Two Chimpanzees Given Legal ‘Personhood’ Rights In Landmark Court Decision

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe made a historical court decision on Monday. Judge Jaffe ordered that two chimpanzees have the legal writ of Habeas Corpus. The two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, were undergoing biomedical experiments at the Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York.

The Non-Human Rights project is the group responsible for the lawsuit. It is just the latest in a serious of legal attempts to grant personhood rights to non-human animals. Stony Brook University is now required to go into court and argue that they have a legally valid reason for keeping Hercules and Leo in captivity.

The Non-Human Rights Project is requesting that the chimpanzees be released to a sanctuary for chimps.  In a previous lawsuit by the Non-Human Rights Project, a writ of Habeas Corpus was denied for the chimpanzee, Kiko, under the grounds that the chimpanzee would have been released to a sanctuary, rather than be freed. Under Habeas Corpus, prisoners can challenge their imprisonment, though they cannot use it to challenge the conditions of their imprisonment. That decision is being appealed by the group, and is to be brought before the New York State Supreme Court.

Natalie Prosin, the Executive Director of the Non-Human Rights Project, said:

“This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals. We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens that door can never be completely shut again.”

However not everyone feels that non-human animals have a right to laws traditionally reserved for humans. Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California told Science:

“The judge may merely want more information to make a decision on the legal personhood claim, and may have ordered a hearing simply as a vehicle for hearing out both parties in more depth. It would be quite surprising if the judge intended to make a momentous substantive finding that chimpanzees are legal persons if the judge has not yet heard the other side’s arguments.”

According to Science, Pristine plans to use this win for future lawsuits. She says:

“We have the scientific evidence to prove in a court of law that elephants, great apes, and whales and dolphins are autonomous beings and deserve the right to bodily liberty.”

Featured Image Credit: Tambako The Jaguar via Flick  (CC BY-ND 2.0)