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Animal Rights in The Era of Jurisprudence


Different views of the scope and extent of animal rights have reflected philosophical and legal developments, scientific conceptions of animal and human nature, and religious and ethical conceptions of the proper relationship between animals and human beings. Historically, debates over proper treatment of animals and place of animals in human morality had always been in existence amongst ancient Greek and Roman philosophers.

Initially, every legislation and regulation in a constitutional state limited the permissible uses of animals, but history stands true to the fact that animals have always been treated as properties by human beings. And currently too, animals are treated as property under law as they do not have the same legal status as human beings. Prior to the present decade, it had become more and more difficult to believe that a state might be constitutionally obliged to limit the humans from using animals as their property for reasons that stand independent of the rights or interests of another human being. However, this position has gradually changed and in the recent past we have come across a number of diverse jurisdictions who have now adopted constitutional provisions committing the state to protect the interests of animals and uplift animal welfare.[1]

Animal rights are now promoted in many nations, through the means of animal welfare laws. Countries like Brazil, India, Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Luxembourg and Egypt have complex animal protection schemes and rules in existence. Considering the social position and circumstances of animals in modern states, the constitutional recognition granted to animals is welcomed as a positive development.[2]


Aristotle, in his biological account repeatedly wrote that animals lived for their own sake, but also simultaneously thought that nature made all animals for the sake of humans. This became a really controversial statement of his and also one of his most influential one this subject by far. Animals were often ranked in accordance with their complexity and perfection; the hierarchy mainly fluctuated from the barely living to the merely sentient, the rational, and the wholly spiritual. In this huge chain, the spectrum of ranking living beings was ranked from those who are assumed to exist for the sake of it to those forms in the higher end of the chain. This chain of ranking is the most persistent, yet, utterly erroneous way of looking at all living beings in the world.  

The Stoics, who believed in the philosophy of personal ethics informed by the system of logic, insisted that animals were slaves and accordingly always treated them as a contemptible and are rarely to be noticed. These ideas soon got strongly embedded in Christianity and were later encoded into Roman law. Furthermore, under the stoics, arguments that promoted respect for animals faded away, and animal welfare remained a concept unspoken of.


The ancient Roman and Greek civilizations were conquered by the common belief that the universe was designed for human beings. Roman jurist, Hermogenianus wrote, “Hominum causa omne jus constitum” which means “All law was established for men’s sake. Moreover, it was written in “Salmond on Jurisprudence”The law is made for men and allows no fellowship or bonds of obligation between them and the lower animals. The most important consequence of this view is that animals for the longest time have been categorized as “legal things,” not as “legal persons.” Legal persons have rights of their own whereas legal things do not; they exist in the sphere of law to serve the legal persons as “objects”. This status only affords animals indirect protection of laws that intend to protect social morality or the rights of animal owners, for example, criminal non-cruelty statues or civil statues that permit owners to apply for compensation when the animals that they own suffer injuries/damages.

If we were to draw an immoral comparison, previously in history, legal things have gained the status of legal persons; this happened when slaves were freed. They then possessed their own rights and remedies. The American historian David Brion Davis said, “Antiquity and almost universal acceptance of the concept of the slave as a human being who is legally owned, used, sold, or otherwise disposed of as if he or she were a domestic animal. This parallel persisted in the similarity of naming slaves, branding them, and even pricing them according to their equivalent in cows, camels, pigs, and chickens.”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, humanitarian reformers in the United States and the Britain campaigned on behalf of animals, promoting awareness of cruelty against them, amongst other issues that they campaigned for like child labour, abusive punishment system is public schools and debtor’s prisons.Western law as a whole, and especially property law was greatly influenced by the Roman law. The law of nonhuman animals in the United States at the beginning of the second millennium stand very identical to the Roman law of nonhuman animals that existed at the time when the first millennium turned. All humans are legal persons, but to the contrary all legal persons are not human beings.[3] Some have gained the status of artificial persons, like ships and corporations. What can easily be confused is being object of legal protection with having legal personhood.[4]

We have legislations to protect persons, as when legislatures make it a crime to assault a fellow human being. But they may also intend to protect legal things.In 1809, a former lord chancellor of England, who was always troubled by cruelty against animals introduced a bill to prohibit cruelty to all domestic animals that aimed to “Consecrate, perhaps, in all nations, and in all ages, that just and eternal principle which binds the whole living world in one harmonious chain, under the dominion of enlightened man, the lord and governor of all.” In the year 1821, another bill was introduced in the House of Commons and was called “Bill to prevent cruel and improper treatment of Cattle”. It was sponsored by Wilberforce and Thomas Fowell Buxton.[5]


At the beginning of the 21st century, lawsuits in the interests of nonhuman animals, sometimes being called “plaintiffs”, became highly common. India’s constitutional animal protection jurisprudence is predominantly rich and multifaceted, and evidences significant attention to animal experience. In addition to the religiously influenced cow slaughter provision, cast in terms of agricultural efficiency,the Indian Constitution imposes a “fundamental duty” on “every citizen” and the state to “have compassion for living creatures.”[6]

The Supreme Court of India has also previously held, applying a ‘Species Best Interest’ that, “We have to examine the various issues raised in these cases, primarily keeping in mind the welfare and the well-being of the animals and not from the stand point of the Organizers, Bull tamers, Bull Racers, spectators, participants or the respective States or the Central Government, since we are dealing with a welfare legislation of a sentient-being, over which human-beings have domination and the standard we have to apply in deciding the issue on hand is the “Species Best Interest”, subject to just exceptions, out of human necessity.”[7]

Under Western jurisprudence there exists a concept called “Personhood” and its significance and practical submission is heavily debated. It believes in the treatment of animals at par with humans in every aspect. Including, for the purpose at hand, as having obligations and rights as individual humans do. In certain nations, rivers and deities have also been conferred “personhood”.In India, the concept of Animal welfare is the most commonly believed Animal Rights jurisprudence and it is the basis of provisions in the Prevention of Cruelty Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. Numerous petitions are being heard at this time by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.[8] These are often filed by several Animal Welfare NGOs and concerned groups because of their concern regarding the implementation of slaughterhouse rules to ensure that animal slaughter is performed with minimum pain and cruelty and with the highest standards of hygiene and safety.[9]


Certain recent companion animal cases in private law have recognized animals’ for more than what their economic value is, the companion animal focus for these ingenuities is telling. Law is an anthropocentric establishment.Nonhumans, slaves and humans, may indirectly be protected by laws that are intended to protect others. However, these laws remain invisible to civil law as they have no rights to protect directly till the time their legal personhood is duly recognized.[10]The biggest problem is, the interests of animals are mostly not counted at all most and if at all they are counted, many of the practices against animals cannot possibly be fully justified.It is important for anticruelty laws to be extended to areas that are currently exempt from them, farming and like scientific experiment.To permit the level of suffering that is now being experienced by billions of living creatures can never be justified.[11]


[1]Wise, S. (2003). The Evolution of Animal Law since 1950. The State of the Animals, 2, pp.8-12.


[3] (2019). Animal rights -- Britannica Online Encyclopaedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].


[5]Gary L. Francione, Animals, Property and the Law (1995).

[6] Animals in the constitutional state, Jessica Eisen, I•CON (2017), Vol. 15 No. 4, 909–954

[7]WWF-I v. Union of India (UOI) &Ors, (2013) 8 SCC 234.

[8]Alonso, M., Mosquera, P., Hampel, H. and Vázquez, R. (2017). MASKANA, 8(1), pp.71-76.

[9]Newton, J. (2015). International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 34(1-2),

[10]Supra Note 8.

[11]Valcke, C. (2003). Comparative Law as Comparative Jurisprudence - The Comparability of Legal Systems. SSRN Electronic Journal, pp.9-12.


Submitted by Purnima Mathur

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