Lawyers for Animals? Weird Maybe, But Nothing New
In general, I try to keep this blog on-topic, but if my dear readers will permit a brief digression away from prison policy, I couldn’t resist posting about this Wall Street Journal article on a pending Swiss referendum to provide for court-appointed lawyers for animals. The article portrays this development as a pretty wacky idea and I’m sure that’s how it will be spun in the mainstream media. I can only imagine what Fox News will make of this, considering the hubbub in recent days about lawyers who represent people. And, hey, I don’t necessarily have a strong view on whether animals should have legal representation; maybe it is wacky.
However, putting on my historian’s hat, I never want to miss an opportunity to note that the notion of involving animals in the human court system is not a 21st century invention of lefty animal rights vegetarians. Rather, it has a long pedigree in the annals of both Anglo and Continental law. Animals and even insects used to be routinely tried for murder, sued for ruining crops, and more. (See this Cabinet Magazine article.) Many representative cases are delightfully described in the 1906 classic, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, now conveniently available via Google Books. The New York Times Magazine had an article a few years ago that touched on this topic:
On Sept. 5, 1379, a trio of French pigs, agitated by the squealing of a piglet, bowled over their keeper’s son, who died shortly thereafter of the injuries. As E. P. Evans recounts in his 1906 monograph, “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals,” “the three sows, after due process of law, were condemned to death” along with several other pigs who had “hastened to the scene of the murder and by their cries and aggressive actions showed that they approved of the assault.” (The accomplices were later pardoned.)