London: Switzerland is holding a nationwide
referendum on whether animals can be legally represented by
lawyers in court, a proposal supported by 70 per cent of the
The referendum, part of the country`s unique system of
direct democracy, is up for vote after 140,000 people signed a
petition, asking the government to provide lawyers for animals
that have been mistreated.
Animal rights groups say appointing state-funded animal
lawyers would ensure animal welfare laws are upheld and help
prevent cases of cruelty.
There is already one animal lawyer in Switzerland, where
keeping lone goldfish, guinea pigs, canaries and budgerigars
is illegal and dog owners have to take training courses.
Antoine Goetschel, the sole animal advocate in the
country as well as in Europe, believes speaking up for those
who cannot speak for themselves is the essence of justice.
"For me the animals are one of the weakest parts in
society and they need to be better protected," he was quoted
as saying by the BBC.
"So, it`s kind of a fight for a minority that needs to be
supported. And to make legislation more respectful towards
humans and animals as a whole," said Goetsche, who has made
legal representation for animals in cruelty cases compulsory
Opinion polls have indicated that 70 per cent of the over
7.5 million Swiss population support the scheme.
The poll has been set in motion by the campaign group,
Swiss Animal Protection, which gathered the necessary 100,000
signatures to force the nationwide vote.
It argues that despite big increases in reported animal
abuse, the cases often fail to make it to court because they
are not taken seriously enough by the local authorities.
But Switzerland has very strict animal welfare laws, and
the Swiss government, conscious that the taxpayer would have
to pay the fees for a nationwide system of animal lawyers, has
recommended voters reject the idea.
There is also strong opposition from Switzerland`s
powerful farming lobby, the report said.
Struggling with reduced subsidies and falling milk
prices, Swiss farmers say animal lawyers would simply add
another layer of bureaucracy to a system already overburdened
with animal protection legislation.