Kangaroo courts are one of the latest proposals from the green movement in Australia. No, not, as in previous usage of the term, courts in which legal niceties are set aside, but courts for kangaroos.
An Australian academic, Dr. John Hadley of the University of Western Sydney, has broken new legal ground by suggesting the setting up of courts to protect property rights for animals.
Certain difficulties seem to lie in the way, however. How will Counsel take instructions from clients? How will questions of undue influence be avoided in the case of less intelligent creatures? (Wombats and the like are not generally distinguished by their brain-power.) Who will have locus standi in cases of sheep owned by farmers? Should the creatures concerned decide to bequeath their property, how are wills going to be witnessed and proved valid?
Another problem: koalas are said to be permanently drunk on the alcohol fumes from the eucalyptus-leaves that form their diet. Here again forensic difficulties may arise.
Of course, the matter that immediately catches the trained legal eye here is that most fundamental of questions: who pays? Kangaroos do not, as a rule, carry briefing fees in their pouches. Assuming such cases get up at all, it seems fairly obvious that the costs for the plaintiffs at least will be borne by the Australian tax-payer. After all, a great deal of public money was spent a few years ago in the Noonkenbah case to protect the habitat of a mythical lizard, claimed to be sacred to some Aborigines, from oil-drilling. Tough luck on the oil-drillers (tough luck on the Australian economy, for that matter).
Astronomical costs have been incurred in the courts over the question of Terra Nullius -- that is, more or less, whether or not Australia was owned by Aborigines before European settlement. Although its legal origins, and its enforceability, are hard to discover, it now seems impossible for any public ceremony to be held without the signatories concerned going through an odd and completely meaningless little ceremony beforehand thanking the traditional guardians of the land. In a land of odd wildlife, the proposed kangaroo courts seem no odder than many things already in place.
Perhaps some $1,000-per-hour Senior Counsel will deploy professional courtesy and act pro bono when representing sharks.
Peter White, the President of the South Australian Farmers' Federation, is quoted as saying of the proposal: "It never ceases to amaze me how stupid some people can be. Why should somebody give animals more rights than humans?"
There may be a head-on collision between two streams of political correctness here. In 2004 Miss Germaine Greer, formerly Professor in the Department of English Literature and Comparative Studies at the University of Warwick, published a work titled Whitefella Jump Up! This said Australia should adopt Aboriginal language, customs, and religions and revert to a hunter-gatherer society, although it would be hard on the kangaroos, lizards, dugongs, and the last rare small mammals to be chased for food by 21 million people, however inept at tracking, spear-throwing, and desert-survival most of these might be. A rush on lawyers by assaulted kangaroos might be the least of the consequences.
Meanwhile, a leading academic theologian, Dr. Peter Adams, Principal of Ridley College, the main Anglican theological college in Victoria, has demanded that "All non-Aboriginal Australians [that is, 97.5% of the population] should be prepared to leave the country if the indigenous people want that…" and that such artifacts of civilization as houses, churches, colleges, parks, courts, hospitals, and roads were no more than stolen property. Perhaps the kangaroos could set up house in them.
Dr. Hadley says that giving legal ownership of their habitats to animals might protect biological diversity. He claims that "by discussing with the guardian, people could be persuaded to try another land management decision, (or) they may delay destroying the habitat until the end of the breeding season."
Discussing such matters would probably do no harm and might do some good. However, when it ceases to be a matter of discussion and becomes a matter of rights, things tend to become more complex and expensive.
In any event, there are already government bureaucracies in place to safeguard wildlife. Whether these bureaucracies are efficient or not (in my own experience they are pretty good), it is not obvious that adding another layer of administration and legalism in the form of a court system will achieve much.
Dr. White does not want to stop with Australian animals. He hopes that his proposal will achieve international support.
The Australian newspaper's report of the matter concludes, somewhat puzzlingly that: "Dr. Hadley is also working in western Sydney on protecting dingoes." Western Sydney? Dingoes are generally associated with sheep-grazing, semi-desert or desert country and Western Sydney is about as urbanized as New York.
Dingoes, as a matter of fact, are hardly native animals anyway. They are wild dogs, apparently brought to Australia from Asia (where similar wild dogs still live) by Aborigines several thousand years ago.
They predate kangaroos and other marsupials as well as sheep, not to mention lizards and other small creatures. For many years Australian governments offered a bounty on dingo scalps. In the notorious Lindy Chamberlain case a few years ago one was credited with eating a tourist's baby.