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Challenge to last year’s High Court ruling that the Ivory Act 2018 was proportionate was dismissed

Posted on 19 May 2020

The Court of Appeal on 18 May 2020 dismissed a challenge to last year’s High Court ruling that the Ivory Act 2018, which introduces wide ranging prohibitions on the trade in ivory, was proportionate. 

The Ivory Act 2018 should now finally come into force 18 months after the Act received Royal Assent. This will effectively ban the UK’s trade in ivory, subject to certain important and clearly defined exemptions, such as for pre-1918 items of outstanding artistic, cultural or historical value, pre-1918 portrait miniatures, pre-1947 items containing small amounts of ivory, and certain pre-1975 musical instruments.

The legal challenge had been brought by Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (FACT) Limited, a company set up by a group of antiques dealers to bring the claim.

The Judgment was widely anticipated and was welcomed by DEFRA, which remains focussed on ensuring UK ivory markets do not contribute to the exploitative illegal ivory trade. A spokesperson said: “We are committed to bringing the ivory ban into force as soon as practicable to help protect the world’s endangered species and halt biodiversity loss.”

The Judgment comes as the UK and much of Africa remains in lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.  

An unforeseen immediate consequence of the lockdown has been a sharp fall in the price per kilo paid to ivory poachers in certain African countries. This appears to be because the enforced closure of international travel and trade has disrupted illicit flows as well as trade in legal goods.

The lockdown respite for Africa’s elephant populations may prove to be short lived, and it threatens to deliver them into a more precarious position than before. Africa’s rural poor have been amongst those worst hit by the economic consequences of the global response to the pandemic. The collapse of commodities prices, fall in remittances, and complete stop to international tourism have hit rural economies hard, leaving communities immediately vulnerable to hunger.

Last week, Malawi’s Director of National Parks and Wildlife explained that if left with no choice, people may be forced to turn to nature for food - despite knowing the apparent transmission risks of eating bushmeat for zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, and Ebola.

Cynical criminal syndicates will seek to profit by exploiting any such desperation to involve local people in poaching for ivory wherever there is a profit to be made – destroying the natural resources on which their economic and environmental resilience depends.

The tragedy is that across the continent as yet least affected by the disease, are communities who will be the hardest hit by its economic consequences.

Britain has a leading role to play in securing the most vulnerable at home and internationally, and in building resilience in our natural systems to prevent similar crises from happening again. Ensuring our markets don’t contribute to the illegal ivory trade is an important part of that.

FACT has seven days in which to appeal. Subject to any such further challenge, we next anticipate a consultation on implementation of the Act, including on how the proposed ivory register will work.

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