In what will be seen as a highly controversial ruling among the relatively small Jewish and Muslim communities in Poland, ritual slaughter of animals will be banned from 31 December.
The court was convened after Attorney General Andrzej Seremet was petitioned to investigate Jewish shechita and Muslim dhabiha slaughtering methods, mainly used for meat exports, by animal rights groups.
During Tuesday's hearing, the Attorney General argued that a 2004 amendment, allowing ritual slaughter on religious grounds, was unconstitutional in that it contravenes animal rights legislation dating back to 1997, which only allows slaughter “following the loss of consciousness” after the farm animal has been stunned.
Former agricultural minister Wojciech Olejniczak claimed that the 2004 amendment was designed to bring Poland into line with EU regulations.
Referring to the minister's 2004 intervention, the Constitutional Court's Judge Zbigniew Cieslak concluded that “a decree that is supposed to serve in the execution of a law, and the realisation of its goals, cannot be in opposition to it.”
Tuesday's judgement now brings Polish law into conflict with EU regulations and European human rights conventions.
A new EU ruling which comes into force on 1 January next year sets out common rules for member states to follow on the issue and allows Jewish and Muslim communities to continue the practice.
The European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter requires the stunning of farm animals before slaughter, but allows member states to allow exemptions for religious practices.
In May 2009, the European Parliament voted in favour of allowing ritual slaughter in member states.
National governments are allowed to decide locally whether to enact the regulations, however.
Currently, only Sweden bans the practice in the 27 nation bloc, though non-EU countries Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland also ban slaughter without prior stunning.
Last year, the Dutch lower house of parliament voted to ban ritual slaughter, though the government backed down after protests from religious groups.
The last time Jewish shechita and Muslim dhabiha slaughter were banned in Poland was under Nazi occupation during WW II, after Hitler outlawed the practice in Germany in 1933.
Following the war, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms included sections on religious freedoms, including practices such as ritual slaughter of animals.
Last year, following the debate in the Netherlands, President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski defended the ancient practice.
Komorowski said that the Dutch bill “targets the Muslim and Jewish community” and represents “a crisis of tolerance” in Europe.