Legal Issues

Indian High Court Awards Animals “Legal Personhood”

Animal Welfare being Promoted by Activist Indian Judge

The Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh, India has granted animals the status of “legal person or entity” according to the Indian Express.

Mr Justice Rajiv Sharma’s ruling means that in the state of Haryana, animals will have the “corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”. 

“The corporations, Hindu idols, 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 legal entity/legal person,” said Justice Sharma. “The animals should be healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour without pain, fear, and distress. They are entitled to justice. The animals cannot be treated as objects or property.”

Justice Sharma signed his verdict off with the “live and let live” motto. As a result of the verdict “all the citizens throughout the state of Haryana are hereby declared persons in loco parentis (meaning – in the place of a parent) as the human face for the welfare/protection of animals.”

Guidelines for bullocks, camels and horses pulling carts

Among the guidelines issued by the court, the judge directed the Haryana government to ensure that “draught animals do not carry more than prescribed load while pulling a vehicle”. 

A further direction was given to the owners of bullock carts, camel carts and horse carts to “put florescent reflectors in the front and back of their carts”. The judge directed that the animals be covered with stripes of fluorescent reflectors so that they may be easily seen at night time. 

The judgments are awaiting ratification by India’s national Supreme Court. They raise some interesting points, and the desire to protect animals from a legal perspective is to be welcomed. The idea that animals cannot simply be treated as chattels is easy to follow, but the notion that the animals themselves are possessed of the duties and liabilities of a living person is frankly difficult to understand. 

The same judge made a landmark order in 2018 in the Uttarakhand High Court “to protect and promote greater welfare of animals.” Mr Justice Sharma had created jurisprudence that animals cannot be treated as objects or property and are entitled to justice. This is a new line of legal thinking and it will be interesting to see how this judge’s ideas are accepted around the world. 

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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: nicholas@vegansbethechange.com

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