Categories: Animal laws

Animals Should Have a Legal Personality To Protect Their Rights in Court

This concerns the United Kingdom.  Although this brief discussion refers to dogs, it is about animals in general and therefore inclusive of the domestic cat.

Noel Sweeney, a practising barrister specialising in criminal and animal law as well as human rights, proposes that animals should be given a legal personality under the law so that their rights are protected.  The rights so bestowed upon animals would be overseen by an independent animals’ obudswoman.  Sweeney says that a woman should oversee the enforcement of these animal rights because women can empathise with animals as they have been subject to men’s rules in the past and so have been the victims of injustice just as animals have always been the underdogs and still are.

Yes, animals are underdogs in the eyes of the law.  I think that is a nice description albeit an unhappy one.

As underdogs, Sweeney equates the provision of animal rights under the law, which he says are much needed, to the rights awarded in the past to other victims of injustice such as women, black people, children and so on.

“Sound legislation in this area will protect responsible owners, all animals including dogs, and potential victims including children.  It would protect the whole of society from the wrong doers.”

Noel Sweeney was referring to animal legislation in the UK with respect to dog attacks although his proposal that animals be given rights under the law applies to all animals, of course.  His concept runs counter to the current situation in which, as we know, dogs and cats are seen as possessions of people rather than freestanding legal entities.

Sweeney says that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA) was rushed through as a political knee-jerk reaction and is faulty.  The result of this legislation is that dogs are killed too easily and sentencing for the criminally negligent behaviour of a dog’s owner is too lenient at 2 years maximum imprisonment.

The Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, amended the DDA and made improvements for responsible owners and dogs.  In addition, it offers better redress for the victims of dog attacks (i.e. three years imprisonment for a dog attack on a guide dog). A dog owner has to be “fit and proper”.  This distinguishes between bad and good dog owners which is correct.

However, both the old law and the new when combined are still flawed.  The law is too vague in places and does not protect responsible owners who are absent at the time of a dog attack.  Nor does it protect dogs.

Hence the need for a total revamp in the UK with respect to this aspect of the law and the provision of the concept of animals having a legal personality.  This would be a great leap forward from what many consider to be the archaic system currently in place which classifies dogs and cats as “chattels” to use an equally archaic term.

P.S. There are about 12 attacks on guide dogs per month by other dogs in the UK. Can you believe that?

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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