By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Zurich
Supporters say Switzerland’s animal welfare laws are not being enforced
Swiss voters will go to the polls on Sunday to decide on a proposal to appoint state-funded lawyers across the country to represent animals in court.
Supporters of the initiative say such lawyers would help deter cases of animal cruelty and neglect, by making sure that those who did abuse or neglect animals would be properly punished.
Opponents however claim that Switzerland, which already has strict animal protection laws, does not need any more legislation.
The canton of Zurich has in fact had its own animal lawyer for a number of years; the current incumbent, Antoine Goetschel, is the only state-funded lawyer in Switzerland who goes to court to speak on behalf of animals.
His clients include dogs and cats, guinea pigs, cows, horses and sheep, even, recently, a large pike, fished from Lake Zurich.
Under Antoine Goetschel, prosecutions for animal cruelty have increased
He believes appointing lawyers to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves is the essence of justice.
“People accused of animal cruelty very often hire lawyers to defend themselves,” he pointed out.
“Why shouldn’t someone speak for the animal as well?”
Supporters of a nationwide system of animal lawyers in Switzerland point to the sharp increase of prosecutions for animal cruelty in Zurich since Mr Goetschel started work. While he can average over a hundred successful cases a year, other cantons rarely have more than one or two.
In neighbouring canton Aargau, Marlies Widmer manages a home for neglected animals. For her, animal lawyers cannot come soon enough.
Understand this – Man is the Enemy
“All these dangers are caused by human intervention and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome.
The real enemy, then, is humanity itself.”
– Club of Rome