Antiques dealers fight to reverse UK’s new ban on ivory trade in defence of ‘freedom to enjoy personal property’

Oct 12, 2019 | News

By Jane Dalton – The Independent

Exclusive: ‘The decision of a single judge could potentially undo years of campaigning and reject the overwhelming public demand for this law,’ say activists

Antiques dealers are attempting to overturn the UK’s new ban on trading in ivory in a legal case being seen as a critical battle for African elephants.

A group of dealers and collectors say the crackdown breaches their “fundamental rights and freedom” to enjoy their personal property.

But critics say if their legal challenge succeeds, it will gift a loophole to illegal traffickers to exploit – giving a green light to poachers.

Antiques lobbyists who want to continue dealing in pre-1947 ivory are challenging the ban in a judicial review in the High Court next week, arguing it is incompatible with EU law.

The Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures company (Fact) says the ban takes away the level playing field as the rest of the EU still permits an ivory trade, although the European Commission is considering a ban in line with the UK’s.

The group also says the ban amounts to “severe interference with fundamental rights and freedom” to enjoy their personal property.

The UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory, in particular, selling to the hot spots of Hong Kong and China, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency.

But the Ivory Act, seen as one of the world’s toughest clampdowns on ivory sales, was passed in December and is due to take effect later this year.

The bill was passed with an overwhelming cross-party majority after more than 88 per cent of respondents to a government consultation backed greater curbs.

Activists from the UK-based Action for Elephants (AfE) group say the antiques dealers are flying in the face of huge public and political support for the ban.

“This degree of support for an ivory ban sent the message loud and clear that saving elephants is what matters to the British public, not a tainted trade in ivory ornaments. But to this day, the antiques dealers haven’t got this message,” said Denise Dresner of AfE.

“Unfortunately, elephants don’t have any rights that are recognised in law – not even the right to not be killed and have their tusks hacked off – but they have a moral right to life and to survival.

“It’s taken years of unrelenting pressure, campaigning and public activism to achieve an ivory ban in the UK, and a very robust one at that.”

No cultural treasures would be harmed by the law, she added.

The activists will protest outside the High Court before Wednesday’s hearing.

“The decision of a single judge could potentially undo years of campaigning and reject the overwhelming public demand for this ivory ban,” Ms Dresner added.  

In 1989 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species granted elephants the highest level of protection, banning international ivory trade.

As a result, poaching subsided and ivory prices tumbled.

But the ban allowed trade in pre-1947 antique ivory to continue, along with domestic ivory markets.

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