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Ruling on Nature. Animals and the Environment before the Court

In this project we study how nature-related issues are brought before law courts ; how the environment and animal protection are handled at judicial level by lawyers, activists, and the state ; how nature is ‘judicialised’ and ‘governed’ through the judiciary in different countries, and how the global debate on acknowledging some kind of rights to nature and animals is implemented in actual litigations.

The animal and nature protection debate has begun to intensify across the world, and animal welfare and ecological issues are repeatedly brought before courts. These issues are now considered a complex and delicate matter involving animals’ or nature’s own interests, particularly (for animals) their right to be spared useless suffering and to live in suitable conditions according to their individual and specific needs. Should we then rethink our legal relationship to animals and to nature ? Animals are ‘things’, ‘goods’, ‘property’, legally speaking, though they may be granted various types of protection ; they are not legal persons. Should they be conferred legal rights (and not simply the ‘right’ to be protected) ? If so, how are we to articulate these rights with human ones ? Christopher Stone’s idea of attributing a legal standing to nature has become a juridical tool that, despite being the object of much criticism, carries considerable weight all over the world ; and some legislatures or courts have granted legal personhood to various natural resources. A similar move concerning animals has been initiated, questioning the boundary between humans and animals.

The project is based on the idea that the close association of juridical and anthropological studies can bring a new, more comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake. We shall therefore pay full attention to the complex, long-term judicial story of lawsuits, by conducting case studies in different countries, associating traditional ethnographic methods and legal analysis. The project is structured around five broad questions :
-  Animals and natural resources as holders of ‘rights’
-  Attributing ‘legal personhood’ to animals and natural resources
-  Conflicts between humans and animals
-  The role of experts in court cases
-  Legal precedents and the global debate

Coordinated by Daniela Berti, CNRS-CEH, in partnership with Vincent Chapaux (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Vanessa Manceron (CNRS-LESC), and Sandrine Revet (CNRS-CERI).

The team comprises social anthropologists, legal scholars and a lawyer. Fieldwork in eight countries (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, the United States, Colombia, Italy, and the United Kingdom) shall be coupled with the cross-sectional expertise of the team’s legal scholars.

***A website dedicated to the project will be on line in January 2020.