Spain’s top court on Thursday overruled a controversial local ban against bullfighting in the powerful northeastern region of Catalonia, saying it violated a national law protecting the much-disputed spectacle.
The Constitutional Court ruled that Catalan authorities generally could regulate such public spectacles, and even outlaw them, but in this case the national parliament’s ruling that bullfighting is part of Spain’s heritage must prevail.
Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. The decision was part of the growing movement against bullfighting but it was also seen as another step in the Catalan government’s push to break away from Spain.
The ban had little practical effect as Catalonia had only one functioning bullring — in its capital, Barcelona — but neither is the court decision likely to greatly change things.
“There’ll be no bullfights in Catalonia regardless of what the Constitutional Court says,” Catalan Land Minister Josep Rulls said.
The World Animal Protection group described the decision as “outrageous,” adding that “cultural heritage does not justify an activity that relies on animal torture and indefensible levels of suffering.”
But the Fighting Bull Foundation of breeders, matadors, ring workers, aficionados and event organizers welcomed the news, warning that attempts to prevent bullfights in Catalonia would now be illegal.
Catalonia’s last bullfight was in 2011 before the region’s ban took effect.
The court ruling followed a challenge to the ban by the conservative Popular Party headed by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Catalonia said it banned bullfighting to protect the animals but it continues to allow popular events featuring the chasing and taunting of bulls with flaming balls of wax or fireworks affixed to their horns.
Bullfighting and bull-related events in summer festivals remain immensely popular throughout Spain although animal rights groups have gained some ground in their campaigns.
Catalonia, with a population of 7.5 million, is a wealthy region with its own language and a large degree of self-rule. Its current government is pushing to hold an independence referendum and secede from Spain in 2017. Spain has said it will not allow either.