Coalition faces court fight over refusal to ban circus animals

Animal welfare groups threaten legal action after the Government's broken promise

A A A

Animal welfare groups are considering launching a High Court challenge to the Coalition's refusal to ban wild animals in British circuses.

The Captive Animals Protection Society (Caps) and the Born Free Foundation have threatened to act after the Government broke a promise to abide by the result of a Commons debate in June, when MPs unanimously supported a ban.

Animal welfare groups such as the RSPCA and British Veterinary Association, as well as an overwhelming majority of the public and politicians, agree that circuses should not be allowed to keep lions, tigers and zebras in small cages and force them to perform.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – whose initial support for a ban was overruled by David Cameron – says it cannot introduce a ban for legal reasons, but refuses to detail why. The row now threatens to become a constitutional issue between the Government and Parliament.

During the debate on 23 June, MPs explicitly acknowledged Defra's case that circuses might challenge the ban, but questioned that advice and said Defra should introduce one regardless of any legal risk.

The debate was one of the most intense in recent years because the MP Mark Pritchard disclosed attempts by Conservative whips – acting on the orders of Downing Street – to bully and bribe him into withdrawing the motion. He said: "It remains a mystery why the Government has mounted such a concerted operation to stop there being a vote on this motion."

Before the motion was approved, the Animal Welfare minister, Jim Paice, told MPs: "If at the end of this debate the House were to approve this motion then of course we will have to respect that." In the ensuing six months Defra has repeated its view that it cannot introduce a ban and is expected to announce a licensing system next month. A court challenge by a German circus against a six-year ban in Austria was thrown out by Austria's highest court this month.

Defra officials forbade Caps and Born Free from discussing a ban at a meeting at Defra on 14 December. In a letter to the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman on 23 December, Caps director Liz Tyson and Born Free chief executive Will Travers wrote: "The only sensible reason put forward by you as to why a ban cannot proceed is the presence of insurmountable legal obstacles. Our own legal advice has been overwhelmingly to the contrary. In these circumstances, we consider that it would be appropriate for the relevant legal obstacles to be properly determined by the UK courts..."

Defra maintained that it had not ruled out a future ban, adding that "because of potential legal obstacles and to stop any animals suffering in the meantime, it is introducing as quickly as possible a tough new licensing regime to ensure wild animals will only be allowed to perform in circuses if they are properly cared for."

The campaign

32,000 people signed our petition calling for a ban after we revealed in May that No 10 had vetoed the idea. Two months later MPs backed a ban – and the Government said it would respect the decision – prompting our now misplaced "Victory!" front page.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas