Swiss to vote on lawyers for animals
Lawyer Antoine F. Goetschel feels uncomfortable talking about one of his recent
clients. And it isn't just because he lost the case.
By ELIANE ENGELER
Associated Press Writer
GENEVA — Lawyer Antoine F. Goetschel feels uncomfortable talking about one of
his recent clients. And it isn't just because he lost the case.
"Fish don't get much sympathy," he explains.
That's doubly true for the unnamed dead pike whose cause Goetschel took up
earlier this month, much to the amusement of Swiss anglers who couldn't
understand why one of their own was being hauled into court for landing a big
Goetschel is Europe's only animal lawyer and the figurehead for a movement that
wants to expand Zurich's pioneering legal system across Switzerland.
Voters will decide in a March 7 poll whether every canton (state) should be
required to appoint an animal lawyer to represent the interests of pets and farm
animals in court - in effect a dedicated public prosecutor for dogs, cats and
other vertebrates that have been abused by humans.
"Swiss law has taken a big step forward in recent years" particularly for
animals that live in groups, Goetschel tells The Associated Press.
The country's constitution now prohibits keeping pigs in single pens and budgies
alone in a cage - solitary confinement, as Goetschel calls it.
Dog owners have to take a training course and from 2013 it will be forbidden to
tie horses in their stalls.
Campaign group Swiss Animal Protection, which launched the petition and gathered
the necessary 100,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote, argues that abuses
on pets are often not taken seriously by local authorities and don't make it up
The Swiss government has recommended voters reject the proposal, saying animal
lawyers are unnecessary and existing laws are sufficient.
Swiss Animal Protection's director Hansueli Huber says the group received 5,000
reports of alleged abuse in 2008. That's about 1,000 more than in 2007, he
"As long as you consider animal rights breaches a trivial offense we don't get
anywhere," he says, noting that in many cases pet owners get away with a fine.
The debate took on a new dimension two weeks ago when prosecutors in the
canton of Zurich accused an angler of having tortured a large pike, because the
battle between man and beast took about 10 minutes.
Goetschel, in his capacity as the canton's animal lawyer, was in court to
represent the dead fish. He regrets that the case, which isn't typical of his
work, received so much attention.
"At least a lot of people who didn't know what an animal lawyer is discovered
that the job is about representing the interests of animals in court," he says.
Asked why he represented the fish, Goetschel says, "It's the same reason why a
prosecutor goes after a murderer: to make sure that people are suitably punished
for their crimes."
Goetschel says he represents about 150-200 animals each year, mostly dogs, cows
and cats. Since animals can't pay, the canton of Zurich picks up his 200 Swiss
francs-an-hour ($185-an-hour) bill.
"A commercial lawyer wouldn't touch a pencil for that kind of money," says
Goetschel, who sports a distinctive silver mane and is vegetarian.
The Swiss Farming Association opposes the plan to appoint more animal lawyers,
and pet breeders are divided.
Peter Rub, president of the Swiss dog breeding association, says he is in favor
because "animals are not objects" to be paraded in fashion shows or to be
brought up in crowded places without sufficient exercise.
Roger Bernet, president of the Swiss Budgerigar Society, says there's no need
for special animal lawyers and it could lead to absurd situations such as the
Goetschel, who says he probably won't appeal on behalf of the pike, notes "it's
not about making animals into humans."
But if Swiss voters accept the proposal, "it would really push the animal rights
Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report.
[Harvard Law Record]
Professor's controversial animal
rights plan may get seal of approval in Swiss referendum
once an obscure idea hidden in the introduction to an edited volume of
scholarly work burst onto the political scene last fall, when the Senate held
confirmation hearings for Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein ’78,
nominated to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).
Opponents on both the left and the right scoured the prolific scholar’s
writing for ammunition, and the appointment was temporarily blocked by Sen.
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) after his discovery of a proposal by Sunstein and
then-partner Martha Nussbaum, the University of Chicago philosopher, to give
animals legal standing to appear in court when humans could not formally do
so on their behalf.
A variant of that idea has proven somewhat less
controversial in Switzerland, however, where a proposal to initiate criminal
prosecutions on behalf of animal victims is going before voters in a
referendum on March 7, the Associated Press reports. Brought by animal rights
group Swiss Animal Protection, the referendum, if passed, would force each of
Switzerland’s cantons to appoint a public prosecutor to go after human
mistreatment of animals.