Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Minister admits previous comments incorrect on status of Austrian legal proceedings

Posted: 19 May 2011. Updated: 19 May 2011

Government accused of further inaccuracies regarding delayed court proceedings

Government have been accused of misleading the public once again today, with the claim that the Austrian court proceedings are active, but have been delayed. This is incorrect and the legal action was never filed, a fact which has been confirmed by The Austrian Constitutional Court, says Animal Defenders International.

In a highly charged Commons debate that lasted over twenty minutes this morning, the Defra Minister Jim Paice MP was put under intense pressure to explain the Government’s position by politicians from all parties. He admitted that his comments made regarding the legal case were incorrect.

In addition, he stated that the Austrian court proceedings had been delayed, although a case is in preparation.

The Minister also said that Government remained convinced that a licensing regime to protect wild animals in circuses was the most effective way forward, which only served to rally the chamber even further to attack Government’s position.

ADI, politicians, veterinary organisations and celebrities have expressed their grave concerns regarding Government’s handling of this issue and the declaration that they still seem intent on pressing ahead with the proposals for a licensing regime.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “ADI revealed yesterday, at a meeting with the minister, that there was no legal challenge involving the Austrian Government’s circus ban under EU law. We’re pleased that the Government has at least admitted that the initial comments made were incorrect. However, it is now being claimed that these court proceedings have been delayed, with a case in preparation. The fact is that there has been no movement whatsoever on the proposed court case in question since 2009, therefore they really are clutching at straws. This issue has been avoided for far too long now.

“The Government needs to stop pontificating and get on with implementing a ban, which is what the public wants, politicians want, and animal welfare groups want. There have been more exposés of the brutality of the circus industry in the UK than any country in the world. It’s time to be a strong and decisive Government and do the right thing to protect animals from suffering.”

BVA President Harvey Locke said: “The British Veterinary Association is dismayed to learn that the Government made a misguided decision without first checking the full facts of the legal challenge in the Austrian Courts. But on the positive side there is nothing that now stands in the way of introducing a complete ban on wild animals in travelling circuses and we would urge the Government to evaluate the situation urgently in light of this new information.”

Mary Creagh, Labour Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary said during the debate that the “Defra big top is spinning out of control”, and was “an all signing and all dancing disaster.”

Conservative MP and Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare Neil Parish said: "There is evidence to suggest that there is no pending case involving Austria under EU law. The Government should review the advice it has been given and urgently issue a statement about this case, and once this is confirmed should move to a ban on wild animals in circuses as soon as possible".

Conservative MP and Secretary of the 1922 Committee Mark Pritchard said: “If the claims about the absence of a live court case in Austria are true the government will not only need to inform Parliament but also re-examine the whole basis on which it has ‘ruled out’ a ban on the ongoing use of wild animals in circuses, and, instead has ‘ruled in’ a costly and complex licensing regime. The development of a possible legal case by the circus industry could take months, and even longer to be heard in a court, meanwhile animals are suffering.”

And Brian Blessed, the revered actor, author, and great supporter of ADI said: “Now this new information has come to the fore, Government now needs to do the honourable thing and implement a ban as soon as possible to prevent further animal suffering. We have presented them with strong evidence and now proved that no legal challenge exists in Austria. It is now time for them to get on with it and ban the use of wild animals in circuses - period.“

The Government also reiterated that a ban might be illegal under EU law and added, to the disbelief of the House, that a ban may be in breach of the Human Rights Act. These suggestions were received with amusement and bewilderment by MPs and seen as a blatant excuse.

The Austrian ban has been firmly in place for over 6 years and other European countries such as Denmark have implemented similar bans without challenge. Countries such as Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden all have similar legislation with restrictions.



Media Contact:
Phil Buckley, Media Relations Director, Animal Defenders International, 07716 018250, 0207 630 3344,

Photographs are available on request. Interview opportunities are available.

The debate can be watched at:

ADI contacted the Austrian Constitutional Court, the Austrian Ministry of Environment and the animal protection groups to enquire about the status of the legal action launched at national level late last week. In response to ADI’s enquiries, the Chief of Protocol at the Constitutional Court confirmed in writing on the 16 May 2011 that there was no case pending and no case had ever been brought to the Court by any organisation or individual. It was also confirmed verbally that this court has the monopoly of reviewing any complaints against national legislation. On the 17 May 2011 the Court of Justice of the European Union also confirmed in writing that they could find no reference to such a case. The local Austrian animal protection group VGT responded saying that there were also unaware of the existence of such a case as did the Austrian Embassy.

In a media release issued by the European Circus Association on 28 September 2009, they announce the filing of legal actions to challenge the bans on animals in the circus. This action was not progressed, a fact confirmed by the Austrian Constitutional Court.
Summary of the concluded legal action against the Austrian ban on the use of wild animals in circuses:
Paragraph 27 of the new Austrian Animal Protection Law imposes a total ban on the keeping of wild animals in circuses.

On 2005 a circus association submitted a complaint to the European Commission that said that the provision was contrary to the EU principle of the free movement of services and therefore in breach of EU legislation.

On 12 October 2005, the Commission opened infringement proceedings against Austria.

Subsequently, in a statement made to the public, the Commissioner responsible for the internal market portfolio indicated that the Directorate-General for the Internal Market and Services (DG MARKT) did not intend to pursue the inquiry further.

The formal decision of the Commission closing the case was taken on its meeting of 12 December 2006 and was communicated to the Circus Association.

On 9 June 2006, the Circus Association submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman. On 7 July 2006, the Ombudsman declared it inadmissible.
On 24 October 2006, the complainant lodged a new complaint to the Ombudsman.

On 8 March 2010 the Ombudsman closed the inquiry concluding that “no further inquiries are justified as regards the complainant’s claims that the Commission should re-examine the infringement complaint in question” and that the complainant had launched an action before the Austrian courts challenging the compatibility of the Austrian law with EU law. This has now been proven not to have in fact occurred.

The Commission made clear in 2006 that: "Under the principle of subsidiarity, welfare concerns regarding circus animals can better be addressed by national legislation in accordance with the general provisions of the Treaty.” As far back as 2002, when the Commission was asked about animals in circuses, stated that "the decision whether to ban animal performances at such events or to define under which welfare conditions they should be accepted remains a matter under the sole responsibility of the Member States.” For further information regarding the European Commission’s position on animals in circuses go to:
Extract taken from Written Ministerial Statement from The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Caroline Spelman (13 May):

The Austrian Government has recently been taken to court for its attempt to ban wild animals in circuses. This Government wants to take action as soon as possible to protect wild animals in circuses without waiting for the outcome of that judgement. For this reason we propose to introduce a strict licensing regime using powers provided under the 2006 Act.

On the 12 May when the matter was discussed in the Commons, in response to questioning Mrs Spelman said: “The fact is…there is a court case under way where the Austrian Government has been taken to court by a German circus company because of a breach of the European Union services directive. It would be irresponsible for any government to recommend something that is presently under legal dispute.”

Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said: “Whether we like it or not, there is the court case going on in Europe and therefore the British Government could not bring forward a proposal which may prove shortly to be unlawful. Our Government can hardly recommend something that may not be legal.”

Last year, a survey by Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) resulted in a huge 94.5% support for a ban.

This month, ADI released the results of its independent online poll carried out by YouGov, which asked impartial participants aged over 18 to what extent they would support or oppose a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. A massive 72% of the public backed a ban with only 8% against – almost 3 out 4 members of the public want a ban.

Last week a national newspaper released the findings of their independent poll carried out by ComRes earlier this month which reaffirmed that an overwhelming majority of 71% of the public backed a ban.

The releases of these polls couldn’t have come at a worse time for the circus industry, as ADI’s shocking undercover footage revealing the terrible suffering of Anne, the UK’s last circus elephant was broadcasted around the world in March. Many believed Anne would be the last elephant people would see chained and beaten in a British circus, but her plight which captured the public’s heart appears to have meant nothing to David Cameron.

Politically there was cross party support with 194 MPs from all parties having signed EDM 403 calling for a ban, making this the 9th most signed EDM in Parliament out of 1790 motions tabled. A recent Dods poll by ADI also found overwhelming support for a ban on wild animal acts in the House of Commons with 63% of MPs in favour and 14% against. So as well as ignoring those who voted them into power, they have isolated themselves from their peers.

National measures to prohibit or limit the use of animals in circuses have already been adopted in Bolivia, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, Singapore, Costa Rica, India and Israel and similar laws are being discussed in Brazil, Chile, Norway, Peru and Greece.


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