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New Research Group on Animal Law and Animal Welfare at the University of Bremen

What does it focus on? An interview with the group's head, Professor Sönke Florian Gerhold.


The Faculty of Law at the University of Bremen has recently established a new research group: Professor Sönke Florian Gerhold and his colleagues are working on topics related to animal law and animal welfare law. Among other things, they want to use their work to identify gaps in the law and present possible solutions for closing them. They also aim to forge a link between the general doctrines of criminal law and animal protection law as a specialized subject.

Mr. Gerhold, what are the goals of your new research group?

We want to gain legal insights into the fields of animal rights, animal protection law, and the law of animal rights activists and animal protection organizations. It is important to us to initiate new discussions and to scientifically accompany and enrich those that have already begun. To date, science and legal practice have only marginally dealt with the above-mentioned topics. It is virtually a specialized subject, unknown to most lawyers. I have already received signals of great interest in these research topics from publishing houses. They also see a need for publications.

What specific topics are you working on?

In the first year, the research group is addressing the topics “Injunctive Punishability to the Detriment of Animals,” “Hunting of Cormorants,” and “Veganism in Light of Article 4 of the German Constitution,” to name a few examples.

What does this mean in concrete terms? Can you give us an example?

Sure! Imagine that a roebuck has tried to jump over a barbed wire fence and got caught in the barbed wire. It is obviously injured and cannot free itself on its own. A walker who happens to be passing by recognizes the animal’s plight. Is this person legally obligated to inform the responsible person – i.e. the hunting leaseholder or the owner of the hunting lease – or to free the animal from its situation, or may they simply pass by? What is the situation when the hunting leaseholder of another hunting ground passes by, and what is the situation with the hunting leaseholder when they have been informed? These and comparable questions have not yet been answered satisfactorily, even though comparable situations occur on a daily basis and the decisive questions belong to the core area of criminal law dogmatics.

“Depending on the question, cooperation partners the fields of biology, veterinary medicine, sociology, or other related disciplines will be involved.”

Who will conduct research within the individual projects?

The research group members currently comprise two research assistants, one student assistant, and myself. All members of the research group belong to the Faculty of Law. We produce both internal and external dissertations and, of course, other publications – for example, articles in professional journals. Depending on the specific question, cooperation partners the fields of biology, veterinary medicine, sociology, or other related disciplines will be involved.

Also within the University of Bremen?

As the research group was only established on April 1, 2022, and the staff were only able to start their work on May 15, we have not yet been able to establish any cooperation partnerships. More urgent aspects were initially on the agenda and there was a lot to organize. However, we would be very happy about any cooperations within the University of Bremen as well! We have the hope that the University of Bremen will take a long-term and leading role in the field of research on animal welfare law in a broad sense.

“Open-ended research is a central requirement of any funding. Attempts to influence research content and results would be a reason to terminate any cooperation.”

The news recently went through the media that the animal protection organization PETA is financially supporting your research group. The question of how independent you can be in your research kept coming up.

As a general principle, open-ended research is a central requirement of any funding. Attempts to influence research content and results would be a reason to terminate any cooperation. This applies to private sector funding just as much as to government funding. Therefore, I can safely say that my research group carries out research in an entirely independent and uninfluenced manner. PETA merely provides suggestions as to which topics are of concern to practitioners. There is no demand for us to work on these topics.

What is the project that PETA supports about?

PETA supports the Research Group for Animal Law and Animal Welfare Law located within the Research Center for Animal Law and Animal Welfare Law, which conducts legal-dogmatic research on Animal Law and Animal Welfare Law, i.e. deals with the existing laws and their interpretation, and also questions of animal ethics. An empirical-criminological research project on wildlife crime, also being conducted by myself, is being supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety within the framework of the funding guideline EURENI. Further cooperation partners are welcome.

“Naturally, our scientific work also flows directly into teaching.”

How do students benefit from your research work?

Naturally, our scientific work also flows directly into teaching. First and foremost, we teach the fundamentals of animal protection law. This is not part of the compulsory curriculum. Thus, no knowledge can be assumed on the part of the students. The focus of the knowledge transfer is on the interpretation and practical application of the penal norm of § 17 Animal Protection Act. The norm covers the prohibition to kill a vertebrate animal without reasonable cause or to inflict pain or suffering on it. A first seminar on animal protection law is already taking place this summer semester. The seminar is very well attended and is generating a lot of interest among students.

You are a professor of criminal law, criminal procedure law, media criminal law, and penal law. What motivates you to address this topic?

I have always been interested in the topic of animal protection law, especially for professional reasons. None of the classical legal areas feel responsible for cross-sectional issues that touch on different areas of law, i.e. in this case neither criminal law nor administrative law. This means a detachment from current scientific knowledge and the development of the respective cross-sectional area, which sooner or later will no longer correspond to the state of research in the core areas. For this reason, there are also many questionable legal figures in animal protection law. I noticed this specifically in connection with animal protection law when I was looking for my own dissertation topic. However, when I started my scientific career, there was no reasonable possibility for me to do a PhD or habilitation in this field, as there are simply no professorships for animal protection law in Germany. In this respect, the field was too narrow for my own qualification path. Now that I already hold a professorship, I can pursue these matters without any risk to my own professional future, and I am very much looking forward to learning more

Further information

Click here to visit Professor Sönke Florian Gerhold’s website.

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