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Old 02-12-2010, 08:45 PM   #1
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Default [News] Lawyers for Animals? Up for a Vote in Switzerland

They may not be meowing, barking or mooing their way through depositions anytime soon, but if Switzerland's animal-rights activists get their way, domestic creatures may be given the constitutional right to be represented by (human) lawyers in court.

Swiss voters will go to the polls March 7 to decide whether each of the country's 26 cantons (similar to states) should be obligated to appoint a special attorney to represent pets and farm animals in court in cases of alleged abuse. The initiative is just one of many put before the electorate every year in Switzerland's unique brand of direct democracy, in which anyone can bring an issue up for a vote provided he or she has enough signatures on a petition. While some may grumble that the initiatives are, at times, trivial animal lawyers being the exception, of course the ability to decide on matters of national importance is a source of great pride for the Alpine nation, which holds more direct popular votes than any other country. In fact, in studies of public perceptions of the country conducted annually by Credit Suisse, respondents typically say that democracy is more representative of Switzerland than chocolate, watches and banks. (See the top 10 animal stories of 2009.)

The two pillars of this centuries-old voting tradition are initiatives and referendums. An initiative is a proposed amendment to the constitution, which can be brought to a national vote only if the sponsors gather 100,000 signatures. (For the animal-lawyers initiative, supporters collected 144,000 signatures.) A referendum, which requires just 50,000 signatures, is a vote on whether to accept or reject laws made by parliament, like when the public overwhelmingly approved the decision to renew Switzerland's heroin-distribution program in 2008. "They are powerful instruments for launching new laws and correcting policies, and they are an integral part of our culture," says Andreas Auer, director of the Centre for Research on Direct Democracy in the town of Aarau. "The federal government has learned to adapt to and live with this system. And while more than half of popular votes are favorable to its views, there remains a margin of uncertainty that is healthy to a truly democratic government." (See TIME's photo-essay "Strays to the Rescue.")

As proud as the Swiss are of their direct democracy, though, some have expressed concerns that the system can be abused by right-wing extremists seeking to push through anti-immigrant proposals. Last year, for instance, the Swiss People's Party (SVP) sponsored an initiative to ban the building of minarets on mosques a proposal opponents decried as anti-Muslim and hateful. The ban was approved by more than 57% of voters, but there's been talk among Muslim groups about challenging it in court. The Swiss parliament can declare an initiative invalid only if it violates international law. This last happened in 1996, when legislators halted an SVP initiative calling for the deportation of asylum seekers to their countries of origin. (See TIME's photo-essay "Abused No More: Rehabilitated Attack Dogs.")

The other problem, according to Georg Lutz, a Swiss politics expert at the Social Science Research Center in Lausanne, is that "even the most ridiculous issues" can be forced on the electorate, as was the case in 1996 when a proposal was put forth to abolish federal subsidies for parking spaces near train stations. A few years ago, a joke made the rounds that an initiative should be held on whether to raze the Alps so the Swiss people could see the ocean. (Regrettably for beach lovers, this never came to pass.) Joking aside, experts say the countless ballots can lead to voter fatigue Switzerland has long had one of the lowest voter-turnout rates in Europe. Indeed, even one of the most politically charged initiatives in recent years, the minaret ban, saw a mediocre turnout of 55%. (See pictures of the world's ugliest dogs.)

Not everyone would consider the animal-lawyer initiative frivolous, however. Proponents say the current laws dealing with animal abuse aren't strong enough to secure convictions against those suspected of cruelty, so having a court-appointed lawyer act on the behalf of animals makes a lot of (horse) sense. "Humans accused of animal cruelty can hire a lawyer or get one assigned, but animals cannot," Antoine Goetschel, an animal-rights advocate and lawyer, told London's Sunday Times. "Which is where I come in." (Read "Identity Crisis for the Swiss.")

The government is against the proposal because cantons are already required by law to have a special office dealing with animal abuse, which it deems protection enough. Farmers associations and pet breeders are also opposed to the initiative, fearing greater scrutiny of their activities. A group called No to the Useless Animal Lawyers' Initiative has been set up to urge voters to reject the proposal.

As always, it will be left to the voters to decide. According to early polls, it looks likely that pet lovers will prevail a full 70% supported the initiative in a survey released in November. A victory, proponents would argue, for direct democracy.

Read more: Lawyers for Animals? Switzerland Puts It to a Vote! - TIME
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Old 02-13-2010, 07:23 PM   #2
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That was really interesting!

I wonder if the group behind this referendum is realllly only doing this as PR...in other words, to bring attention to the fact that maybe the animal cruelty laws aren't being enforced enough, or something? Maybe the current appointed "special offices for dealing w/ animal abuse" aren't doing...enough...so this is one way of getting attention? I don't know...just thinking out loud here.

Sort of like how, I wish the USDA did a better job (or was allowed to do a better job..whatever the case is, probably a bit of both + a ton of politics) in dealing w/ Mills and humane treatment of all animals under their jurisdiction.

I consulted both Wylie and Marcel. Marcel does not know what a lawyer is, which is typical of the widdle baby boy of the fam. Wylie, however, would LOVE to have an entire TEAM of lawyers at his bark and call...omg, that is SO up his alley....
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Old 02-13-2010, 07:52 PM   #3
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That was really interesting!

I wonder if the group behind this referendum is realllly only doing this as PR...in other words, to bring attention to the fact that maybe the animal cruelty laws aren't being enforced enough, or something? Maybe the current appointed "special offices for dealing w/ animal abuse" aren't doing...enough...so this is one way of getting attention? I don't know...just thinking out loud here.

Sort of like how, I wish the USDA did a better job (or was allowed to do a better job..whatever the case is, probably a bit of both + a ton of politics) in dealing w/ Mills and humane treatment of all animals under their jurisdiction.

I consulted both Wylie and Marcel. Marcel does not know what a lawyer is, which is typical of the widdle baby boy of the fam. Wylie, however, would LOVE to have an entire TEAM of lawyers at his bark and call...omg, that is SO up his alley....
Love your post! Big smiles here! Chase agrees with Wylie--for sure! To the OP...thanks for posting this. I think we need something like this in the US too. Our babies should have rights...not be deemed what they are considered now..personal property.
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Old 02-14-2010, 09:39 AM   #4
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My dogs know what a lawyer is because their Momma is one. Teddy Bumpkins is a lawyer-in-training as well. Barney's in law enforcement and Daisy wants nothing to do with this boring stuff - she is in the retail doggie item business. All kidding aside --

I'm not an animal lawyer, but wanted to point out that some courts are starting to recognize animals should be deemed to be more than mere property. They seem to suggest a dog/cat is more than mere property but they don't go as far as we pet owners would like them too. It's been a few years since I looked at this issue but I've seen some references in various resources where courts are saying that people should be "guardians" of their animals which implies a relationship more than that of a piece of property as guardians are usually required to act in the best interests of the person for whom they are guardians. In addition, many states allow you to set up (and fund) a trust for the care of your animal when you pass on. This seems to be where courts are finding that pets are "more than mere property."

We still have a long way to go despite these decisions. And Ghandi said it best - we just have to ask ourselves how we measure up.
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Old 02-14-2010, 10:41 AM   #5
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I'm so glad to hear this. Those courts on the right track. If owners are the guardians, then I hope that eventually we will be able to sue in cases where negligence has resulted in tragedies for our babies. In my opinion, they deserve the same rights (or at least close to) that we have. Maybe it's just a dream but perhaps eventually laws will be passed. Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training) might find some good clients here. Barney--keep all the bad guys away and Daisy...good luck in the retail business!
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Old 02-15-2010, 01:14 PM   #6
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My dogs know what a lawyer is because their Momma is one. Teddy Bumpkins is a lawyer-in-training as well. Barney's in law enforcement and Daisy wants nothing to do with this boring stuff - she is in the retail doggie item business. All kidding aside --

I'm not an animal lawyer, but wanted to point out that some courts are starting to recognize animals should be deemed to be more than mere property. They seem to suggest a dog/cat is more than mere property but they don't go as far as we pet owners would like them too. It's been a few years since I looked at this issue but I've seen some references in various resources where courts are saying that people should be "guardians" of their animals which implies a relationship more than that of a piece of property as guardians are usually required to act in the best interests of the person for whom they are guardians. In addition, many states allow you to set up (and fund) a trust for the care of your animal when you pass on. This seems to be where courts are finding that pets are "more than mere property."

We still have a long way to go despite these decisions. And Ghandi said it best - we just have to ask ourselves how we measure up.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
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Teddy Bumpkins will have our business !

Great post. Btw, that post is one of my very favorites! (I'm a quote junkie)

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I'm so glad to hear this. Those courts on the right track. If owners are the guardians, then I hope that eventually we will be able to sue in cases where negligence has resulted in tragedies for our babies. In my opinion, they deserve the same rights (or at least close to) that we have. Maybe it's just a dream but perhaps eventually laws will be passed. Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training) might find some good clients here. Barney--keep all the bad guys away and Daisy...good luck in the retail business!
If it's just a dream...I like the way you dream, my friend ! I would also be in support of effective legislation for animals, pet "guardians", and also reputable breeders. (but not Mills)
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Old 02-15-2010, 01:30 PM   #7
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Ack -- I meant "that quote is one of my favorites" (by Gandhi).
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Old 02-15-2010, 03:31 PM   #8
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Wylie's Mom quote: "I would also be in support of effective legislation for animals, pet "guardians", and also reputable breeders."

Maybe Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training) can help get this started.
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Old 02-15-2010, 07:04 PM   #9
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Wylie's Mom quote: "I would also be in support of effective legislation for animals, pet "guardians", and also reputable breeders."

Maybe Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training) can help get this started.
Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training)...I hear a scholarship fund in the making !

{completely picturing Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training) now with spectacles, and argyle, and all studious and such...heading to Harvard Law...}
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Old 02-15-2010, 07:15 PM   #10
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Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training)...I hear a scholarship fund in the making !

{completely picturing Teddy Bumpkins, Esq (in training) now with spectacles, and argyle, and all studious and such...heading to Harvard Law...}

Maybe he can do online courses from Harvard Law so his mommy, brother and sister won't miss him too much. Only problem would be less time on YT. Ok, I need to stop now.
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Old 02-17-2010, 10:40 AM   #11
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Attorney-in-Training Teddy Bumpkins wants you guys to know that he is flattered but has a long, long, long way to go before he can practice law. He is having trouble just mastering getting to class on time as he sleeps the day away. And, he's all about fun and games (and food breaks) so isnt getting much done at all in the way of studying.

However, despite his lack of qualifications, he feels that enforceability is the crux of the problem. We do a great job at putting laws on the books that make us feel good, but little in the way of funding to support any real enforcement. There just isn't enough money for all the programs we need - for people or for animals.
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