In a referendum cheered by animal rights activists, Swiss voters are deciding whether to appoint special lawyers for animals that have been abused by humans.

If passed, the vote would extend a system already in place in Zurich to all of Switzerland’s 26 cantons (states).

Antoine F. Goetschel, Europe’s only animal lawyer, says approving the proposal would ensure that abused animals are properly represented in court and those who hurt them would receive appropriate punishment.

Opponents, including the government, say existing laws are sufficient and appointing lawyers for animals would incur unnecessary costs for taxpayers. Switzerland already has some of the toughest animal protection laws in the world.