courts rule German States' laws are illegal
by Nick Mays
GERMAN COURTS have ruled that the Fighting Dog breed lists introduced
by the Governments of two Lander (regional States) are illegal. The news was
greeted with delight by anti-BSL campaigners throughout Germany and around the
world when the ruling were announced last week.
The two States involved are Schleswig-Holstein, which borders on to Denmark,
where the action was brought by 12 dog owners, and Niedersachsen, which is south
In laymans terms the rulings say that a dog isnt dangerous by breed.
The court in Schleswig-Holstein has stated that a dog becomes dangerous by a
combination of character and upbringing and no dog is born dangerous.
However, all other parts of the States Dogs Act which are not breed-specific
(i.e. the control of dogs, temperament etc.) have stayed in place.
One part of the judgement states that the argument that size, muscle power and
weight had been taken into account when putting together the breed list wouldnt
wash as the list would then have to include the German Shepherd, German Dogue,
Rottweiler and Boxer. The German Shepherd, as Germanys national dog is
not included on any States List, even though GSDs account for more biting
incidents in Germany than any other breed.
This is for us just a partial victory said Thomas Henkenjohann,
chairman of the Association against discrimination of dog and owner. It had
taken much too long to find out the stupidity of breed lists. An Act which
starts with the dog cant work - the problem is human, according
to Henkenjohann. The association therefore calls for example for a knowledge
test of the owner. He added.
The County Government is, naturally, of a different opinion. In our eyes
the breed list is a valid means for decision said Ove Rahlf, spokesman
for the Schleswig-Holstein Home Office. Other courts had confirmed that
the breed list was scientifically proven. We will appeal against the judgement
and are optimistic that we will get somewhere.
However, despite Rahlfs arrogant assertion, campaigners are confident
that the Schleswig-Holstein Home Office will ultimately not appeal or that,
if they do, their appeal will fail, thus humiliating the State Government further.
In Niedersachsen the Dogs Act has been nullified by the courts, but with the
additional remark that it is not necessary to put down dogs of so-called
Fighting Breeds if they fail to pass the compulsory character test, as
all other dog breeds only have restrictions imposed in the form of compulsory
muzzle and lead.
Despite this, the States Minister responsible has now decided to push to have
all dogs put down that dont pass the character test - that way he doesnt
need a breed list.
Both rulings become effective in each State immediately, unless the States Government
attempts to appeal against the rulings, or if a new, more effective Dogs Act
is decided upon and enacted.
The court rulings do not, however, set a legal precedent which will apply to
the other 13 States which have breed-specific dog laws, as each State has its
own individual law which stands or falls by its own merit.
However, similar legal challenges are under way against the dog laws of other
States, so the judges in these States will undoubtedly take into account what
was decided in the other regions when making their decisions, so the rulings
have a psychological effect.
On June 21the courts will rule whether the dog laws of North-Rhein Wesphalia
are legal. The law in Hessen has already been withdrawn in relevant parts, with
a final verdict expected in the autumn.
Thueringen has been the only State not to establish breed lists.
Campaigner Gabi Woiwode commented: So... good luck then Ministry of Schleswig-Holstein,
I dont think their appeal will do them any good whatsoever. I think one
can realistically assume that the trend is going into the other
direction. At least, Germany seems to be very, very undecided concerning this
subject. And this ruling means we have already achieved a lot.
We are not dealing with ONE authority or ONE ministry. We are fighting
and arguing with SIXTEEN Ministries plus the FEDERAL level Government. But,
as ever, we shall fight on.