Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Parliament votes for a circus ban

Posted: 2 December 2011. Updated: 16 March 2013


A political storm followed our exposé of Bobby Roberts Super Circus, resulting in a vital step towards an end to wild animal circuses.

Our exposé of the suffering of 57-year-old elephant Anne at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus, as she was repeatedly beaten and kicked, brought home the reality of life in UK circuses and jolted the political establishment into action.
We sent the footage to all MPs and Defra ministers demanding an immediate ban, and, after receiving droves of letters from ADI supporters, over 200 MPs signed Early Day Motion 403 calling for a ban – making it the second most signed EDM in the animal welfare category.
ADI Ambassador Brian Blessed and MPs visited 10 Downing Street to urge the Prime Minister to support a ban; this was followed with letters from celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Brian May. Meanwhile, our supporters got active, distributing leaflets, and protesting outside Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

Making the case for a ban
After weeks of media speculation, on 13 May, Defra announced it would not be banning wild animals in circuses but, instead, would introduce a licensing system. They claimed there was a pending legal case against Austria for an “attempt” to ban wild animals in circuses, making it impossible to proceed.
ADI’s Stop Circus Suffering campaign is active around the world, and our team had followed the situation in Austria. The case cited had been heard before the European Commission and closed in 2006; the European Ombudsman had reviewed and rejected it in 2010.
We contacted the Austrian Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union, and confirmed that there was no case currently being heard. Defra’s statement was inaccurate.
We quickly distributed a briefing on the inaccuracy of the ministerial announcement and, on 18 May, held a meeting with the minister Lord Henley, together with MPs Mark Pritchard and Neil Parish, to discuss how best to proceed. We were determined that the facts be laid before parliament.
A few days later, a highly charged debate took place in the House of Commons, during which the Defra minister Jim Paice MP was put under intense pressure to explain the government’s position. He admitted that his comments about the legal case were incorrect and that no proceedings were active in the Austrian court, although he insisted a case was in preparation. He also suggested that a ban might be illegal under the European Services Directive and may also breach the UK’s Human Rights Act.
ADI instructed our lawyers to research the claims. Their advice again concluded that an outright ban would not be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK Human Rights Act 1998 nor the European Union Services Directive.
The legal opinions were distributed to Defra, to ministers and to all MPs. We saw no justification for refusing a ban.

By early June, MPs from all parties were calling for a debate – this resulted in both an adjournment debate and a special backbench committee debate, including a vote on a motion urging Defra to ban animals in circuses. We provided briefings for MPs on the main legal and political aspects of a ban.
On the day of the backbenchers’ debate, dozens of ADI supporters travelled to London to lobby their MPs.
Hours before the debate was due to start, it became clear that the government was applying serious pressure on MPs to vote against the motion. Mark Pritchard MP, one of the key organisers of the debate, announced that he had been contacted by Downing Street to force him to drop the debate.
We were up against a Prime Minister personally opposed to a ban, flying in the face of the conclusions of Defra’s examination of the issue.
Nevertheless, MPs voted unanimously for a ban!

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Urgent action alert
Alhough a huge boost to our campaign, this decision is not binding on the government and ministers immediately cited “legal obstacles” as the reason for not introducing an immediate ban. Possibly encouraged by the controversy, we understand that Circus Krone may be attempting to re-submit the case in Austria.
Please write to your MP and Defra, requesting that they respect the will of the House of Commons, and the nation, and implement a ban without delay.

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