Medieval Animal Trials

In medieval times, animals who had been accused of committing crimes were brought to court, provided defence counsel and prosecuted in full hearings before a judge.

For the Compass Festival 2018, artist Jack Tan created a fictional Department of Animal Justice, and staged a series of live ‘moot’ (or should that be “MOO-T”?!) animal trials before a judge and jury at the old Victorian courtroom in Leeds Town Hall (detail here)

I was the Judge for the first trial, a Jack Russell on trial for sheep-worrying, brilliantly prosecuted, a potential death penalty case but thankfully on this occasion the only thing hung were the jury (unable to reach a decision)

In a later trial I successfully defended a Staffordshire Bull Terrier accused of being a “dangerous dog”, after being provided with prosecution witness statements and a defence proof of evidence, just as I would in a contemporary case. The only difference here was that a dog appeared in the dock, I have defended in real dangerous dog cases where of course the owner is the defendant, but in either case it is the animal that faces the ultimate penalty (a “destruction order”).

Jack Tan is an artist with a legal background, his attention to detail meant that the proceedings were as faithful a representation of an actual case as could be imagined, with the only difference the curtailment of jury deliberation time, and the added interest that the audience could discretely “listen-in” to the deliberations. One juror went on to review the event here )