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Government announce plans for ivory ban

Thursday 12 April 2018

On 3 April the Government confirmed that the UK will introduce a ban on ivory sales, as it published its response to a consultation on the matter. They believe tighter controls on trading ivory will go some way to curtailing the demise of the elephants.

There were more than 70,000 responses to the consultation, with over 88 percent of responses in favour of the ban.

The ban will cover ivory items of all ages – not just those produced after a certain date, however there will be exemptions including:

  • Items comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume and were made before 1947.
  • Musical instruments that have less than 20% ivory content and were made prior to 1975 (when Asian elephants were added to CITES).
  • Portrait miniatures painted on thin slivers of ivory and which are at least 100 years old.
  • Rarest and most important items of their type. Items must be at least 100 years old and be assessed by specialist institutions before exemption permits are issued.
  • Museums. Commercial activities to, and between, museums which are accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland or the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK.

By covering ivory items of all ages and adopting these narrow exemptions, the UK’s ban will be one of the toughest in the world. The maximum available penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail. However primary legislation is needed before these changes can come into force.

How will the ban work?
The government intends to introduce a registration model for the ban, which would be administered by the Animal Plant and Health Authority (APHA).

Owners with items they wish to sell and which they consider meet the exemption criteria under the de minimis, musical instruments or portrait miniatures categories, will be required to register their items via an online system and pay a small fee for doing so. The online database will be accessible by government, the regulatory body and the Police.

In registering an item, the owner will be deemed to have confirmed that, to the best of their knowledge, the item in question meets the relevant category of exemption, and will have submitted information or evidence about the item– for example photographs or evidence of its age. 

Owners will receive confirmation that this registration has taken place, including a reference number. Buyers, or others involved in the sale of an item, can ask for proof that an item has been registered. If an individual wishes to sell an item to an accredited museum, they will be required to register the item, and the relevant institution will be required to confirm that it intends to purchase the item. Payment of a small fee will be required.

If an owner of an item of ivory believes it would qualify for the rarest and most important items of their type exemption, they too will first be required to register details of this item with the APHA.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP said:

“Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations.

“The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past.”

Was there actually a need for new legislation?
In our response to the original consultation, we argued that the Government’s focus should be on enforcing current legislation and closing any loopholes that currently allow illegal trade to continue instead of moving forward with a total ban on all ivory sales. With the proper controls in place and increased checks to improve enforcement the illicit trade of ivory would be reduced which in turn would discourage poaching, which continues to decimate elephant populations.

Removing the pre-1947 criteria will have an impact on the sizable antiques trade in the UK, with many reputable auction houses, traders and collectors being affected.

It remains to be seen who will be responsible for enforcing the ban and there is little detail about how the ban will be enforced. In their response the Government simply state that the Secretary of State will nominate an existing regulatory body to enforce the ban. The regulatory body will have the power to issue civil penalties for breaches of the sales ban, and spot checks will also be made against the database of registered items. The police and customs officers will also use their powers to investigate and charge those that fail to adhere to the ban.

As with any new legislation, it will only be effective if the Government dedicate sufficient resources to make the proposed ban effective.

We'd also like to see more detail about what happens if for example a person dies but has no family or friends to leave an inheritance to. In instances such as this, charities may carry out house clearances, so would need to be made aware of the law and what they should do if they suspect ivory is present in items they've collected. Will they be able to take items suspected of containing ivory to somewhere to be assessed or destroyed, and who will pay for this? 

When will the ban come into force?

A Defra spokesperson has confirmed to NAVA Propertymark that there is no timetable currently in place for introducing the Bill, but that they "aim to introduce a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows". 

Read the Government’s full response