Long ago, lawyers defended rats and mice and caterpillars. In case you think I have taken leave of my senses . . .
From "Wild Justice" (Maisonneuve Magazine)
As outlined in E.P. Evans’ comprehensive 1906 work The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, there were two kinds of animal trials during the Middle Ages: criminal proceedings against domestic creatures accused of individual crimes, and ecclesiastical tribunals to prosecute whole groups of vermin. The latter targeted animals like mice, locusts, weevils and caterpillars for such transgressions as ruining harvests or eating food stores. (Crimes against propriety could also incur the church’s wrath; a German pastor once anathematized local sparrows after their “scandalous unchastity” interrupted a sermon.) The animals were typically tried, en masse and in absentia, and issued a date by which they had to leave town or face the unspecified disapproval of the righteous. Needless to say, the results of such ultimatums were mixed.
Ever the opportunists, some lawyers built their careers by defending animals. A sixteenth-century French jurist named Bartholomew Chassenée made his name as the counsel to some rats who were accused, in an ecclesiastical trial in Autun, of decimating the area’s barley crops. Rats being rats, Chassenée could hardly rely on his clients’ sympathetic qualities to get them off the hook. So, like numerous lawyers before and since,
he built his argument on technicalities: the defendants couldn’t be expected to appear in court, as Evans says, “owing to the unwearied vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats, who watched all their movements, and, with fell intent, lay in wait for them at every corner and passage.”
Chassenée went on to a legal career of some renown, and is said to have defended animals in many other cases. ...
Pigs awaiting trial were routinely held in human prisons; one document from 1408 matter-of-factly includes a pig in its list of prisoners and details costs such as “ten deniers tournois for a rope, found and furnished for the purpose of tying the said pig that it might not escape.” Some animals were even tortured on the rack, not in the interest of obtaining a confession but simply to observe the letter of the law. The guilty were then typically executed by burning or hanging or, most disquietingly, by being buried alive.
Click to read the rest. I must confess I did not read the entire piece but enough to get an idea of its topic's uniqueness.