LEGAL RIGHTS OF ANIMALS
Legal rights and legal duties cannot be conceived without the holder of the rights and the duties, and the holder, in legal theory, is the 'person'. In Salmond on Jurisprudence (11th Edition) at pages 350-351, it is stated thus:
'So far as legal theory is concerned, a person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights or duties. Any being that is so capable is a person, whether a human being or not, and no being that is not so capable is a person, even though he be a man. Persons are the substances of which rights and duties are the attributes. It is only in this respect that persons possess juridical significance, and this is the exclusive point of view from which personality receives legal recognition.
Persons as so defined are of two kinds, distinguishable as natural and legal. A natural person is a human being. Legal persons arc beings, real or imaginary, who for the purpose of legal reasoning are treated in greater or less degree in the same way as human beings'.
But beasts are not for this, reason possessed of legal rights. The duty of humanity so enforced is not conceived by the law as a duty towards beasts,, but merely as a duty in respect of them. There is no bond of legal 'Litigation between mankind and them. The only interest and it is he only Tight '-which the law recognises in such, a case is the interest and right of society as a -whole in the welfare of the animals belonging to it.
child violates a duty -which he owes to the child, and a right which is vested in him. But he who ill treats a dog breaks no vinculum juris between him and dt, though lie disregards the obligation of humane conduct which be -owes to society or the state, and the correlative right; which society or the state possesses. Similarly a man's interests may obtain legal protection as against himself, as when drunkenness or suicide is made a crime. But he has not for this reason a legal right against himself. The duty to refrain from drunkness is not conceived by the law as a duty owing by a man to himself, but as one owing by (him to the community. The only interest which receives legal recognition is that, of the society in the sobriety of its members.
The law seeks to establish a relationship between an individual and a society. The main aim is to afford protection from infringement of rights by anyone in the society. The acts in consonance of the laws are valid.
The word ‘person’ is derived from greek word ‘persona’ which meant the mast worn by the actors playing different roles in drama. Though if construed narrowly it means a subject or bearer of right. But the law has also conferred right and duties upon bodies other than humans by conferring legal fiction upon them. Thus artificial legal personality deals with rights and duties conferred upon other than human beings. Initially animals were not accorded legal status as there was difficulty in the admissibility of evidence as may be contended by the opposite party. As the animals couldn't be cross questioned in the court of law by the counsel. There have been some instances in the past were the rats have been punished for destroying the fields of human beings.
Law in many cases will grant non-human entities legal personhood. So in ancient times lower animals and beasts were punished by any wrong done by them.
However, with times our thinking and the law both have evolved. In modern law, animals are not considered legal persons. They are objects since they do not enjoy rights or have duties.
In modern law, we hold the master responsible for the acts of his pets and beasts. So he will be liable for any damage done by these animals under his care where he was negligent in their care and control. Also, the harm done to an animal will be considered as harm done to its owner or the society at large.
Also, modern law does recognize the need to protect animals of all kinds. So Indian law has made provisions for the well being and maintenance of animals. So as per the law,
i Cruelty towards animals is an offense
ii A charitable public trust made for the benefit of a class of animals (not an individual animal) is valid and enforceable.
As declared by the Punjab and Haryana High Court treating all animals are living persons and have their own set of rights. He further stated that animals can’t be treated as objects and property and must be given justice.
However the court has accorded dignity and honour for animals. The Court was of the belief that every animal’s life is followed by the right to enjoy it thus every provision to enjoy that dignity must be ensured and every infringement of their right must be discouraged. The bench further in Animal Welfare Board of India vs. Nagaraja of the view extended the scope of Article 21 to include the right to life of animals too. Further the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act has substantiated the rights of the animals.
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Author Details: Harsh Gupta (B.A. LL.B. Student, University Institute Of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh)