Chimpanzees win right in New York Court to argue case against imprisonment

Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has petitioned a New York Court in an attempt to free chimpanzees called Hercules and Leo imprisoned within the State of New York through an “Article 70–Habeas Corpus” proceeding. This is one of a trio of cases brought by NhRP to free chimpanzees. These cases are novel and this is the first time that an Order to Show Cause has been issued, in this case against Stony Brook University which is holding the primates.

Habeas corpus petitions are used, in theory, to fight unlawful imprisonment by forcing a custodian to prove they have legal cause to detain someone.

The lawyer’s argument on behalf of NhRP is that chimpanzees are intelligent, emotionally complex and self-aware enough to merit some basic human rights, such as the rights against illegal detainment and cruel treatment.

It is envisaged that the attorney general of New York, who will represent Stony Brook University, will argue that Hercules and Leo are things and that they are not persons. That is where the battle lines are drawn. Are they persons or are they not persons?

Kathy Hessler, a professor of animal law at Lewis & Clark law school, told the Guardian newspaper that Wise’s burden is to prove chimps are “enough like a human that the legal system should take notice”.

If NhRP wins, it hopes to move the chimpanzees to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, where more than 250 chimps live on a series of islands along the Atlantic coast.

The next hearing on behalf of Hercules and Leo is scheduled for 27 May.

In the two other cases on behalf of two other chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko, the NhRP has filed Motions for Leave to Appeal to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Decisions in both cases are pending.

Today chimpanzees – what animal will be next for protection via this novel argument in Court? Perhaps man’s best friend, a dog, but my money would be on a monkey.

Tom Redfern