Cat compensation case is 'turning point' for animal rights in France

The sum due - €100 - is mainly symbolic but has been welcomed by animal-rights defenders

A man has been sentenced to pay compensation for animal cruelty against a cat, a first in France
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A man in France has become the first person to be ordered to pay compensation for animal cruelty. He was also sentenced to eight months in jail for the offence.

Magistrates in Lille ordered the unnamed man to pay €100 in damages due to ‘préjudice animalier’ charges over the battering and mutilation of the cat during a case heard on January 11, 2024. He was also found guilty of causing psychological suffering.

The cat, Lanna, was found after being dumped in a bin by the man last year.

The symbolic €100 was donated to the northern branch of one of France’s biggest animal welfare associations, the Ligue protectrice des animaux du Nord de la France (LPA-NF).

“[This is] one more step toward animal rights,” said Graziella Dode, a lawyer who specialises in animal rights, to The Connexion. She was the prosecutor in the case of Lanna, who unfortunately died in July 2023 due injuries sustained from her cruel treatment.

Ms Dode said that the ‘préjudice animalier’ charge recognised the animal as the main victim in the case and said that it could lead to other similar judgements.

“We found ourselves before a jurisdiction that heard our arguments out, a judge who took the time to analyse what we brought forward,” she said.

“I am pleased because it means we are thinking about the status of animals," Jacques-Charles Fombonne, President of the La Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA), France’s leading animal welfare group.

“As a lawyer, I am sceptical, I do not understand what legal basis there is for this [ruling],” he added.

France behind UK in animal rights

Mr Fombonne has reason to be sceptical as animal rights in France have traditionally lagged behind.

“On previous occasions, judges dismissed our arguments, saying that an animal does not have the same status as of a legal entity [as a person],” said Ms Dode.

Legally, animals in France are protected by a 2015 law that declares them ‘être vivant doué de sensibilité’ or sentient living beings. However they are still considered ‘goods’ rather than ‘persons’ in the legal sense of the term.

France arguably still remains behind on animal welfare laws in comparison to the UK which has had legislation on animal cruelty as far back as 1822. In 2019, it passed bills on the use of battery farming and the installation of video surveillance in abattoirs.

It also banned the use of wild animals in circuses.

In 2019 several university professors in France wrote an open letter calling for a change of treatment toward animals.

They stated that animals should be treated as ‘des personnes physiques non humaines’, a broader term that could be understood as the closest French equivalent to the British notion of ‘persons’.

Ms Dode said she mentioned the case of a chimpanzee in her plea that was deemed a person in South America as well as Steven Wise, an American lawyer who says that the Habeas Corpus - the report of unlawful detention or imprisonment by a person - should also be used for animals.

France has introduced new measures on animal cruelty in recent years including a law passed in 2021 which requires new pet owners to sign a declaration of engagement and knowledge of the animal’s physical and emotional needs and the financial requirement involved.

Read more:France’s new animal welfare law passes: What will it change for pets?

The law also includes:

  • A ban on the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops by late 2024
  • Tougher sentences on animal cruelty charges
  • A ban on dolphins and orcas being used in public shows by 2026
  • A ban of wild animals in touring circus performances
  • A ban on mink farming.

Read also: Fears for future of Marineland whales in south of France

Ms Dode now hopes that the ‘préjudice animalier’ will be enshrined in the French Civil Code.

“I hope animals will be considered ‘persons’ one day. That is still a long road ahead,” she said.

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