Switzerland votes Sunday in a referendum on whether abused animals should have the right to a lawyer. The Swiss system allows any citizen who collects 100,000 signatures from eligible voters to call a referendum on their chosen cause.
AFP - Already boasting laws to protect goldfish from being flushed down the toilet and to guarantee companions for lonely animals, Switzerland Sunday votes on whether abused animals deserve lawyers.
Legal representation in cases involving mistreated animals has been compulsory since 1992 in the Zurich canton. But pet politics could be taken to a new level if voters extend the right to the other 25 mini-states.
The quirky lawyers-for-animals poll is the latest example of Switzerland's "direct democracy" in which any citizen who collects 100,000 signatures from eligible voters can force a nationwide referendum on their chosen cause.
Sunday's vote was initiated by the Swiss Animal Protection (PSA) group and would oblige all cantons to name a lawyer for animals during judicial proceedings.
"It is not about Paris Hilton's dog now needing a lawyer to represent its interests," said Antoine Goetschel, Switzerland's only lawyer mandated by his canton in Zurich to handle animal welfare cases.
It is about protecting animals who are harmed by the very people who are meant to take care of them, Goetschel said ahead of the vote.
The problem is that the animal has "no rights", unlike humans who can prosecute the person who has caused harm, said Goetschel.
Environment groups, the Green and Socialist parties are supporting the initiative. But the government, parliament and the country's biggest party, the far-right Swiss People's Party, are against.
However, a lawyer's presence will not usher in a slew of children being prosecuted for pulling a mosquito's leg off, said Green MP Adele Thorenz Goumaz, as the law only covers "vertebrates" raised or used by man.
"In reality, lawyers for animals have a limited role. They can only work when there are penal procedures stemming from a violation of the law," she told the Le Temps newspaper.
The strongest opposition is in the countryside. "It will generate too much bureaucracy," complained Urs Schneider, spokesman for the Swiss Farmers' Union. "Switzerland already has existing laws to protect animals," he told AFP.
Switzerland already has one of the world's most comprehensive laws on animal rights.
Under laws revised in 2008, people wanting to get rid of a fish cannot flush it down a toilet bowl alive. It must be knocked out, killed and then its body disposed of.
Sociable household pets such as budgies and hamsters cannot be left alone. Even sheep and goats must have at least a "visual contact with their fellows".
The law's advocates say that Zurich's experience of lawyers for animals has shown that the system can lighten the public prosecutor's load.
The canton paid 78,000 francs (53,000 euros/72,600 dollars) last year to Goetschel, far less than a typical lawyer dealing with other cases.
A poll in November by the GFK research institute found that 70 percent of Swiss support the proposal.
Date created : 2010-03-07