Judge grants pair of Stony Brook University lab animals’ right to have their day in court

On Wednesday, a New York judge allowed two Stony Brook University lab animals the right to have their day in court. The university, which is supposed to be holding the chimps, could be asked to release the primates.

This decision appears to recognize chimpanzees as legal persons for the first time. The ruling marks the first time in the Unites States that an animal has been covered by a writ of habeas corpus that normally enables human prisoners to challenge their detention. There is a possibility that the judicial action might sway additional judges to do the same with other research animals.

"This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals", said Natalie Prosin, the executive director of the animal rights organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) that filed the case.

Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California said there is a possibility that the judge just want more information in order to make a decision on the legal personhood claim. The judge might have also ordered a hearing just as a vehicle for hearing out both parties in more depth.

The case started as a salvo of lawsuits filed by NhRP in 2013. It was claimed that four New York chimpanzees were two cognitively and emotionally difficult to be held in captivity. These all four Hercules and Leo at Stony Brook, and two others on private property must be moved to an established chimpanzee sanctuary.