This is a world first. A writ of habeus corpus has been issued by the New York Supreme Court (20th April 2015). That does not sound like anything special. However, the named ‘persons’ in the writ are two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo. Why is this so special?
Well, the court granted the petitioner, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), the right to issue a writ concerning chimpanzees at the New York Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe, by implication acknowledges that the chimpanzees are ‘legal persons’ because the writ of habeus corpus only applies to humans and what is termed ‘legal persons’ in the state of New York. What are ‘legal persons’?
Incorporated companies are legal persons, for instance. They are described as ‘non-human entities’. It allows them to enter into contracts et cetera. There are rights associated with being a legal person. In America legal persons don’t have the well-know human rights enshrined in the United States Constitution but they do have rights in advance of those held by animals in general.
I think we can agree that animals have few inalienable rights. Animal rights are protected in statutory law rather than in the constitution. A typical example is the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is written in a way that is similar to constitutional rights.
Returning the writ of habeus corpus and Hercules and Leo; NhRP wanted them to he released from, as I understand it, an animal testing laboratory at Stony Brooke University on Long Island, New York.
The writ is a demand that two chimpanzees held captive for animal testing purposes be released unless the captors, Stony Brooke University are able to convince the judge, Barbara Jaffe, that they have the right to detain the chimps. This was the third attempt at gaining a court’s recognition that primates are legal persons. I believe the hearing is yet to take place.
If the writ is successful the chimps will be transferred to a sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida called Save the Chimps.
The rights that accompany the status of legal person provide an extra layer of protection which is far reaching, I believe. Where does this leave cats? Well, it does not directly affect domestic cats but indirectly it indicates that society is gradually developing a more sensitive and refined attitude towards animals. There is also a gradual improvement in animal protection laws in the USA, reflecting the same evolving mentality.