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Chimpanzees in court

22nd April 2015

Manhattan supreme court justice Barbara Jaffe has granted a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of non-human plaintiffs, and these plaintiffs take the form of two chimpanzees Hercules and Leo. This case marks the first in US history where chimpanzees have been granted a petition to defend their rights against unlawful imprisonment and obtained “legal persons” status.

The case has come through the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) where the judge has argued that the chimpanzees hold intelligence and are emotionally complex and self-aware enough to warrant a degree of basic human rights. While it has not been said that the non-human plaintiffs are persons, through issuing the order the court has implicitly determined that the two are or can be ‘persons’ in this sense.

The case looks set to be watched by those in environmental and human rights lawyer jobs across the world as it marks a huge point in the history of the law. A spokesperson for Judge Jaffe has denied that she gave the chimpanzees implied personhood but has said, as reported here, that she has given them the opportunity to argue their case.

Image Credit: William Warby (