Last Friday France’s highest constitutional court rejected a case brought by animal rights activists calling for a nationwide ban on bullfighting.
In most areas of France bullfighting is banned but this southern French tradition remains in pockets of the country. The main centres are the towns of Nimes and Arles (next door to Avignon) both a short distance from France’s Mediterranean coast but smaller bullfights take place in many towns across Provence and in France’s Basque country.
Critics of bullfighting had denounced it as a cruel blood sport, reports Yahoo News, but France’s Constitutional Council said that bullfighting was not against the spirit of the French constitution despite being banned elsewhere in France.
In France, dozens of bullfights take place each year and it is estimated that 1000+ animals meet their death annually in bullfights that defenders of local tradition say are a huge draw for tourists.
Anti-bullfighting group CRAC (Comité Radicalement Anti Corrida) and animal-rights organisation DDA (Défense des animaux) had both asked France’s constitutional council to impose a nationwide ban by closing a loophole which allowed bullfighting traditions to continue in southern areas of the country.
The Legal Position
Since 1951, the French Penal Code, revised in 1999, has provided for a sentence of up to two years imprisonment and fine of €30,000 for anyone found guilty of cruelty to animals, whether domestic, tame or in captivity. Under a paragraph of Article 521-1 of the French Penal Code, excluded from the principal provisions are bullfights and cockfights where it is established that there has been an uninterrupted local tradition of such fights.
The Court took the view that the particular section of the Penal Code respected the French Constitution and the principle of equality since in many other fields such as hunting and working on Sundays, French law allows for regional peculiarities and local exemptions, reports French newspaper Ouest-France.
The French Constitutional Council said permitting bullfighting in the south was "precise, objective and rational", adding, "These traditional practices thus authorised do not infringe constitutional rights."
The Public View
Opinion polls have generally shown that roughly two-thirds of the French electorate would favour a complete ban on bullfighting, although the latest nationwide poll published just before the court pronouncement revealed 48% in favour of a ban, 42% for no change in the law and 10% undecided.
Bullfighting in France has many prominent advocates, not least Spanish born Interior Minister Manuel Valls, profiled in an earlier article on Digital Journal. He was not popular with opponents of bullfighting earlier this month when he insisted bullfighting was a tradition that should be preserved. "It's something I love, it's part of my family's culture," said Valls, who originates from Barcelona and who still retains family connections with the Catalan city. "It's a culture that we have to preserve."
Friday's court ruling was slated by critics of bullfighting. Jean-Pierre Garrigues, the vice-president of CRAC, speaking to AFP, said, "This decision proves sadly enough that we are not a democracy but a bullfighting dictatorship. The Council does not have the independence that it says it has. The political pressures were enormous... When Mr Valls said he would do all he can to defend bullfighting ...we understood that the ruling would be influenced."
The pro-bullfighting lobby claimed the judgement showed that France respected cultural diversity. Guillaume Francois, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Union des Villes Taurines Françaises (UVTF), an umbrella group for French towns and cities hosting bullfights, said, “Bullfighting is constitutionally legal, it is enshrined in the constitution. The Constitutional Council has just said that it can exist, like all other things from minority cultures.”
For the antis, the ‘corrida’ goes on. Ouest-France reports that Jean-Pierre Garrigues, the leader of CRAC, has vowed to take the matter of French bullfighting to the French Parliament and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights.