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Note: The contents in words and pictures of this article are based on the facts when it was first published (27.09.2007).

Vienna, am 27.09.2007

Verdict in trial on legal guardianship for a chimp appealed to High Courts in Austria


Provincial Court in Wr. Neustadt turns down appeal against negative decision of district court, claiming the applicant has no right to appeal

In February 2007, the president of the animal rights group VGT applied for a legal guardian for the chimp Matthew „Hiasl“ Pan, his close friend, at the district court of Mödling in Lower Austria. Hiasl had been abducted and brought to Austria illegally, to be used for experiments. He found refuge at the Vienna Animal Sanctuary, where he still is. But when the sanctuary faced financial difficulties, he was threatened with deportation abroad. VGT hoped that a legal guardian should give Hiasl the possibility of being represented in court to fight his deportation legally. The application for legal guardianship was supported by 4 internationally renowned scientific experts and university professors in biology, anthropology and law.

The public took great interest in the case, nationally as much as internationally. Still, in April the district judge refused the application. However, in her verdict, she did not touch the question of personhood for chimps. Only a person can get a legal guardian. Instead, implicitly assuming Hiasl was a person, she argued that he was not mentally handicapped or in great danger, and hence would not need a legal guardian. VGT appealed against this decision to the provincial court in Wr. Neustadt.

Provincial court refused the appeal on the grounds that VGT has no legal standing

Now, the provincial court reached a verdict. It refused the appeal on the grounds that VGT has no legal standing. According to the law, only the legal guardian himself has standing to appeal. VGT’s legal adviser Mag. Eberhart Theuer comments: “The court refers to a law that is not applicable here, since it only applies in cases where a legal guardian has been appointed. This is not the case. And further, the High Courts have ruled that in exceptional circumstances, close family members have legal standing for appeal too. In our case, Hiasl has no close family members in Austria, so he should be represented by his closest friends, as is the case with the applicant. On these grounds we have appealed this decision to the High Courts in Vienna.”

The applicant in this case, DDr. Martin Balluch, is surprised: “It is astounding how all the courts try to evade the question of personhood of a chimp as much as they can. After all, chimps share 99.5% of genes with us humans, and all our experts support our scientifically well founded case. The question is: are chimps things without interests, or persons with interests. Companies are persons too before the law, because they indeed have interests on their own. A large section of the public does see chimps as beings with interests. Even the world’s greatest expert on chimps, Jane Goodall, supported publicly our case when she visited Vienna in July 2007. We are looking forward to hear what the High Courts have to say on this fundamental question.”


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