Legal Issues

Harvard Law School Establishes Animal Rights course

Leading Legal Educator Looking to Empower Future Leaders of the Animal Protection Movement

Harvard Law School has introduced a new course, the Animal Law & Policy Clinic.

The course aims to provide students with the tools to become advocates for animals, both captive animals and wildlife. It will also focus on areas of policymaking, legislation relating to animals, administration and, of course, litigation. 

Harvard hopes to encourage ‘a new generation of leaders for the animal protection movement’. The course is designed to help graduates to promote and educate the broader public about the numerous pressing issues around animal law and policy as society’s awareness of these significant issues grows. As such the initiative is acknowledged by Harvard Law School Dean, John F Manning as part of a long tradition by the school of “innovative pedagogy”. 

The list of US legislation listed on the clinic’s webpage is indeed not insignificant: 

  • the Endangered Species Act, 
  • the National Environmental Policy Act, 
  • the Animal Welfare Act, 
  • the Humane Slaughter Act, 
  • the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 
  • the Wild Horse and Burros Act, and 
  • various state animal cruelty codes.

The clinic is being led by Faculty Director Professor Kristen Stilt.

There is an unmistakable trend emerging in jurisprudence to protect the rights of animals. As an example, a High Court in India recently granted legal personhood to animals. Many animal activists are pursuing the notion that animals, as sentient beings, have rights that demand to be protected. The terms “speciesism” is used to promote this argument.

There is also the notion that compassionate vegans have the right to have their convictions protected as a matter of human rights law. Some lawyers argue that vegan workers need protection. The limits of the application of Human Rights to workers has been interestingly examined earlier this year in the case of an Ontario firefighter Adam Knauff.

Once upon a time, there was no specific area of law that was called Environmental Law. Now, of course, it is ubiquitous. Human Rights law was formerly a relatively small area of public international law, whereas now it has broad implications in all areas of domestic legislation. Now, too Animal Law is emerging from the shadows to becoming a mainstream area of study. The law is following society’s trends – and not before time. 

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Nicholas Orosz

Nicholas is a former City solicitor and Cambridge graduate. He has a long-standing interest in health & nutrition, the environmental movement, green politics & digital publishing. He has always loved crafting words. His transition to a vegan perspective has been gradual and an ongoing process of self-discovery. Contact:
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