The Albert Schweitzer Foundation today handed over to the Berlin Senator of Justice Dirk Behrendt more than 45,000 signatures gathered in an online petition. The petition calls for the introduction of effective class action for charitable animal protection groups in Berlin, allowing them to prosecute animal welfare related claims before a court should the official authorities fail to meet their obligations. Expert groups and associations are currently being invited to give their opinion on a draft bill, and the law could enter force as early as spring 2019.
»Class action for animal welfare organizations groups is a milestone in animal protection,« says Mahi Klosterhalfen, President & CEO of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation. »But it’s the details of the law that are critical so that organizations can deploy it to good effect.«
Unlike in environmental law, no such class action exists for animal protection groups at federal level, which is why it’s up to the individual federal states to decide whether or not they want to introduce class action. By introducing class action for charitable organisations, the Berlin Senate is implementing a goal defined in the coalition agreement. If the authorities fail to intervene in response to violations of animal welfare law, animal protection groups will be entitled to pursue legal proceedings on behalf of the animals.
Fighting the failures of the authorities
A strong class action gives animal welfare associations the right to be informed in advance of important rulings and submit statements. They can also initiate the judicial examination of all animal welfare related actions or omissions by the authorities. »Veterinary authorities frequently fail to act in response to animal welfare offences,« says Klosterhalfen. »The legal power of the animal industry means that they are afraid to act in the interests of the animals.« Successful lawsuits, however, could mean that veterinary inspection offices are obliged to fulfil their duties and act in response to offences. Without the ability to bring court action, animal rights organisations have no means of ensuring that the authorities enforce animal welfare law.
Successful lawsuits could have an impact that goes well beyond individual cases. Judicial decisions – especially in the second and third instance – could send out a strong signal, potentially even leading to the revision of regulations for the benefit of animals so that, for example, standard practices in the factory farming industry are rendered non-viable.