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article imageOp-Ed: Lawyers for animals referendum in Switzerland

By Paul Wallis     Mar 4, 2010 in Crime
Yep, legal representation for your furry, feathered, and scaly friends. Swiss attorney Anton Goetschel attracted some interest when representing a dead fish last month. Now the animal law mode may go national.
The concept of animals getting legal representation has developed from an existing legal situation. Zurich is the only canton which currently permits legal representation of animals. There’s even a law against solitary confinement of goldfish. (Not so surprising to fish fans; a bored goldfish isn’t a synonym for great quality of life.) Since 2008, keeping animals which normally live in groups in solitary confinement has been illegal.
Goetschel has represented mainly mistreated dogs. His dead fish client was a pike whom he represented on a torture charge against a fisherman. The fisherman took 10 minutes to kill the fish.
Goetschel isn’t a sort of legal freak show, however, and 144,000 fellow Swiss have signed a petition supporting legal representation for animals. Nor is the proposed legislation a simple matter of your Airedale looking in the phone book or online for a lawyer. The idea is that state-appointed lawyers are taken on to represent the animals.
Animal lovers who are regularly sickened by some of the enchanting experiences of urban dogs and cats would understand the issues. Animal hospitals around the world full of maimed animals, often at the hands of their owners or the other animals euphemistically and inaccurately known as “youths”, are a grotesque global monument to the need for better protection.
The chances of this becoming a global legal approach are interesting. Will other Western countries and their ridiculous, crime-saturated societies, pick up the idea, or not?
Against the idea it’s a concept which requires someone taking social responsibility, a thing which is apparently itself conceptually illegal in media, politics, housing, health, education and welfare. Can the chronically gutless Western social “ethos” cope, or not? Will societies which have become sanctuaries for corruption, crime and social atrocities comprehend the idea?
In favor of the idea is that it happens to represent a response to real issues, another novelty in recent decades, and the sort of values democracies are supposed to have. If animal legal representation becomes a reality, maybe affordable human legal representation will one day be possible.
(Sorry pro bono guys, but you know what I mean.)
More interestingly can you represent species, legally? I’d say from the basic idea that it’d be possible. That might get a less apathetic response from the corporate sector among others. A class action for oil-soaked fish and birds would be an interesting development. Extinctions could be major damageable issues, not just an excuse for ineffectual grandstanding by liberals and conservatives.
This idea could be a benchmark for a different perspective on legal rights generally. It’d also give animal welfare some real legal teeth, not just the vague prevention of cruelty laws which are themselves such a cruel thing.
Good luck, Mr. Goetschel, and good luck Switzerland, for pointing out a solution to real problem so effectively.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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