On a crisp September day in 1457, villagers in Savigny, France were witnesses to a hog and 6 piglets attacking a 5-year-old child. The attack left the child dead. In today’s world, the animals would be killed for committing such a horrible crime. However, this attack did not happen in today’s world. It happened in 1457 in a jurisdiction where animals had their day in court. In this small French town, animals were given trial which included a judge, two prosecutors, eight witnesses, and a defense attorney.
In this particular trial, witness testimony and the prosecution were able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the hog committed the crime in which it was charged. However, the piglet’s role in the attack was much more questionable. The judge ordered the hog to hang in the gallows while the piglets were found not guilty and therefore released with apologies from the court.
While this type of legal proceeding is certainly viewed today as bizarre and a waste of time and resources by the court, it was actually commonplace in medieval Europe. Pigs, goats, horses, rats, dogs, any animal that broke the law was treated as a human and could stand trial.
Just as in some of today’s courts, judges often took several factors into consideration when addressing a trial. The judge was able to take into account the fact that the piglets were young, immature and unable to make responsible decisions. The fact that the animals were also raised without a mother also swung in favor of releasing the piglets without charges.
Today, courts are only reserved for humans. While animal trials are a thing of the past, courts today are much too crowded and have trouble keeping up with both civil and criminal proceedings. Although it’s interesting to fathom, I think most of us can agree that keeping animals out of today’s court system is for the best.