AN AREA of law reform is anticipated to take centre stage in Australia, once legal professionals and law reformers realise its importance and their responsibilities, a fund for the protection of animals says.
Voiceless, the fund for animals, gave a speech at the Australasian Law Reform Agencies Conference 2006 (ALRAC 2006) this week, organised by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). ALRAC 2006 brought together representatives of law reform agencies internationally for a program of speakers, workshops and networking opportunities.
In a presentation based on the title ‘Peering over the gap or daring to close it? Confronting the obstacles to greater justice for nonhuman animals’, Brian Sherman and Katrina Sharman of Voiceless spoke about an area of law reform that is beginning to become important to both the international and Australian communities.
“Lawyers have failed to step up to advocate for animals in Australia and we are questioning the history behind the classification of animals of property that makes the ongoing exploitation acceptable. Just because the laws exist, does that make it right and beyond the realm of questioning?” Sherman, director of Voiceless, asked Lawyers Weekly.
Lawyers have an obligation and a duty to stand up for the rights of animals, Sherman and Sharman argued. “There is a huge number of animals that are put through the process of food production and that suffer a great deal.”
Voiceless was invited to speak in order to present their case to an influential audience of lawyers and law reformers, said Sherman. For the organisation, the aim is to put out a message that “animals have been forgotten in the law and have been suffering a great deal”. Animals need lawyers’ “expertise, their advocacy and their attention”, he said.
“I think the mere fact that we have an audience is extremely important for the social justice movement. We want to enhance the debate and discussion about the condition of animals and of animal rights,” said Sherman.
Sharman added that their organisation is hoping the ALRC will recognise that this is the cutting edge area of law and that animal law is moving into the mainstream. “Animal law is being taught in more than 60 law schools in the United States, including Harvard and Columbia and NYU. The University of New South Wales has taught its course for the second year running. Two law schools in New Zealand have taken up the banner this year as well.
“We are talking about a movement that is really starting to mainstream itself. We are hoping that institutions like the ALRC, and others that lawyers are involved in, will recognise that this is an area that is worthy of academic and practical exploration,” she said.
Speaking prior to the event, Sharman said she will be talking about some of the traditional obstacles to animal rights. “I will be looking at things like the traditional treatment of animals in religion and the scientific classification of animals and how that has helped create an ‘us and them’ mentality. I will be looking at some of the political and economical arguments for keeping animals in the position that they are in at the moment.”
While Sherman admits he is a “layman, not a lawyer”, he said he thinks of law in terms of “ideals of justice, fairness and equality”. “I turn to lawyers and lawmakers to really be the voice of the voiceless. This is about basic rights,” he said.