12 November 2019
R (on the application of) Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures Ltd v Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – read judgment
“We believe that the legal market presents opportunities for criminals to launder recently poached ivory as old ivory products.” (Defra’s statement in consultation in introducing the Ivory Bill)
The Ivory Act 2018, which received Royal Assent in December 2018, proposes to prohibit ivory dealing with very limited exceptions. This includes antique items made with ivory. According to the Government, the Act contains “one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales”. No date has yet been fixed for it to become law.
The purpose of the Act is to enhance the protection of African and Asian elephants in the face of ongoing threats to their survival. It does so by prohibiting the sale, as opposed to the retention, of all ivory (that is, anything made out of or containing ivory), subject to a very limited and tightly defined exemptions. These prohibitions are backed by criminal and civil sanctions.
The claimant company represented UK dealers in antique worked ivory such as Chinese fans, walking canes with sculpted ivory tops and furniture with ivory inlay. The appeal of these items is not confined to Sinologist antiquarians. Netsuke, smaller carved ornaments worn as part of Japanese traditional dress, are an example. Even for the non connoisseur, Edmund de Waal’s novel The Hare with the Amber Eyes is a celebration of the significance and aura that these ornaments bestow on their owners, not just for the carving, but for the material of which they are made. Religious, hierarchical, magical, and even medicinal.
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