Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Defra Minister Continues to Attempt to Defend the Indefensible

Posted: 8 June 2011

...and tries to dismiss ADI legal advice on wild animals in circuses

Today saw a 90 minute Commons Debate on the use of wild animals in circuses in Westminster Hall, secured by Stoke On Trent MP and Shadow Justice Minister Rob Flello and attended by MPs from the major parties, including Zac Goldsmith, Caroline Lucas, Jamie Reed, and Naomi Long.

Representatives from Animal Defenders International (ADI) attended the debate to listen to the comments raised and witness the Defra Minister Jim Paice MP attempt to defend the Coalition Government’s decision not to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “We found the Minister’s defence underwhelming, and he failed to once again address the key issues. He made specific reference to ADI legal advice and stated that Defra was currently considering it, but then attempted to suggest that our advice does not fully address the issue of proportionality. He is incorrect, and our lawyers have been very specific on this point.

“The Minister once again tried to hide behind various legal impediments cited by his Government as reasons not to ban, but we have already proved these points to be incorrect and irrelevant. We have established that there is no Austrian legal challenge, no need for new legislation and a ban would not breach the Human Rights Act nor the EU Services Directive. In addition, last week the European Commission confirmed that the decision whether or not to ban is outside of its jurisdiction, and always has been.

“The government needs to stop looking for excuses and bring in a ban. 95% of the public wants a ban, parliament wants a ban, it is therefore in the public interest to bring in a ban.”

Mr Paice also said that the Government will continue to pursue a licensing regime that will swiftly improve the welfare of animals and will not lead to more animals in circuses. This is a ludicrous comment as without a ban, more animals can be imported, so it will naturally follow that this will lead to more animals. Government are therefore leaving the door wide open to further abuse and suffering and the Minister’s comments make no sense at all.

The Government also refused to publish the legal advice on which it has based its decision, despite considerable pressure from MPs to do so.

On his reason for calling the debate Mr Flello had previously said that he felt that the Government has acted in an appalling way, hiding behind human rights legislation in order to avoid bringing one in. Today he said: “the Government was ready to use the flimsiest of arguments to avoid a ban.”

Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt said: “A ban seems to be the most appropriate way forward."

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP said that the Government’s position did not make "any sense at all” and was “extraordinary."

Jamie Reed MP, representing the Labour Opposition said that Defra has become a "laughing stock", and that the way it dealt with the circus issue was "a disaster", and said that the Government had the Impact Assessment "hidden away from the Government’s web-site" because it went against its legal advice. He also said: “The Government has dithered and delayed and their policy has been decided on a European Circus Association press release – this is unbelievable.”

Knocked out: Human Rights Act
Last week, lawyers instructed by ADI analysed if a ban could potentially affect a person’s right to respect for private and family life under the UK’s Human Rights Act (HRA) (article 8) and the protection for property (article 1 of protocol 1 HRA). The advice concluded that a ban would be within the ‘margin of appreciation’ afforded to the UK.

Furthermore, the legal advice is that if a ban is proposed because it is considered ethically wrong in itself to use wild animals in circuses, a ban would be the only measure which would achieve this public interest aim and would be automatically proportionate. Therefore, the ban would not be in breach of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.

Knocked out: EU Services Directive

In addition, it was concluded that the UK would not be in contravention of the EU Services Directive by implementing national legislation which banned the use of wild animals in circuses and it would not be unlawful under EU law generally.

The European Court of Justice would accord a Member State a wide degree of discretion in this matter and since 2002 the European Commission has reiterated that the decision would be at the discretion of the individual Member State, and they would not wish to become involved.

ADI is in the process of drafting a series of legal briefings for politicians to keep the pressure up on the Government to do the right thing morally and ethically – wild animals do not belong in travelling circuses.



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

Photographs are available on request. Interview opportunities are available.

ADI instructed Bircham Dyson Bell (, leading Solicitors and Parliamentary Agents, to research the conformity of a ban on wild animals in circuses with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Union Services Directive.

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

Last 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.

The release of this poll 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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