My recommendations to NGOs and activists for environmental and animal rights vis-à-vis Spanish Town Halls

«Las leyes son normas, pero también son armas»/Laws are rules, but also weapons (Eugenio d’Ors Rovira).

  1. Learn, discover and educate yourself about rights, duties and other questions that are essential for society and our activism like environment, biodiversity, climate change, Animal Rights, feline colonies, ethology or animal consciousness. You may start with social networks channels (Appda, D.G. de Derechos de los Animales, Greenpeace or Fondation Droit Animal), then visit specialised, official and/or renowned, websites (Avatma, Faada, FdCats, Manifiesto Felino, Miteco, APADEVI, Observatorio, Plataforma Gatera or Species+), also invest in theme conferences such as Jornadas Felinas Andaluzas and specialised courses,  including those by Instituto de Protección Animal or DeAnimals, and obtain legal counsel via the Animal Rights Section in your nearest Law Society and specialised lawyers.
  1. Use and defend your fundamental right of association, free, for lawful purposes, democratic and pluralist (art. 22 of the Spanish Constitution or CE). On the Congreso website you may explore this issue in greater depth as well as any other citizens’ rights protected under the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Study and learn about associativism. You may start with the Ley Orgánica 1/2002, de 22 de marzo, reguladora del Derecho de Asociación/Organic Law regulating the Right of Association; Spanish Home Office’s website on Associations and similar ones in your Autonomous City or Community (C.A.). Change the fragmented reality of thousands of micro-associations by joining unions and umbrella associations  (province, autonomous/regional, state or Europe-wide) in order to share, grow and add.
  1. Another fundamental right is the right of petition, individual and collective, to any public authority  (art. 29 of the CE), developed in an Organic Law (LO 4/2001). Any natural or legal person can exercise it, on any area included in the sphere of competence of the addressee, as long as there is no prior specific procedure for such a request, complaint or suggestion. After the presentation in writing the public body has 10 days to communicate its reception. Afterwards it has to be checked for adequacy and in case of non-admission the official declaration, justification and notification are required within 45 days of reception. If the petition is admitted, the public authority has to reply and notified this, which does not necessarily imply the request being granted, and within 3 months since reception. 
  1. Art. 23 of the CE includes a fundamental principe in any democratic-liberal regime, the citizens’ right to participation in public affairs, either directly or by means of regularly and freely-elected representatives, as an active subject of political decision. The citizens’ right to audience directamente o a través de las organizaciones y asociaciones reconocidas por la ley“/directly or by means of organisations and associations in the process of elaborating administrative provisions that may affect them (art. 105 de la CE) is related to the citizens’ right to participate in public affairs. Also, to the principle of effectiveness in reference to public sector performance together with those of hierarchy, decentralisation, devolution and co-ordination referred to in art. 103.1 of the CE. Any public authority in a democratic state Poder Público must demonstrate democratic  and participatory nature towards citizens.
  1. The special procedure for protecting fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual (art. 14 and First Section of the Second Chapter of the CE, arts 15-29). It has preemptive procedure and the  court sentence always allows for an appeal process. At the beginning of 2020 the association Humanicemos in Cantabria brought an action for infringement of its right to petition. A few weeks ago the sentence was delivered by which the appealed decision, by a Town Hall, was annulled and 500€ worth of legal expenses imposed.
  1. Faced with a possible environmental or animal administrative offence/criminal offence, do act and ask for assistance, always with respect and common sense, calling 112 (emergencies), 062 (Guardia Civil), 091 (National Police), 092 o el nr. used in your town (Local Possible). Within hours present a statement to the General Registry of your Town Hall, preferably via internet, to communicate the facts  and obtain proof of having presented such statement to this local authority. Once can present several administrative documents: a denunciation, a request to start a procedure with intervention as a party, a complaint for obstacles and delay in processing a case or an injunction to the public authority in order to cease una vía de hecho/unlawful conduct. An specialised lawyer can best advise you on the most suitable approach.
  1. Read legislation about access to public information and transparency, both national and regional. Relevant ones are Ley 27/2006, de 18 de julio, por la que se regulan los derechos de acceso a la información, de participación pública y de acceso a la justicia en materia de medio ambiente/Rights to access information, public participation and access to Justice with regard to the environment and Ley 19/2013, de 9 de diciembre, de transparencia, acceso a la información pública y buen gobierno/Transparency, access to public information and good governance.

Public information refers to Contents or documents, regardless of format or support, that are held by any of the subjects included in the scope of application … that have been made or acquired in the exercise of its functions (“los contenidos o documentos, cualquiera que sea su formato o soporte, que obren en poder de alguno de los sujetos incluidos en el ámbito de aplicación de este título y que hayan sido elaborados o adquiridos en el ejercicio de sus funciones”)

Subjects are: General State Administration/Administración General del Estado; Administrations of the Autonomous Communities and the Cities of Ceuta and Melilla/Administraciones de las Comunidades Autónomas (CC.AA.) y de las Ciudades de Ceuta y Melilla; and the entities that constitute Local Administration/Administración Local. Each municipal transparency website must include active publicity in the areas of institution, organisation, legal relevance, economy, budgetary and statistics such as the existing contract for managing stray animals or the agreement signed by the Town Hall.

  • The procedure to exercise the right to access public information starts by filing a request to the Town Hall Mayor (including the applicant’s information, contact details, ideally electronic, information that is requested and type). It is not required to justify the request and its absence cannot cause a refusal. Non-admittance of the request must include a justified decision and in any case the decision by which the access is granted or denied must be notified to the applicant within 1 month, with the exception of extending the deadline that also has to be notified to the applicant. In a case where the 1-month deadline has expired and no stated resolution has been notified, it implies that the request has been dismissed by administrative silence/silencio administrativo.  
  • Transparency Council/Consejo de Transparencia – Once a, presumed or stated, resolution is obtained, after a request for accessing public information, an optional appeal can be lodged, that is, a complaint presented to the Transparency and Good Governance Council within 1 month. The Council has 3 months to make a decision, and after the deadline has elapsed, the complaint is understood to be dismissed and the way to the courts via the contentious-administrative/contencioso-administrativa route to be opened. This Council (https://www.consejodetransparencia.es) has signed agreements on complaint resolutions with the Communities and/or Cities/Comunidades y/o Ciudades Autónomas of Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Ceuta, Extremadura, La Rioja, Madrid and Melilla. The other Autonomous Communities (CC.AA.) hold their own administrative body in charge of controlling transparency. 
  • Ombudsman/Defensor del Pueblo – Any citizen, group, organisation or entity that considers her/his/its/their rights infringed by the action of a public administration, company or service, both national, regional, local, can present a complaint to the Ombudsman. Maximum time limit is 1 year after the facts, neither bears a cost for the interested party, nor the assistance of a solicitor/abogada-procuradora. The Ombudsman can initiate an investigation concerning acts and resolutions by a public authority and its agents. Therefore, private matters or cases of bad faith/mala fe, anonymity or absence of a basis are excluded. It has no competence to modify or annul acts or resolutions by public authorities and, among others, it can provide reminders of legal duties, recommendations and suggestions of new measures. Presenting a request does not suspend the time period for appeals or execution. There is no appeal agains its ruling on the complaint. You will find more information at https://www.defensordelpueblo.es. CC.AA. of Andalucía, Aragón, Canarias, Cataluña, Castilla y León, Comunitat Valenciana, Galicia, Navarra and País Vasco hold an autonomous ombudsman.
  1. Simplify, speed up and professionalize administrative formalities. Obtain the digital id/certificate  or electronic certification that contains your identity data as a person, either as a single person or an association, via the FNMT or the certifying service in your Autonomous Community/Comunidad Autónoma (CA). As a citizen you can also register at clave.gob.es in order to obtain your electronic identification into a public administration service to access public services.
  1. Acquaint yourself with websites and electronic sites of your Town Hall and CA Government to know the legislation on animals, the environment, agriculture, public healthcare, etc. Download municipal ordinances/ordenanzas municipales on animal protection or citizen coexistence/convivencia ciudadana as well as the organic rules/reglamento orgánico. Make time to read them, contribute to their dissemination and share your opinions with other neighbours and activists.
  1. Learn about the inner workings of Town Halls and yours in particular. Visit websites such as Spanish Federation of Towns and Provinces/Federación Española de Municipios y Provincias or FEMP, the association of towns/Mancomunidad and/or the Provincial Council/Diputación provincial to which your town belongs. How many Council Departments/Concejalías are there? Who is responsible for managing feline colonies? What is the educational background of the Environment team? ¿How does the Town Council/Pleno work? Are citizens allowed to participate and intervene during its sessions? Which department should you contact to speak about stray animals during the Town Council sittings?
  1. Does a citizen hold the subjective right for a municipal ordinance? No, as it falls to only the local  governing body to assess if existing regulation has to be changed, under which conditions and when. The exception would be a law that decrees the duty to approve a regulation under certain conditions and deadline such as the Murcian law to protect companion animals/Ley 6/2017 de protección y defensa de los animales de compañía de la Región de Murcia. Since December 2017, month of coming into force, it stablished that all local entities had to develop or adapt their local ordinances within 1 year.  
  1. How is a local authority’s ordinance or a regulation established or modified? Art. 49 of the  local regime law/Ley 7/1985 de Bases del Régimen Local (LBRL) sets the applicable procedure, with certain variations for towns with large population: 
  • Inicial approval of the provisional agreement by the Plenary/el Pleno
  • Public information and audience to interested parties, minimum period of 30 days for presenting complaints and suggestions;  
  • Resolution of all those presented within the period granted; and 
  • Final approval by the Plenary or, if no complaints or suggestions were presented, the provisional agreement to be deemed as definitively approved. 
  1. ¿Is the authority of the Estate or of an C.A. able to suspend an act by a local authority? In the Estate of Autonomies or Regions/Estado de las Autonomías that is Spain there is a vertical distribution of public power among entities at a different level. The State, holder of the sovereignty, the CC.AA.., towns and provinces, all autonomous for managing their own interests. Public administrations must adjust their mutual relations to the duties of mutual information, collaboration, co-ordination and respecto to their respective spheres of competence. Thus, except an exception for “serious violation to the general interest of Spain”/ “atentado grave al interés general de España”, neither the Administration of the Estate nor that of the CC.AA. can suspend any act by the local entities. However, it is possible to require the local entity to annul a local agreement or act in the maximum period of 1 month and to challenge it before the courts.
  1. Town Halls are obliged to establish rules of organic nature, procedures and adequate organs for the participation of all citizens on matters of public life at local level, as well as providing the maximum possible information concerning their activitiy

Among the rights and duties of the neighbours: to be informed, prior a reasoned request, and to address petitions to the municipal administration concerning all municipal files and documents, as established in art. 105 of the CE/ “Ser informado, previa petición razonada, y dirigir solicitudes a la Administración municipal en relación a todos los expedientes y documentación municipal, de acuerdo con lo previsto en el artículo 105 de la Constitución”. Also, according to art. 70.3 of the LBRL, all citizens hold the right to obtain copies and certificates that support the agreements and background of local authorities; also to check archives and registries in the terms stated by law developing art. 105.b of the Spanish Constitution/“Todos los ciudadanos tienen derecho a obtener copias y certificaciones acreditativas de los acuerdos de las corporaciones locales y sus antecedentes, así como a consultar los archivos y registros en los términos que disponga la legislación de desarrollo del artículo 105, párrafo b), de la Constitución.

Besides, any authority has to summarily disclose the contents of its plenary sessions, all agreements by Plenary and Governance Committee/Pleno y Comisión de Gobierno, as well as the Mayor’s resolutions and those issued by the Delegates/Delegados.  A local information office must process all requests in writing to that effect and make the necessary actions for the petitioner to obtain the information in the shorter possible time that cannot be longer than 3 months.

  1. The LBRL also contemplates popular initiative with the filing of agreements, acts or projects of regulations in matters of municipal competence. It requires the signing of a minimum number of neighbours, from 20% in towns with 5,000 inhabitants to 10% above 20,0001 inhabitants. Such initiative just to be subjected to debate and vote at the Plenary and requires prior reports by the Town’s Secretary and Financial Controller. The Mayor can submit to popular consultation matters of municipal competence and local nature that hold special relevante for its neighbours’ interests.
  1. Another right held by neighbours is the establishment of the corresponding public service, that is  a municipal competence and of obligatory nature. Also the rights to the delivery of the operations services and also for the local budget to include the necessary credits that guarantee the establishment and the fulfilment of the obligatory public services that are enforceable by the local authority. Once the annual budget has been initially approved, there is the possibility of presenting complaints for omitting the necessary credits. 
  1. Inquire at your Town Hall about the Municipal Registry of  Neighbourhood Associations/Registro Municipal de Asociaciones Vecinales, possibilities and benefits within your reach. Any Town Hall has the duty to assist in the development of associations that defend general or sectoral interests. It also has to help with the use of public means and the access to public aid for carrying out their activities as well as promoting participation in the authority’s management. An association has multiple ways to take part in municipal activity, such as participating as an interested party in an administrative procedure, joining advisory municipal councils or advising in a tender.

Mercedes Camps Herrero

Solicitor and activist www.campsicia.com