Swiss Throttle Back on Animal Rights
Famously neutral and insular Switzerland has always gone its own way. In the 1990s it was heroin injection centers for addicts. Last November, it was a ban on minarets on mosques. Today the country voted on a referendum on whether the government should provide abused animals with their own lawyers.
Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure (a 70.5% of votes cast) that would have added one more weapon to an animal protection regime that is already among the strongest in the world.
Jakob Buechler, a member of the centrist Christian People's Party, which opposed the initiative, said, "The Swiss people have clearly said our animal protection laws are so good we don't need animal lawyers."
But the vote couldn't have been about the quality of the laws. Imagine if someone said the same about humans, e.g. "We have the best laws in the world. Why must you insist on having a lawyer?"
The law is more likely ideologically based. Presently, animals are viewed as property under the law. Property requires no representation of its own; only property-holders require lawyers to advocate for them.
Historically, women were regard as property (the legal term is "chattel"). This was a step in the direction of placing animals on the same legal footing as human beings.
Interestingly, the Swiss referendum called for the expansion of a program that is already in place in Zurich, and has been since 1992. This local law supports one lawyer, Antoine F. Goetschel, who represents animals as a full-time practice.
Goetschel indicates that the reason behind the law is more practical than ideological, in that he finds some 150 to 200 cases each year that require legal intervention, while only a scant few cases go to trial in cantons where attorneys for abused animals are not permitted.
But most would agree that lawyers tend to have that effect whenever new laws are enacted, because finding cases to litigate helps pay their rent.