In front of three Lord Justices in the Court of Appeal on February 24-25, lawyers for Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (FACT) Ltd made their last attempt to stop the government from bringing the act into force.
After the hearing, FACT solicitor Richard Pike, partner at Constantine Cannon, told ATG that if the government wins the case, it was “likely to act quickly to bring the ivory ban into effect” by statutory instrument “possibly without warning”.
The verdict was likely to be delivered “in a few weeks,” he said.
‘Take action now’
Ahead of that, Pike said dealers and collectors “should take action now to protect the value of their collections, including moving items overseas where practicable”.
The stark warning came as directors for FACT praised their legal team, led by Thomas de la Mare QC.
“We have been able to use the legal process to show how much damage will be done to dealers in, and collectors of, antiques and how that harm was not properly taken into account by the government,” FACT said in a statement after the hearing.
“We have also succeeded in showing that the ban is unlikely to lead to much, if any, benefit for elephants and that much the same could have been achieved through other lesser measures, including only an export ban rather than a ban on domestic sales.”
Since a trade ban was first revealed as Conservative Party policy in 2015, DEFRA (the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the act’s sponsor, has argued that “the legal market presents opportunities for criminals to launder recently poached ivory as old ivory products”.
Pike said that during the appeal hearing, DEFRA failed to provide “any compelling evidence of the UK market itself contributing to elephant poaching”.
“Toughest of bans”
After a public consultation in 2017, DEFRA promised a UK ban on trading ivory that would be “one of the world’s toughest”.
In a major speech on February 3, Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the resulting Ivory Act as “one of the strictest of ivory bans in the world”.
The appeal hearing, which took place at London’s Royal Courts of Justice while elephant interest groups protested outside, was broadcast live on YouTube, a recording of which can be viewed here.
It is the final chapter in a long fight by the trade to stop the act, which received Royal Assent in December 2018, from coming into force.
The act will allow only narrow exemptions to a UK trade ban:
- Items comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume made prior to 1947
- Musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20% and made before 1975
- Portrait miniatures made before 1918
- Sales to and between accredited museums.
- Items of outstanding artistic, cultural or historic significance, made prior to 1918, the trade in which will be subject to the advice of specialists at institutions such as the UK’s most prestigious museums.