Animals on Trial

‘If an ox gore a man or woman, that they die:

then the ox shall surely be stoned.’

Exodus: xxi.28

In the Middle Ages, the biblical quote above became the basis for surely one of the most bizarre of human practises – the trial and conviction of animals.

All suspected domesticated animals were tried in the criminal court.

All suspected non-domestic animals were tried in the ecclesiastical courts.

The accused animal would be put into the prison of the building where the trial was to take place and a defence lawyer engaged.

Witnesses would be called during the trial and the defendant was sentenced according to the verdict. Guilt almost always meant death.

In 1386 a sow, dressed in men’s clothes, was executed in the public square at Falaise in France and, in 1587, a case was heard against a large number of beetles who had been ravaging a local vineyard in St Julien. Some of the accused were brought into court to listen to the reading of a document instructing them to leave the district within three days, or else….!

Trial of Pig