Towards a new 'legalhood'
A level of capability, with regards to the legal system, correlates with a level of culpability. By this, I mean; once a theoretical threshold of capability is met, it moves criminal actions past a point to which an entity then becomes responsible for them. In a simplified sense, we see this with the juveniles legal system, as they are considered fundamentally different from adults, resultantly having less agency and, therefore, less responsibility for their actions. It is outside of even this realm where we find animal life, to which we do not even provide this level of legal standing.
A ‘legalhood’, in loose terms, for animal life is perhaps not impossible to imagine. Historically, through Deodand and Noxal Law, an organism (among other, more inanimate, non-human objects) could be tried in a court of Law as a ‘chattel’. Despite this not being the ‘legalhood’ the project seeks to encourage, it highlights a history of animal involvement within the court and the legal system which has until recently, been fairly devoid. The Animal Welfare Bill in 2006 began to bring the legal lens back to animals, although focusing primarily on purely domesticated animals. The Bill also suggests that protection is only provided if; ‘the suffering is unnecessary’. In 2021, a major step forward occurred with the Animal Sentience Act, a piece of legislation that recognises animals as ‘sentient beings’ capable of emotions such as happiness or sadness. Resultantly, any new legislation provided by the government would have to be considerate to the fact that organisms could be emotionally affected. But how can any protection avoid the greater interest of humans? Nature and animals, when protected, are often protected legally by rights in line with the interests of humans, rather than a greater interest of the animal itself. Much like the 'environmental personhood' movement, the 'legalhood', through similar forms of advocacy and policy, would allow for protection in the animals interests, an interest derived from their Umwelt and agency.
The project proposes that the method to contextualise this shift towards a ‘legalhood’ for more-than-humans (for the focus of ScapeGoats, this is animals) is through ‘framing’ in the legal sense. Framing is an important element of the methodology as it requires a shift in mentality. It requires the audience to consider two notions; that an action is plausible within its contextual environment and, more importantly, that the perpetrator is not only able to perform those actions but also behaviourally likely to do so.
Therefore, whether the framing is believed or not, convicted or not, the factual behaviour it is based on exposes a series of behavioural responses the organism in question can elicit. What these responses essentially equate to is the agency in which an organism has within any given environment. What the methodology of framing achieves is not only exposing this understanding of an organism's agency, but also the alignment of this agency within a far broader set of legal parameters, through the submission of evidence. By doing this, we, as the audience, not only understand the agency that an animal does have within an environment but also the agency it does not have; an agency that is, as yet, withheld. The lack of agency to defend itself, both legally and environmentally.
From this ‘trap’ environment, a framing narratives emerges;
The Manatee’s of Tampa Bay, Florida, are tried for the crime of theft, vandalism and the intent to cause harm.