The case to overturn the Ivory Act 2018, ten months after it was passed, is being brought by FACT (Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures), a limited company formed by dealers and collectors who argue the act is incompatible with EU law, which allows trade in pre-1947 ‘worked’ ivory.
The group says the act breaches their “fundamental rights and freedom” to enjoy personal property and let them buy or sell ivory.
The case is being heard in front of Mr Justice Robert Jay.
Thomas de la Mare QC, acting for FACT, outlined the group’s core objections to the act, including that it does not comply with the EU’s application of CITES regulations which allows trade in worked, pre-1947 ivory objects.
He argued that the exemptions given, including for musical instruments and objects of ‘outstanding artistic significance”, were arbitrary.
“We’ve been given no criteria to assess what the ‘outstanding artistic, cultural or historic significance' exemption means in practice,” de la Mare said. “It's an adjectively narrow definition and intended to be so".
The Ivory Act’s exemption for purchases by museums was “strange”, the barrister contended, as it was subject to no date threshold, unlike other exclusions.
‘Lovers of antiques, not ivory’
De la Mare began by declaring that antiques dealers “are lovers of antiques… they are not ivory lovers”.
He read out witness statements from collectors and dealers including Rosemary Bandini, Paul Moss of Sydney L. Moss and Alastair Gibson, all of whom were present in court this morning.
The barrister is using netsuke as the leitmotif for all antique ivory objects, quoting Paul Moss' testimony that “ivory netsuke are not bought for their ivory content but their artistic value”. An ivory netsuke worth £150,000 and a Cantonese ivory fan were shown to the judge.
Members from anti-poaching groups holding placards gathered outside the High Court from early this morning, protesting at the case being heard.
The later part of the morning’s hearing was dominated by FACT’s arguments around the supremacy of EU law.
The case continues this afternoon and tomorrow morning.