Why animal law

Sam HawkeSam is training to be a barrister in London. He has a degree in Philosophy and a Masters in Law. He spent some time as a paralegal at Leigh Day, and now volunteers at Islington Law Centre.

I first became interested in animal rights as a student at university. I read the standard texts of animal rights theory: chiefly, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights. It wasn’t some epiphanic conversation experience; a meat-eater at the time, I resisted as best I could. But their chief conclusions were, in the end, overpowering. At some point, you realise that reliance on bare species membership as the primary criterion for moral status is indefensible, and you (begrudgingly) let it go.

An interest in animal law surely follows. If you worry about the rights and welfare of animals, you’ll worry about whether our human-dominated society and its institutions are structured in a way that, overall, leads to the fulfilment of animal rights or their violation. And it’s overwhelmingly clear that the abuse of animals constitutes the worst series of rights violations on the planet. As a future lawyer, I want to play whatever role I can in the achievement of a society in which this can’t occur.

But such a society won’t be around any time soon. And so our immediate duties may be more specific, more localised, and, from the perspective of anyone interested in animal liberation, more mundane. There is a lively debate between ‘abolitionists’ and ‘welfarists’ as to the appropriate goals and strategies of any movement struggling for the improvement of animals’ lives. Which side you fall on will, in large part, depend on your assessment of the prevailing political possibilities. But there remains huge scope for thinking seriously about what specific rights animals have, what kinds of treatment by humans is morally permissible, and what kinds of reforms may be practically achievable in the world as it is. Legal challenge and legislative change are crucial means by which this can be done. As a student on the BPTC and a member of ALAW, this is what concerns and excites me.

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