UK Ivory Bill Challenge

Stephen Wiggins Article Leave a Comment

Banner Image – Protesters supporting the UK Ivory Bill being enacted in full outside the High Court, 16 October 2019

Update: 18 February 2020

The privately funded appeal against the High Court’s 2019 decision(to reject the ivory ban challenge) to be heard 24/25 February, 2020, High Court, The Strand, London.


Update: 14 November 2019

FACT granted leave to appeal their challenge to Ivory Bill Act.

Update: 6 November 2019

Fantastic day for elephants’: court rejects ivory ban challenge” the Guardian, 5 November 2019

High Court ruling upholds Ivory Act, The government has successfully defended a Judicial Review of the Ivory Act, Gov.UK,  5 November 2019

Legal bid to stop Ivory Act fails – but dealers and collectors are considering an appeal,” Antique Trade Gazette, 5 November 2019

FACT is now “considering its options” on whether to appeal the judgement – a move that would involve further fundraising from the antiques trade. It has until November 12 to seek permission to appeal.

In taking but losing the judicial review of the act, FACT must pay DEFRA’s legal costs as well as its own, though payment is likely to be deferred until after any appeal.


Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures  (FACT – a limited company formed by dealers and collectors, with funds channelled via the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA)) have argued in the High Court today, that the United Kingdom (UK) Ivory Bill (2018) is incompatible with EU Law, because the EU law allows trade in pre-1947  (“Antique“) ‘worked’ ivory.

The UK Ivory Bill (2018) became law (with full legislation still to be implemented) following an extensive consultation process, which highlighted how little proof of provenance accompanies so-called “Antique” ivory traded through UK dealers and/or traded on-line in the UK:

  • The “expert appraiser’s eye” (sic) is often the deciding factor that ‘reputable’ dealers rely upon to date such ivory, not using a scientific approach such as radio carbon dating;
  • On-line, the provenance of ivory pieces offered often lacks any credible provenance whatsoever – “Africa’s Elephants: Hugh and the Ivory War,” Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, BBC, October 2016 concluded after examining nine ivory pieces purchased on-line in the United Kingdom:

After employing scientific carbon-dating methods, four out of nine pieces were found not to pre-date 1947, with one ivory item dated as taken from an elephant that was growing its tusk in the 1980s. Two other pieces had been re-worked into ‘new’ pieces, so were also technically ‘illegal’ as the overall piece could not be considered as a ‘worked’ item pre-dating 1947. So overall, two-thirds (66.67%) of the ivory items studied by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall were not ‘legal’ “Antique” ivory that could be sold in the United Kingdom.

  • There is no explanation from the industry to discredit the theory that sustaining any such “Antique” ivory trade does not legitimise and stimulate demand for ivory (of modern source from poached elephants/hippo etc.). Instead BADA suggests:

To suggest that the legal purchase and sale of genuine antiques is in some way ‘connected to the global illegal trade’ in modern poached ivory is not backed up by substantive facts.”

  • In August 2017, the UK was named at the world’s largest ‘legal’ ivory exporter (but how much of that is actually legal?) – but, TMT’s study highlights that “Ivory represents less than 1% of annual sales for many auction houses in the UK” – so an end to all UK based ivory trading would clearly not finish off the UK antiques industry – to help save elephants being poached for ivory, to any rational mind, that’s a small price to pay to help end ivory worship and needless elephant deaths that profit from that worship.

The case at the High Court will run for today and tomorrow, with a judicial review to be released in due course. Hopefully, the judicial outcome will be to protect elephants (and other ivory bearing species), not to perpetuate United Kingdom ivory dealers’ and collectors’ speculative and dubious practices.

Further Reading

Art and antiques dealers take government to court over Ivory Act,” Antique Trade Gazette (ATG), 16 October 2019

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