The Malta Independent 3 December 2023, Sunday
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No specific provision against sex with animals in Maltese law

Monday, 27 April 2015, 09:49 Last update: about 10 years ago

News last week that Denmark has outlawed bestiality – apparently in a bid to crack down on animal sex tourism – has highlighted that the practice is now only legal in a few European countries.

But Malta may technically be one of them, as neither the Animal Welfare Act nor the Criminal Code include any specific provision prohibiting sex with animals.

The Criminal Code does include one reference to bestiality, but only in an article concerning indecent material including underage persons, Article 208A. The offence prohibited by this article is deemed to be aggravated in cases where the indecent material “shows, depicts or represents a minor involved in acts of bestiality, brutality, sadism or torture.”

But the code does not include any provisions on animal cruelty; it only includes few references to animals. Among other things, it sets out that it is a contravention to drive animals over a drawbridge otherwise than at an amble or to use gas cannons or any other noise-making material to keep animals away from fields or other open spaces.

Animal cruelty is prohibited through the Animal Welfare Act which states that “the State shall endeavour… to protect the life of animals and to prevent and punish acts of ill-treatment in their regard. In particular the state shall protect such animals from undue labour and work practices which are beyond and not consonant with their nature.”

Within the act, ill-treatment is defined as “causing the animal to suffer, by any act or omission, pain or distress which in its kind or degree, or in its object, or in circumstances in which it is inflicted, is excessive or unnecessary.”

But the act includes no specific reference to bestiality; the legal status of the practice, therefore, boils down to interpretation.

It would be perhaps reasonable to charge those who engage in sexual acts with animals with failure to care for them properly: Article 8 of the Act, which focuses on the caring of animals, states that “animals shall not be caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or distress.”

On the other hand, the act specifically mentions other prohibited practices, with articles explicitly prohibiting the organisation of animal fights or competitions testing the speed or strength, even though these could also reasonably be interpreted as causing animals unnecessary pain, suffering or distress.

So ultimately, it is uncertain whether bestiality is actually considered to be a crime in the island.

There have been no prosecutions for the act in recent history; at least, none that have been publicised.

Curiously, in much of Europe, bestiality was historically illegal, only to be legalised as sodomy laws were repealed. However, in many countries, specific anti-bestiality laws have since followed.

A number of countries never legalised the practice to begin with, including the UK and Ireland. In fact, offenders in Ireland can still be kept in penal servitude for life under a 19th century law which criminalised buggery, and whose provisions concerning sex with animals have not been repealed.

Bestiality was only outlawed in 2008 in Norway, two years later in the Netherlands and only two years ago in Sweden.

As far as punishments are concerned, Ireland’s provisions are very much an anomaly: offenders in the rest of Europe may face fines or jail terms not exceeding a few years.

As for Malta, if bestiality is interpreted as breaching the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, offenders may be jailed for up to three years and fined: between €1,000 and €55,000 for a first conviction, and between €5,000 and €80,000 for subsequent convictions.

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