Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Government blocks access to circus inspection reports

Posted: 16 December 2011. Updated: 16 December 2011

‘Plans for a licensing regime are doomed to failure’

Animal Defenders International (ADI) has accused the Government of a lack of transparency and using blocking tactics in their refusal to allow access to Government circus inspection reports, conducted in 2008 and 2009.

ADI, together with MPs Fiona O‘Donnell, Caroline Lucas and Gavin Shuker have been pressing Defra to release the reports conducted by Defra vets as they would contain information crucial to the public interest, as the Government is now considering a licensing and inspection regime for wild animals in circuses, in place of the ban recommended by all animal welfare groups and overwhelmingly supported by Parliament.

ADI has submitted a series of freedom of information requests, but Defra has repeatedly refused to be transparent about the information they are relying upon to make their decisions about their proposed licensing regime. The Government’s refusal to share the contents of these reports is depriving both stakeholders and the public of the opportunity to consult with the Government, or challenge Defra’s conclusions.

Jan Creamer, ADI’s Chief Executive said:

“The Government is now bullying us over this issue. These reports are vital to inform any decisions made about licensing proposals and would provide the opportunity for an open, public debate. Now more than ever, when the Government is ignoring public and parliamentary opinion on this issue, there needs to be access to the information they are using, and an open debate. At least one circus has already published parts of one of the reports, so it’s one rule for the circus industry and another for everyone else.

“Refusal to allow access to inspection reports will prevent concerned stakeholders and independent experts from reviewing the scope, criteria used and overall quality of the inspections, and thus public confidence in the system will be undermined.

“This blocking of information has reached farcical proportions this week, when Defra had invited us to a meeting to discuss their proposals and then refused to allow us to see the proposals beforehand.”

The Government’s arguments for keeping the reports secret are weak – they have cited confidentiality, health and safety, and even the extraordinary conclusion that the reports could potentially invite attacks against circus operators – when during this time, at least one circus has already published parts of one of the reports.

In recent weeks, Fiona O’Donnell MP, Caroline Lucas MP and Gavin Shuker MP have all asked parliamentary questions in an attempt to obtain access to these reports but the Minister Jim Paice MP continues to resist. Other parliamentary questions continue to be tabled to maintain pressure for access to these reports and ADI is grateful to all of those politicians who are standing firmly behind their ‘Stop Circus Suffering’ campaign.

Fiona O’ Donnell MP for East Lothian and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responsible of the issue of wild animals in circuses said:

"Given that Defra has continued its plans to enact a licensing system to regulate the use of wild animals in circuses, it has an enhanced responsibility to place all relevant information, including the circus inspection reports, in the public domain so that they can be properly scrutinised and discussed which is clearly in the public interest.”

Gavin Shuker, Labour MP for Luton South and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“Defra says that it carried out these inspections to evaluate whether an inspection regime can work, but without transparency, no system can work. Refusing to release this information will lead many to ask ‘What have they got to hide?’.

“Without knowing the methodology, criteria and outcome of inspections, the public and parliament will never know if the licensing system that this government has invented can safeguard animal welfare.”

And Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion Vice Chair of the Animal Welfare APPG, said:

“Defra’s refusal to allow access to the circus inspection reports does nothing to address public concerns about transparency and accountability on this issue. These documents must be opened up to scrutiny. Furthermore, by refusing to enact an outright ban on the use of wild animals in UK circuses, the Government is effectively condoning the unacceptable abuse of animals - and totally ignoring public opinion.”

This latest development follows the Commons backbench debate in June, this year where MPs unanimously approved a motion directing the government to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Shortly after the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he was ‘minded’ to ban.

ADI has recently released previously unpublished evidence of the failure of inspections to detect animal suffering in circuses. The ‘Out of Control’ report provides clear evidence that an inspection system is doomed to failure. The lack of access to previous inspection reports confirms that a statutory licensing system that lacks transparency and accountability will perpetuate the suffering of wild animals and will also fail. View the report at

An ADI investigation into the winter quarters of Bobby Roberts Super Circus this year revealed a staggeringly high level of violence and serious animal husbandry flaws. Incidents included Anne, an elderly, severely arthritic 57 year old elephant, being hit with a metal pitchfork and kicked around the face and body 48 times over the period of observation by workers, who are also seen beating and spitting on a camel and beating miniature ponies and horses on numerous occasions.

At the request of ADI, and given enormous public concern over the case, the Director of Public Prosecutions has agreed that the Crown Prosecution Service take over proceedings with the case to be heard in June 2012.

Notes to Editors

Extracts of the Defra report are shown in the Great British Circus 2009 souvenir programme and circus magazine.

Earlier this year, 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 therefore wanted a ban.

In 2010, a survey by Defra (Department of Enviroment, Food and Rural Affairs) resulted in a huge 94.5% public support for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.

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

In 2009 ADI released undercover footage of the use of elephants at the Great British Circus and this exposé put wild animals in circuses back on the political agenda. This evidence was presented to Government which helped prompt a public consultation on animal circuses in December 2009. The footage can be found at the following link:

Parliamentary Questions and Defra responses:
Fiona O’Donnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) which circuses were inspected by inspectors and vets appointed by her Department in the last 10 years; and what the (a) dates of such inspections and (b) location of the circuses at the time of the inspection were; (2) whether (a) inspectors or (b) veterinary surgeons appointed by her Department inspected animal circuses between 1991 and 2011; and if she will place in the Library a copy of any such inspection reports;

Mr Paice: There is currently no animal welfare legislation that specifically covers travelling circuses that would require them to be inspected on a formal, routine basis by a Government inspector. While we are aware that there have been inspections (three at the request of DEFRA for a feasibility study in 2008, for which the reports were carried out in confidence), these usually have been done locally on an informal, infrequent basis with no requirement for the inspection, or the inspection report, to be notified centrally to DEFRA or the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency or any of its predecessor bodies.

The proposed new circus animal licensing scheme will put inspections on a formal, statutory, footing. The new scheme will certainly ensure we have a record of all the routine licensing inspections carried out on circuses. We will need to consider what information about, and from, the inspections should be made available publicly to ensure the scheme is as transparent as possible. We will consult on proposals early next year.

Caroline Lucas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the answer of 3 October 2011, Official Report, columns 381-2W, on zoo: licensing, for what reasons circus inspections were conducted on a confidential basis; and if she will ask those who requested confidentiality to agree to publication and the placing of a copy in the Library.

Mr Paice: These inspections were conducted to establish the feasibility of an enforceable licensing regime. To ensure full participation, the participants were given assurances that the data collected would be confidential. The reports are confidential and as a consequence we will not release them.

Gavin Shuker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what plans she has to allow public access to circus inspection reports.

Jim Paice: A number of inspections of animals in travelling circuses have been conducted by Defra-appointed inspectors or vets in the past decade. However, no central record is kept of such inspections. The three inspections carried out for Defra in 2008 as part of a feasibility study to evaluate the potential of an inspection system for such circuses were conducted on a confidential basis, and as a consequence we will not release these reports.

The proposed new circus animal licensing scheme will put inspections on a formal, statutory, footing. The new scheme will ensure that we have a record of all the licensing inspections carried out in circuses. We will also want to consider what information about, and from, the inspections should be made available publicly to ensure that the scheme is as transparent as possible.

The Great British Circus’ Souvenir Programme (2009) includes a section titled “extracts from the Circus Inspection Project Report” (page 19).

Media Contact:
Phil Buckley
Media Relations Director
Animal Defenders International
Phone: 07716 018250 or 0207 7630 3344

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Animal Defenders International
With offices in Los Angeles, London and Bogota, ADI campaigns across the globe on animals in entertainment, providing technical advice to governments, securing progressive animal protection legislation, drafting regulations and rescuing animals in distress. ADI has a worldwide reputation for providing video and photographic evidence exposing the behind-the-scenes suffering in industry and supporting this evidence with scientific research on captive wildlife and transport. ADI rescues animals all over the world, educates the public on animals and environmental issues.


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