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Registering ivory in line with the Ivory Act 2018

Posted on 18 March 2022

From 6 June 2022, you will not be able to deal in items in the UK containing or made of elephant ivory under the Ivory Act 2018 unless they are registered as exempt or certified as exempt.

As discussed at the Mishcon de Reya breakfast panel on 9 March 2020, the Act received Royal Assent in 2018 and introduced one of the toughest bans on elephant ivory sales in the world. The Ivory Act bans the dealing of items made of, or containing elephant ivory, regardless of their age. For more information on the Ivory Act itself, click here.

If you sell, hire or buy ivory through the UK, or any part of the transaction happens in the UK, the item(s) must fall under the narrow and carefully defined exemption categories as set out in the Act. The exemptions are for:

  • musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20% ivory by volume;
  • items made before 3 March 1947 with less than 10% ivory by volume;
  • portrait miniatures made before 1918 with a surface area smaller than 320 square centimetres;
  • pre-1918 items which are of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value; or
  • items that a qualifying museum intends to buy or hire.

If an item qualifies as exempt, it must be declared and registered before it is traded or hired. If an item does not qualify, it must not be traded or hired.

In preparation for the ban, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently launched the digital ivory service, which allows ivory owners to check the eligibility of their ivory and apply to register an exempt item online. Ivory owners looking to register three or more items under the same exemption can use a WLR form, obtained by emailing the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) at ivoryact@apha.gov.uk. These items must form part of the same transaction i.e. they are being sold or hired out to the same entity and the cost of registering a group of items is £50.

Each time an item is sold or hired out under the standard exemptions, the owner or applicant will need to make a new registration and pay the registration fee. Trading in unregistered ivory items is an offence under the Ivory Act and can result in a maximum fine of £250,000 or 5 years' imprisonment.

The new legislation has showcased the UK as a global leader in animal conservation. While the Act has been well received in the UK, similar regulations adopted in New York in 2014 have come under criticism for allegedly creating unconstitutional restrictions for antique dealers. Unlike domestic legislation, the New York regulations, amongst other things, prohibit the display of illicit ivory antiques in windows or shelves. As a result of a claim bought by organisations in the US representing antiquities dealers, these US regulations are in the process of being reviewed by an appeals court in 2022.

For further assistance and advice on this please contact Amanda Gray, Simon Chadwick or Polly Green.

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