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Changing the legal status of non-human animals: An argument for their transition from property to legal personhood

Frew, Kendra (2014) Changing the legal status of non-human animals: An argument for their transition from property to legal personhood. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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In the West, it is a well-established legal notion that non-human animals are classified as the personal property of humans. This classification allows humans to use non-human animals as a resource. A non-human animals’ property status means they have no legal capacity or standing to sue and thus cannot protect their interests in court. This thesis argues that non-human animals are sentient beings who deserve equal consideration of their interests, hence they should not be treated like inanimate objects or mere property. In order for this to occur, the legal status of non-human animals must change from a classification of ‘property’ to a classification that more closely resembles ‘personhood.’ As legal ‘persons,’ non-human animals would be extended the same rights as humans, particularly the fundamental right not to be treated as the resource of another. This thesis reviews both primary and secondary sources, particularly those from Western countries outside of Australia, such as the United States, to determine how non-human animals may make this transition from within a legal context. This thesis identifies that an important first step is to abolish the property status of non-human animals. Due to the significance of such a change, removing the property status of animals can only be realistically achieved through incremental steps. Expanding the standing doctrine to include non-human animals so that they may sue in their own right is also a necessary legal change. In addition, non-human animals’ rights, or ‘dignity,’ must be given constitutional force and the resulting legislation must recognise their interests, minus any exemptions or exclusions that might diminish those interests. The judiciary, rather than being precedent bound, ought to embrace the flexibility of the common law and make decisions which incorporate modern science and changing societal values towards animals. Adopting these legal reforms will assist non-human animals’ transition from ‘property’ to ‘persons’ under law.

Publication Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Law
Supervisor: Honey, Robyn, Shaw, Steve and Schillmoller, Anne
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