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Switzerland is internationally known for its progressive animal laws and for its innovative tools in law enforcement. In 1992, the Canton of Zurich introduced a public lawyer vested with the task of representing animals' interests in criminal procedure, known as the Animal Protection Lawyer (APL). The APL had the power to access information about court proceedings, study pending court cases, and intervene on behalf of victim animals. This enforcement tool set a precedent across the world. It amounted to a recognition of animals as de facto victims and created an "equality of arms" for human and animal parties in criminal procedure. In a historic move in 2014, the Zurich parliament removed the APL from office—by mistake, as some maintain. Meanwhile—unnoticed by many—the Canton of Berne maintained a state agency vested with the very same powers as those the APL had, called the Dachverband Berner Tierschutzorganisationen (DBT). Though the DBT operated as an established agency for over 2 decades, in August 2017, a criminal court in Berne denied the DBT standing, arguing that the laws conferring on it the right to represent animals violate the federal law on criminal procedure. In July 2018, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment, and effectively stripped the DBT of its rights to represent animals in criminal proceedings.
This article describes these recent shifts in criminal animal law in detail and analyzes the sociopolitical factors that gave rise to them. Special attention is paid to the question of what is left for Switzerland as a role model in animal law given ongoing deregulations, particularly as recent cases in the United States point to an incremental emancipation of animals as victims. The article discusses current alternatives to the APL and the DBT (like public prosecutors, special prosecution sections, and veterinary agencies) and puts their promises under scrutiny. The analysis reveals that these alternatives skirt the main obstacles faced by animals in criminal procedure (issues of representation, expertise in animal law, funding, and competition with other causes) and threaten the democratic will of the Swiss people. Two alternatives are discussed that can help Switzerland overcome its insufficiencies: the organizational right to appeal and victim rights for animals in criminal procedure. Using these alternatives, the article calls for the global emancipation of animals as the proper victims of crimes and for furnishing them with correlating rights to enforcement, including rights to representation.