How does the law deal with animals? Not quite property, but not sustainable as independent persons for the purposes of the law, animals are nevertheless enmeshed in human affairs as companions, tools, obstacles, and hazards. Animals too, find themselves surrounded by the human world. From the 69 billion chickens slaughtered annually to colourful sea-creatures choking on plastic bags - what avenues do they have for complaint?
Professors Katy Barnett and Jeremy Gans from the law school of the University of Melbourne have authored a compendium of awkward answers to the conundrum of animals in their new book. Guilty Pigs guides the reader through modern Australian and international law of animals, alongside the strange legal approaches of medieval European societies.
Providing amusing case studies, such as unsuccessful attempts at serving summons to rats, the criminal trials of pigs, and the case for copyright entitlements of photogenic monkeys, Guilty Pigs covers a varied mix of lex animalis which both entertains and informs.
The book is constructed more as a "Selected Topics" than a genealogical "history". Chapter one, "Owning Animals", for example, dedicates three pages to the sub-heading "Parallels with Slavery", and 23 to the "Ownership of Wild Animals", broken down further under headings like "Bees", "Crocodiles", and "Foxes".
The authorial voice is academic and, in the orthodox legal way, rarely strays into conjecture, thematisation, or advocacy, while being sometimes bogged down by the obfuscating technicality of law.
This neutral, descriptive mode relies on its curated case studies to carry the day, and while they often do, a more prolonged, critical discussion of law reform possibilities and the limits of animal law would have been rewarding. There is, for example, little attention paid to environmental law, with preference for domestic matters like use and ownership, pet punishment, and animal cruelty which have more canonically preoccupied courts.
Nevertheless, Guilty Pigs surveys a commendable diversity of material. The dimensions of animal law discussed range from endearing and admirable, to morbid and horrifying. This book confronts readers with the best of animals, and the worst of humans- the noble efforts of the law to carve out justice, and the paltry half-efforts.
In showcasing the absurd juxtaposition of the animal and the law, Guilty Pigs reminds humans, homo lex, that the world remains a cohabited space. In shaping the world in our own image, the awkward problem of animals remains one to be resolved in the arena of the law.
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