Animals may get their own lawyers in Switzerland

the lawyer and a potential client Should animals residing in Switzerland have the right to be represented by a lawyer? Voters will have their say in a national referendum on March 7. Animals in the canton of Zurich have had an “animal advocate” who represents abused animals in court since 2007. If successful, every canton will be forced to appoint one.

The government is opposed. It feels that existing animal welfare laws are sufficient to protect animals from abuse. Farmers and animal breeders fear being buried under red tape. A group called No to the Useless Animal Lawyers’ Initiative says, “Animal rights advocates are useless to animals. They can’t prevent animal abuse because they only get involved after it has been perpetrated.”

Zurich’s animal advocate, Antoine Goetschel, a 50-year-old vegetarian, is enthusiastic about the initiative. "Humans accused of animal cruelty can hire a lawyer or get one assigned, but animals cannot," he told London's Sunday Times. "Which is where I come in."

In Zurich he helps to enforce a 2008 national law which protects the rights of goldfish, canaries and guinea pigs, amongst other animals. Goldfish, for instance are regarded as “social animals” which should always have a companion. The Swiss take this seriously. Goetschel told the Times of a recent case in which police entered a home to investigate possible domestic violence. They noticed that the couple’s canary was living in a cage all by itself, so animal abuse was added to spouse abuse in the list of charges.

The proposal is a controversial one. Clara Balestra, of a child protection group, the Sarah Oberson Foundation, points out that the advocate will be independent both from the government and the animal’s owner and defend only the interests of the animal. Swiss children are not protected this well, she complains: “The groups [which] enjoy the best advocacy of their rights are the ones with most influence on decision-makers. So, we face a strange case where animal rights advocates seem to be stronger (better organized? better funded? better represented?) than child advocates.” ~ London Sunday Times, Jan 31

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | animal rights, human dignity, Switzerland

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