Chimpanzees cannot be legally defined as “persons”, a court in New York has ruled, but judges left the possibility open to elected law-makers.
A Manhattan appeals court ruled 5-0 against the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP). The campaigners say they will appeal.
The New York Attorney General’s office has said that if the NhRP’s arguments held sway, then a precedent could be set for pets and farm animals to be released.
Last Thursday the New York court backed a previous ruling, and said the claimed cognitive ability of chimpanzees did not mean they could be held legally accountable for their actions.
The ruling claimed the NhRP’s mission was “certainly laudable”, but deciding on the issue should be up to politicians.
NhRP argued in court that two captive chimpanzees should be moved to a large outdoor venue in Florida.
The campaigners were seeking a writ of habeas corpus – a concept developed from Magna Carta which can be demanded if someone believes they are being unlawfully detained.
But the court said such a legal document would not be applicable in this case because the “petitioner does not challenge the legality of the chimpanzees’ detention, but merely seeks their transfer to a different facility”.
NhRP founder Steven M Wise said the animals’ “fundamental right to bodily liberty” will be recognised at some point in the future.
In 2015, in a case involving other chimpanzees, Justice Barbara Jaffe rejected NhRP’s claims – but said such a ruling could be possible in the future.
However, Justice Jaffe said that previous mistreatment of people, “whether slaves, women, indigenous people or others, as property” is not a reason for extending human rights to animals.
The office of New York state Attorney General, defending, said the case was “a radical attempt to blur the legal boundaries that exist between humans and animals”.