Trailblazing animal rights attorney Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project’s (NhRP) ongoing plight to expand legal personhood to chimpanzees is the subject of the thought-provoking documentary “Unlocking The Cage”. The film is set to debut on HBO, Monday, February 20, 2017. The gripping documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and other affiliates. This film is a “Must See” for animal lovers everywhere.
An intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform the legal system, Unlocking The Cage picks up after more than three decades of Wise struggling with ineffective animal welfare laws; following Wise, his team and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) as they try a different approach to protect animals and, in a history-making move, file the first lawsuits seeking to transform a living organism with no rights into a person legal protections.
Directed by Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker (who previously collaborated on HBO’s Emmy-Winning Elaine Stritch at Liberty and the Oscar-nominated feature documentary The War Room), Unlocking The Cage rewinds to December 2013 as Wise and his legal team, using writs of habeas corpus (historically used to free humans from unlawful imprisonment), filed three lawsuits demanding limited personhood rights for four captive chimpanzees in New York State. With the help of affidavits from scientists and primatologists, the NhRP urged the courts to release the animals to Florida-based sanctuary, Save the Chimps.
The first plaintiff was Tommy, a 26-year-old chimp who was found living alone in a garage on a used trailer lot; far removed from his earlier life in which he appeared in Hollywood movies. The lower court judge acknowledged the merits of the case and directed the lawsuit up to the Appellate Court in Albany, where five judges heard Wise’s argument in Oct. 2014; marking the first time a U.S. court openly debated whether a nonhuman animal should be considered a legal person.
Two months later, the Appellate Division in Rochester considered a case involving Kiko, an abused showbiz chimp living in a Niagara Falls storefront.
While the initial decisions on these cases were conflicting, each portrayed a consistent picture of the chaos wrought by Wise’s efforts.
Finally, Wise’s case on behalf of Hercules and Leo, chimps used for research at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, stood out as the one that truly challenged the court. Arguing against New York’s assistant attorney general, Wise made an impassioned plea that inspired state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe to openly question, “Why can’t a chimpanzee be deemed a ‘person’ for the sole purposes Mr. Wise says: of permitting the habeas writ to the very limited extent sought? Why isn’t that an appropriate use of this great writ?”
This historic declaration, along with the legal ground that Jaffe broke when first granting the writ , became a landmark in the animal rights movement and lays the groundwork for much more to come.
Habeas corpus -meaning literally “You may have the body” is a recourse in law whereby a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment before a court, usually through a prison official.
The writ of habeas corpus is known as “the great and efficacious writ in all manner of illegal confinement”, being a remedy available to the meanest against the mightiest. It is a summons with the force of a court order; it is addressed to the custodian (a prison official for example) and demands that a prisoner be taken before the court, and that the custodian present proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether the custodian has lawful authority to detain the prisoner. If the custodian is acting beyond his or her authority, then the prisoner must be released. Any prisoner, or another person acting on his or her behalf, may petition the court, or a judge, for a writ of habeas corpus. One reason for the writ to be sought by a person other than the prisoner is that the detainee might be held incommunicado.
“Unlocking The Cage” which highlights the Incredible work of Steven Wise and the legal action he and his team are taking on behalf of chimpanzees could be history making. His fight to protect captive and wild chimpanzees, could set the precedence for the future of their species, giving them the first ever nonhuman rights.
Source: Medium, Wikipedia
Photo credit: nonhumanrightsproject.org