Antiques trade in renewed High Court bid to quash UK’s landmark Ivory Act
LONDON: A small group of antiques dealers is persisting in attempts to overturn a law designed to help protect elephants from poachers and curb the trade in ivory, which was passed with overwhelming public support and cross-party parliamentary backing in 2018.
The UK Ivory Act – which introduces tough regulations on the buying and selling of almost all ivory from, to and within the UK – received Royal Assent in December that year.
Resistance from the antiques trade led to a judicial review at the High Court in October 2019 – which upheld the Ivory Act. Having lost the argument once, they will try again to overturn the law in an appeal hearing at the High Court on 24 February.
An opinion poll in 2017 found that 85 per cent of those questioned were in favour of a ban and there is no evidence to show public attitudes have changed.
But the antiques lobby group, a company of antiques dealers and collectors called the Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures Ltd (FACT), claims the Act infringes their human rights by not letting them buy or sell ivory. They had also argued that the Act is incompatible with EU law, which allows trade in pre-1947 ‘antique’ ivory.
Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) which has campaigned against the ivory trade for decades, said: “It would be a tragedy for endangered elephants if the UK Ivory Act were to be cut down at this final hurdle, not to mention a slap in the face for the vast majority of British citizens who quite clearly put elephant protection far above the right to make money off blood ivory.”
She fears that overturning the Act, following the appeal, would have devastating consequences.
“Our investigations have revealed time and again that parallel legal markets for ivory confuse consumers as to ivory’s acceptability as a commodity, stimulate new demand, provide a front behind which to launder poached ivory and ultimately drive the illegal ivory trade which has so devastated elephant populations,” said Rice.
While the antiques trade claims the Ivory Act will result in “substantial economic damage” to the industry, ivory accounts for less than one per cent of annual sales in many UK auction houses.
The Act does not prevent individuals from owning ivory, from passing items on as family heirlooms or donating them to museums, and it includes a number of carefully crafted exemptions (e.g. musical instruments such as pianos with ivory keys).
Thirteen African governments belonging to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) signed a statement welcoming the passing of the Act in 2018.
“When the UK Ivory Ban was introduced and passed it was a clear indication that the Government had listened to the voices of many African leaders, whose countries are home to the worlds African elephants,” said EPI CEO Miles Geldard.
“At the time the law received Royal Assent, EPI members congratulated the UK on its leadership, acknowledging that the new law would encourage and support efforts beyond the border of the UK, and we hope that the appeal judges uphold the previous decision in support of the Ivory Act.”
The UK Government hoped that introducing the Ivory Act would encourage other countries to follow suit and that is exactly what has happened. The European Commission is currently considering new restrictions on ivory trade across Europe, based very much on the UK Ivory Act and using similar language.
Other countries, such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced, or are in the process of introducing, similar legislation also based on the Act, which has been described as emerging international best practice.
“As one of the biggest traders in legal ivory, the UK must shoulder its share of responsibility for reducing demand for ivory and the UK Ivory Act, with its very narrow and limited exemptions, is an excellent step towards that,” added Rice.
“It would be a terrible injustice if the narrow financial interests of a handful of antiques dealers were put before a future for elephants and the will of the British people.”
Approximately 55 African elephants are poached every day, an unsustainable rate of loss.
- Paul Newman, EIA Press & Communications Officer, via press[at]eia-international.org
- Naomi Doak, Senior Technical Advisor, EPI Foundation, via ndoak[at]elephantprotectioninitiative.org
- The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
- The EPI is a coalition of 20 African countries with common policies on elephant conservation.
- Ten leading NGO’s worked together to support of the British Government to ensure the passing of the UK Ivory Act. The members of the coalition are: Tusk, Born Free Foundation, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Investigation Agency, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Natural Resources Defence Council, Space for Giants, Stop Ivory, Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London.