Tortoiseshell and the law in England and Wales

The sale of tortoiseshell is generally prohibited in England and Wales due to laws and regulations aimed at protecting endangered species and preventing the illegal trade of wildlife products. Tortoiseshell is derived from the shells of certain species of turtles and tortoises, many of which are protected under international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Under CITES, the commercial trade of tortoiseshell is heavily regulated, and it is generally illegal to sell or trade products made from protected species, including tortoiseshell. This includes items such as jewellery, accessories and decorative objects made from tortoiseshell.

In addition to international regulations, there are also domestic laws in place to enforce these restrictions. In England and Wales, the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 2018 implement the provisions of CITES and make it an offence to sell or trade protected species, including tortoiseshell, without the necessary permits or exemptions.

It is important to note that there may be limited exceptions or exemptions for certain antique items made from tortoiseshell, provided they meet specific criteria and have the necessary documentation. However, these exceptions are subject to strict conditions and require proof of legal acquisition and age.

Proving the age of tortoiseshell in England and Wales can be challenging, as it often requires documentation or evidence that establishes the item’s age and legal acquisition. This is particularly important when dealing with antique tortoiseshell items, as there may be limited exceptions for their sale under certain conditions.

Here are some steps you can take to help prove the age of tortoiseshell:

  1. Documentation: Look for any documentation or records that accompany the tortoiseshell item, such as certificates of authenticity, appraisals or receipts. These documents may provide information about the age or provenance of the item.
  2. Expert Opinion: Consult with experts in antique tortoiseshell or wildlife trade regulations who can assess the item and provide an opinion on its age based on their knowledge and expertise. These experts may include antique dealers, appraisers or specialists in wildlife conservation.
  3. Historical Research: Conduct research on the item’s history, including its design, style and manufacturing techniques. This can help establish a general timeframe or period when similar tortoiseshell items were produced.
  4. Provenance: If possible, gather information about the item’s previous owners or any known history of ownership. This can help establish a timeline and provide additional evidence of the item’s age.
  5. Scientific Analysis: In some cases, scientific analysis can be used to determine the age of tortoiseshell. This may involve techniques such as carbon dating or other forensic methods. However, such analysis can be costly and may not always be feasible or necessary.

It is important to note that proving the age of tortoiseshell can be challenging, and the burden of proof lies with the seller or owner of the item. If you are considering selling or trading tortoiseshell, especially antique pieces, it is advisable to seek legal advice from a qualified professional.

Have you been charged with trading illegal wildlife products? Alexander JLO’s team of white collar crime experts would be happy to assist in preparing your defence. Why not give us a call on 020 7537 7000 or email and see what we can do for you?

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