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Nature Protection Minister Elliot Morley to toughen action against illegal wildlife traders


15th January 2003

New proposals to tighten up and strengthen the controls on trade in endangered species in the UK - and more than double maximum prison sentences - were announced today by .

Mr Morley praised HM Customs and Excise Officers for their work in intercepting consignments at UK ports and airports but said he wanted to set in place tougher measures to deter criminals from undertaking this trade in the first place and increase penalties for internal trade within the UK.

With this aim in mind, the Minister launched today a public consultation on ways to tighten the Control of Trade In Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES).

Mr Morley said:

"I am determined to develop an effective deterrent against those people who, by their disgraceful activities, are threatening the world's most endangered species. I want the police and Government Wildlife Inspectors to have strengthened powers and for those criminals to face higher penalties."

The consultation paper suggests strengthening the powers of the police and Government Wildlife Inspectors, and increasing the penalties for illegal trade in wildlife within the UK from the current maximum two-year prison sentence to a maximum of five years.

Trade controls on endangered species are enforced in two main ways. Import and export controls are enforced by HM customs and Excise officers under the provisions of the Customs and Excise management Act 1979. Trade controls within the UK are enforced primarily by police officers under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES). These are the subject of this review. The consultation ends on 4 April.

Mr Morley said:

"I hope everyone affected by these proposals will send in their comments, then we can develop a truly effective deterrent to help halt this trade in its tracks. I am determined to toughen up the regulations and want the enforcement authorities to be able to throw the book at these criminals."

The consultation follows other recent work done by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to crack down in illegal trade in wildlife.

In November, the Department launched, with the Magistrates' Association, a new information toolkit covering many aspects of environmental crime, including - for the first time - sentencing guidance on wildlife crimes. And in April 2001, the Department launched the National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit. The Government gave 440,000 to ensuring that the Unit was firmly established and able to make a real impact on the most serious illegal wildlife trade offences.

Additional information:

1. Enforcement provisions for offences relating to native species controlled by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 were strengthened last year by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (in England and Wales). Some of the proposals included in the consultation package would bring controls on endangered species worldwide (which are covered by the EC Wildlife Trade Regulations) in line with those in domestic legislation.

2. The current maximum penalty for COTES offences is two years imprisonment. Examples of COTES penalties which have been handed down include:

In 1996, a number of traditional East Asian Medicine retailers were fined, one for 3,000, for the illegal sale of endangered species derivatives as medicinal products; in 1997, an eight month jail sentence for the illegal sale of Eleonora's falcons; and a 1,500 fine for the illegal sale of 138 shahtoosh shawls made from the fleece of the Tibetan antelope.

3. More substantial penalties are available under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 for import offences - as opposed to internal trade. The current maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment. Under this legislation, last year, a man was imprisoned for six and a half years for illegally importing birds of prey from Thailand.

The consultation document can be found at