Animals as Legal Persons

Pragati Mishra ||

How would you feel if somebody tortured you? It is the same feeling for animals who are as much as a part of this earth as we are. However, there is no consensus among the jurists about the legal personality of animals. Salmond regards them as mere objects of legal rights and duties, but never the subjects of them. However, Fitzerald in his book Salmond on Jurisprudence, mentions two cases where beasts (animals) may be thought to possess legal rights. In the first place, cruelty to animals is a criminal offence, and in the second place, a trust for the benefit of the particular classes of animals is valid and enforceable as a public and charitable trust. Here it must be noted that Article 48 of the Indian Constitution provides that the State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.

Thus, Are we driven by the existence of these cases to recognise the legal rights and therefore legal personality of animals? The duties towards the animals are conceived by the law as duties towards society itself. They correspond not to private rights vested in the immediate beneficiaries, but to the rights vested in the community large- for the community has as rightful interest, legally recognised to this context, in the well-being even of the dumb animals which belong to it. Where, however, the interest of animals conflict with those of human beings, the latter is preferred.

Bulls pulling carts full of huge loads being whipped repeatedly if it stops, people throwing stones on dogs and cats, the taming contests, races, fights. In all these animals are treated as an object. These innocent animals are treated as an object for different purposes such as entertainment, food, labour etc.

Legal Status of Animals as held by P&H High Court

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has declared animals as a legal person. The order states that the entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic, are declared legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person. All the citizens throughout the State are hereby declared persons in loco parentis ( responsible for a child in parent’s absence) as the human face for the welfare and protection of animals. Justice Sharma directed the state government to ensure no person was permitted to keep in harness any animal to draw vehicles between 11 am and 4 pm in summers when the temperature exceeded 37 degrees Celsius, and between 10 pm and 7 am when the temperature fell below 5 degrees Celsius in winter. The Bench has also fixed load to be carried by animals The use of spike sticks, harness or yoke with spikes, knobs, projections and other sharp instruments were also banned.

This order was passed on June 2nd by Justice Rajiv Sharma, who have passed similar judgement in Uttarakhand against animal cruelty last year.

What is Legal Personality?

Legal Personality is an artificial creation of law. Entities recognized by law are capable of being parties to a legal relationship. A natural person is a human being whereas legal persons such as a Corporation, created by law & given certain rights and duties of human beings, who for the purpose of legal reasoning is more or less treated as a human being.

This case is not the first time any High Court has delivered such a decision. In 2017, the Uttarakhand High Court held that the Ganga and Yamuna rivers are legal persons, reasoning that a river is a living symbol of all the life it sustains and nourishes and therefore it deserves protection

Animals are not objects

Animals cannot be treated as “object” and “property” and are entitled to justice. Justice Rajiv Sharma in his order said that “The Corporation, Hindu idol, Holy Scriptures, rivers have been declared legal entities and thus in order to protect and promote greater welfare of animals including avian and aquatic animals are required to be conferred with the status of a legal person. In an attempt to understand what the animals go through Justice Rajive Sharma said, “We have to show compassion towards all living creators. Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. In Hindu mythology, every animal is associated with the god. Animals breathe like us & have emotion. They require food, shelter, medical care etc.

Can we eat a legal person?

With this judgment there some questions in everyone’s mind. Can we eat a legal person? Is this actually a victory for vegetarians? Will animals having the same right as human means they can’t be killed? Now, what will happen to the meat industry? Do chickens raised for eggs or meat have the same rights as an elephant in a forest?  The verdict of the High Court directly addresses only the issue of halting “animal cruelty”. The court is silent on the other issues. This is because the court has not declared animal rights, but has rather “extended the rights of a living person to the animal kingdom”. The status of a legal person does not mean that animals will have all the constitutional or rights as a human. Although the ruling of these high courts represents an exciting step forward in the movement to protect the animals, the judgment is a mixed-bag and it requires more clarification.

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