The Malta Independent 22 February 2024, Thursday
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Government proposes court-held register for animal abusers

Wednesday, 7 December 2022, 21:06 Last update: about 2 years ago

The government has tabled a number of amendments to the Animal Welfare Act in parliament, proposing the creation of a register of animal abusers that will be held by the courts.

Animal rights Minister Anton Refalo began debating the amendments to the Animal Welfare Act, which proposes creating a list of animal abusers who will be prohibited from owning animals for a period of time, established by the courts.

The bill seeks to increase legal safeguards for animals and allow authorities to hold more power when investigating and prosecuting crimes related to animal abuse.


The amendments proposed would allow for the authorities to carry out searches on a suspected animal abuser without notice, if there is suspicion of abuse. Suspects must currently be given at least 24 hours notice before a search is carried out.

Refalo described the current situation as counterproductive and also proposed that the Animal Welfare Directorate could turn to private organisations or NGOs to help it do its job.

The new bill also proposed changing the legal definition of a "circus" to "any exhibition put on by exhibitors for profit, and viewed by the public for entertainment which offers amusement and display, and where animals are made to perform tricks or manoeuvres, which do not reflect their natural behaviour or does not offer any educational value."

Currently, the law states that a circus is defined as any place where animals are used for performances, manoeuvres and shows.

The amendments also cater to the concept of 'dangerous dogs', where Refalo proposed the creation of a list of dog breeds which are deemed dangerous, and how the breeds should be regulated.

PN spokesperson for animal welfare Janice Chetcuti, as well as animal welfare activists, have argued that no particular breed is dangerous, unless it has been raised in that regard.

Chetcuti pointed out an issue with the proposal, which allows exceptions to the use of animals as "props or extras in artistic, theatrical, or cinematic performances, sporting competitions or any other events" asking if those exceptions are green-lit by the director of veterinary services.

She continued that if the bill sought to forbid abusive practices, it should do so entirely and not allow for such exceptions. Chetcuti said that animal mistreatment is still animal mistreatment and should not be excused by an official authority.

Chetcuti said that the bill made no attempt to regulate animal breeding or pet grooming, despite government previously saying that it had been working to regulate pet grooming.

Animal Welfare parliamentary Secretary Alicia Bugeja Said previously blamed unregulated breeding for the increasing number of abandoned dogs. But the bill makes no mention of unregulated animal breeding or pet grooming.

PN MP Albert Buttigieg noted that article 48 of the existing Animal Welfare Act makes an explicit exception for the hunting of wild animals, where in such cases, animal welfare provisions do not apply. 

Buttigieg argued that if it truly believed in animal welfare, the government should strike this provision from the law, as otherwise, government would be literally acknowledging that some animals are more equal than others.

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