An inspiring book and useful guide to anyone following discussions about legal recognition of sentient animals in the United Kingdom post Brexit (when Article 13, Treaty of Functioning of the European Union will no longer apply).
The book outlines the progressive attitude in Switzerland to the legislative and constitutional protection of animals. Unlike the UK, the legislature in Switzerland is not only empowered to bring in laws protecting animals, a constitutional amendment obliges it to do so. Another significant and symbolic difference the author describes, is an amendment to the Swiss Civil Code to recognise that animals ‘are not legal ‘objects’ or ‘things’ as they are in Britain and many other countries worldwide, but have a legal status ‘somewhere between persons and objects.’ Whilst not full personhood, the law at least reflects the reality that animals are more than mere legal ‘things.’
The focus of the book however is on the legal protection of animal dignity and it is here that we are introduced to a concept that can be described as both new – in relative terms – and exciting. The protection of animal dignity became enshrined in the Swiss Animal Welfare Act in 2008. The author describes how it ‘signifies a remarkable shift from an exclusively sentientist focus to a biocentric approach to animal welfare.’ In other words, a move away from one which focuses exclusively on welfare and the avoidance of pain and suffering to one which recognizes the inherent worth of animals. Accordingly, dignity protection is not reserved only for species in respect of whom sentience can be proven (vertebrates and two categories of cephalopods and decapods in Swiss law), but all animals.
Dignity requires that ‘the inherent worth of the animal that should be respected when being dealt with.’ Interference with dignity may be, for example, modifying genetic material, causing humiliation, using excessive instrumentalization* or substantial interference with an animals’ appearance or characteristics.
The requirement to have respect for animal dignity does not mean that any human activity that interferes with an animals’ dignity is outlawed, nor does it even mean that all violations are unlawful. Some actions towards animals are prohibited, such as sexually motivated activities with animals (zoophilia), but in other areas the author describes the balancing process that still occurs between human and animals interests. It is only when a violation of the animals’ dignity cannot be justified that it is ‘disregarded’ which constitutes a cruelty offence under the Animal Welfare Act. Nevertheless, any violation must be legally justified and proportionate, which in itself is a progressive development.
The author describes how the concept of animal dignity could be further developed and applied to protect animals across a range of settings. The book will be a truly interesting read for anyone interested in the comparative law of animal protection, as well as those studying the legal and constitutional framework that protects animals in society.
*Excessive instrumentalization – ‘any human conduct aimed at using an animal as a human tool without giving consideration to its interests or its physical or mental needs.’
Review written by Paula Sparks. The book can be purchased here.