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Home > Research > Research projects piloted by CEH

Ruling on Nature. Animals and the Environment before the Court (2020-2024)

Website RULNAT <link here>

In this project we study how issues related to animals and environmental protection are brought before law courts in different countries; how they are handled by lawyers, activists and the state; how they are concretely implemented in litigation. The animal and environmental protection debate has begun to intensify throughout the world and cases related to these issues are repeatedly brought before courts. The way in which these issues are addressed is evolving and animals’ or nature’s ‘own interests’ are being increasingly highlighted.

Animals – and a fortiori natural resources – are legally property that can be owned; if they benefit from certain protections, they are not persons in law. Recently, the question has been raised of giving them a different legal status (and not only the ‘right’ to be protected). Some legislators or courts have thus granted the status of legal person to various elements of the environment (trees, rivers, mountains, glaciers) and a similar move concerning animals has been initiated, questioning the boundary between humans and animals. However, such a proposal, which can often have different meanings and implications, is not without provoking criticism in legal circles. While there is some consensus regarding the need to better protect the environment and animals, there is no consensus on the legal tools that should be used to this end, nor is there a shared vision of the relationship between humans and nature. Most litigation concerning the protection of animals or of the environment is actually decided by the courts within the framework of existing civil or criminal laws without advocating any change of legal categories.

Our approach is based on the study of legal cases in their multiple dimensions, in order to analyse how relationships between humans and animals or the environment are shaped – or not – by legal action, in a comparative dimension. Indeed, judgments are circulating and are cited in other cases on different continents. This circulation of ideas and legal arguments calls for emphasis on reciprocal appropriations and possible misunderstandings.
The project is structured around five questions:
-  Legal protection of animals and of the environment
-  Attributing ‘legal personhood’ to animals and to the environment
-  Conflicts between humans and animals
-  The role of experts in court cases
-  Legal precedents and the global debate

Scientific coordinator: Daniela Berti (CNRS-CEH). Scientific partners: Vanessa Manceron (CNRS-LESC), Sandrine Revet (CNRS-CERI), and Vincent Chapaux (Université Libre de Bruxelles).

The team comprises anthropologists (Daniela Berti, Vanessa Manceron, Sandrine Revet, Chiara Letizia, Stéphane Gros, Mara Benadusi, Giovanni Gugg, Isacco Turina, Anthony Good, Carolina Angel Botero, Claire Duboscq), legal scholars (Vincent Chapaux, Pierre Brunet) a geographer (Joëlle Smadja) and a lawyer (Ritwick Dutta). Fieldwork will be carried out on mainly in eight countries (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, the United States, Colombia, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and shall be coupled with the team’s legal scholars’ cross-sectional expertise.