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German BSL court ruling expected in New Year

ON WEDNESDAY November 5th, one of the most important trials concerning dogs and Breed Specific Legislation in Germany took place at the highest constitutional court, in Karlsruhe.

A lawsuit had been filed over the import ban on the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, together with any crosses of these breeds. The ban was imposed by the German Government in 2001 and it has taken two years for the court to finally hear the case, which campaigners claim was contrary to the German constitution, as well as EU law relating to the free passage of ‘goods’ throughout the EU.

The lawsuit was sponsored by the German Kennel Club (VDH), representing 87 plaintiffs, all breeders and owners of the various breeds in question based in Germany. Though the VDH has financed the majority of this case, it was also supported by nearly every dog breed club in Germany who donated $250.00 dollars apiece.

German anti-BSL campaigner Cathie Detmar told OUR DOGS: "This case was filed in the constitutional court, since the import ban affected our rights as consumers to import goods into Germany with the hopes of making money or selling what was imported. The court is only being asked to decide if our rights were violated. They could go farther and decide the entire ban was wrong and throw it out when they make their ruling. They may also decide that the law was incorrectly written and dismiss it until a new law can be written.

"Whether the court makes a positive or negative decision, it will not affect the lawsuit we have filed over a year ago over the breeding ban on these breeds. This was filed in the administrative court system and will be heard separately. However, a positive outcome in the Constitutional Court would certainly help us next year with this second lawsuit."

Other high courts in Germany, such as Berlin and Brandenburg, have already ruled that the German Government cannot ban a breed without scientific proof that the breed in question is dangerous and that many other factors are involved in a dog’s behaviour and temperament.

Detmar’s husband Rudi was in court, along with several other plaintiffs and gave his insights into the day’s proceedings.

The Government’s case was rather weak, something that came as no surprise to the campaigners. The Government had used Paragraph 11b from the Animal Protection Act, stating that in some breed lines there was ‘heightened aggression’, but produced no hard evidence to substantiate this ‘fact’, nor any other ‘facts’ used by the Government in framing the law.

The Government’s lawyer stated that since the breed ban and import ban went into effect, biting incidents relating to these breeds have decreased. The VDH’s Karl Meyer stated that was not the case. However, when the court asked for evidence or statistics on this, neither side could produce any.

Surprisingly, the main thrust of the lawsuit concerning Paragraphs 3, 12 and 22 to 23 of the German constitution concerning dog owner’s rights as citizens, was not hardly referred to, which was a point that puzzled Rudi Detmar and his lawyer (appointed for the breed ban trial) who was also sitting in.

"Most of the discussions concerned ‘dangerous’ dogs and ‘dangerous breeds’, not something the lawsuit was focused on, so this may damage the case somewhat," added Detmar.

The Government lawyer pointed out that if any other breeds show a high, aggression potential, those breeds too will be added to the breed and import ban list- a point which should be borne in mind by all those who believe their breeds will remain unaffected.

Detmar adds: "Some points the VDH lawyer made were good and some were poor, according to what our lawyer told Rudi. Most of the Government’s case was weak but they held their ground in front of the judges.

"I asked Rudi what was his overall opinion of the proceedings and what he was feeling would be the outcome. He said guarded, at best. I asked him what as the feeling of the 32 other people involved in the suit: he said very lightly, optimistic - but nothing more.

"One point will definitely be thrown out, namely Par. 143 of the law which states that if anyone breaks the breeding or import ban they will go to prison. Rudi said it was clear the judges were against that.

"Our lawyer (an expert in federal law) said he thinks the court will not throw out either ban and may say that the German government is not preventing anyone from breeding dogs as such, only that these four breeds are out, and to find another breed of dog. And perhaps in five years or so, it will be looked at again.

"This is something the politicians said in 2001 when the bans were enacted: 'we will re-examine this law in 10 years and perhaps then remove it'. Well, so what? In ten years’ time, the majority of these breeds will be gone.

The proceedings wound up with the judges stating that the court’s ruling would be given in three months’ time – taking the matter into the New Year. Until then, the situation remains the same as it has been hitherto; the breeds are effectively banned on the flimsiest of evidence.

Anti-BSL campaigners remain hopeful that the court will rule in their favour, but as Cathie Detmar concludes: "Nobody is holding their breath."