The Latest Animal Law Research from Australian PhD Candidates

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

 

We caught up with some of Australia’s animal law postgraduate researchers at the University of Melbourne, to discuss their exciting research and to find out what attracted them to animal law and what advice they have for budding animal law students.  

  

Why have you decided to pursue animal law? How did you get involved/inspired? 

‘Unless you obtain your food in secret and eat it in the closet, you don’t eat alone. We eat as sons and daughters, as families, as communities, as generations, as nations, and increasingly as a globe.’ (Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals).   

This quote sums up my reasons for pursuing animal law. This excellent book opened my eyes to some of the ways in which non-human animals suffer so that we can have access to cheap meat and animal products. There is an urgent need for us as citizens — and as lawyers — to ensure that we are not leaving the fate of animals to the ‘free market’.  

What are you researching, and why? 

My PhD research is focused on Australian farm animal welfare regulation, and specifically on standard-setting. Farmed animals do not have rights but have the legal status of property of their human owners. Animal welfare laws embody a utilitarian philosophy, the rationale of which is that some animal suffering is considered to be ‘necessary’. New animal welfare standards can redefine the scope of ‘acceptable’ farming practices which are permissible by law.  

Today, ‘acceptable’ farming practices in Australia include extreme lifetime confinement of layer hens in battery cages and a range of painful procedures performed with no pain relief. So it is of no surprise that our farm animal welfare standards have been criticised for simply reflecting current industry practice rather than promoting welfare improvements.  

I am exploring the potential for a more democratic approach to standard-setting, which would lead to more legitimate animal welfare regulation and encourage social debate about our use and treatment of animals. I am also investigating the way in which normative pressure from social movements could influence private regulation (such as accreditation schemes) and farm animal welfare practices. These outcomes have the potential to improve the lives of millions of farmed animals. 

What advice would you give to law students interested in animal law?  

I wish I had studied an animal law course when I was in law school! It can help students think about the many ways that they can bring their own unique perspectives and skills as lawyers to make a positive difference for animals. I have also found that there are many interesting parallels between animal law and the challenges faced by other social justice movements, so studying animal law can help us better understand systemic injustices faced by other vulnerable or marginalized groups.  

Why have you decided to pursue animal law? How did you get involved/inspired?  

It all started with reading Peter Singer, of course! I don’t agree with everything Singer says, but he convinced me that how we treat animals really matters. When I first read him, I was a law student, so I soon wondered how the law should treat animals.  

What are you researching, and why?  

I’m exploring some legal statuses I think animals should have. A status—such as slavery, citizenship, or bankruptcy—gives rise to a cluster of legal rights, duties, and the like. Spousehood, say, may give rise to a duty to provide for your spouse, a right to live in your spouse’s home, a right to the confidence of your spouse, and so on. I argue that domesticated animals should have legal statuses similar to that of children. These would give animals, among other things, basic rights (like those against getting assaulted and murdered), incapacities (such as those to contract and commit crimes), a right to a guardian, and rights against their guardian (like to be cared for). 

I argue for these statuses to be granted because it matters how the law treats animals. And since one status gives rise to many rights, duties, and so on, giving animals these statuses is a simple yet helpful way of making sure they’re treated as they should be. Of course, my argument is quite radical and utopian. But though it’s radical, I think it’s right (the proof of which you can read once I finish my thesis!) - and though it’s utopian, we need an ideal to have something to aspire to and work towards, even if we can’t bring it about right now. 

What advice would you give to law students interested in animal law?  

Try studying it! It’s a gripping area of law to learn about— it’s not for everyone of course, but there’s no harm and lots of possible good in giving it a go! And it’s good to know a bit about it because our treatment of animals is one of the gravest problems of our time.​

Why have you decided to pursue animal law? How did you get involved/inspired?  

I decided to take animal law as a subject at university, and was surprised to discover just how unsatisfactory the law was in regulating the treatment of animals. While welfare legislation exists, it is full of exemptions, qualifications and defences, which often deprive the substantive legal requirements of their applicability and force. These shortcomings struck me as rather counterintuitive; most people believe that animals should be treated kindly (or at least not unkindly), yet the law often fails to reflect this.  

What are you researching, and why?  

I will soon commence a PhD in Law at Melbourne Law School under the supervision of Professors Christine Parker and Lee Godden. At present, my proposed thesis is that animals should be granted a limited right to experience minimal suffering in times of disaster (such as during bushfires and floods), with this entitlement being capable of overriding conflicting adverse consequences of their status as property. To my knowledge, there has not been a significant amount of legal scrutiny of this area. My project aims to identify and propose solutions to gaps in the law which have a profound impact on animals, whose vulnerability is amplified in the disaster context. I hope my research will influence the development of best practice policy and robust legal frameworks in Australia for the management of animals in disasters, with a view to improving outcomes for animal wellbeing in some of the most challenging situations.  

What advice would you give to law students interested in animal law?  

I would strongly encourage students to study animal law at university and to get involved with animal law organisations, such as the Animal Defenders Office and the Animal Law Institute. Students may also be able to secure internships with think-tanks like Voiceless or the Centre for Compassionate Conservation, or join professional associations, such as the NSW Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee

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