserve more support.

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