Legal Article: Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses Act 2019

25 January 2020

Written by: Ian Bridges, PNLD Legal Adviser
Not reviewed after the date of publication

Using wild animals in travelling circuses has become outdated and unpopular, primarily due to the conditions they face in circus life. Such animals have been regularly transported around the country, kept in cramped and basic housing and forced into training; performance, loud noises, bright lights and crowds of people have been part of their everyday way of life. As a result, these animals have been unable to socialise and get enough exercise, and have developed behavioural and health problems due to the captive life they are forced to lead.

The use of wild animals in circuses was previously regulated through the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. The Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses Act 2019 (the Act), in force from 20th January 2020, has brought England in line with a long and increasing list of countries that have already banned the practice. It mainly provides for the offence of a circus operator using a wild animal in a travelling circus in England and includes an inspection regime with enforcement powers and further associated offences.

Offence / prohibition

Section 1 of the new Act provides the prohibition: ‘A circus operator may not use a wild animal in a travelling circus in England’. If this is contravened an offence will be committed. Section 1 goes on to provide that an operator ‘uses’ a wild animal in a travelling circus if the animal performs or is exhibited as part of the circus. ‘Performance’ would include for example, a parade of animals in a circus ring, and an ‘exhibition’ would include displaying a lion or elephant in a cage. The penalty for this summary offence is a fine of any amount.

A ‘circus operator’ is the owner of a circus, or any other person with overall responsibility for the operation of the circus. However, if no such person is in the United Kingdom, then it will be the person in the United Kingdom who has ultimate responsibility for the operation of the circus. If this offence is committed by a body corporate, an officer of the body corporate such as a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer could also be liable.

‘Wild animal’ is defined for the purposes of this offence as any animal of a kind not commonly domesticated in Great Britain, being a vertebrate other than man (as per section 1(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. As such, none of the vertebrate animals listed in Schedule 1 to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 can now be used in a travelling circus in England.

Inspections – powers of entry

The Schedule to the Act makes provision about inspections for the purposes of the Act. As per paragraph 1, the Secretary of State may appoint a person to be an inspector for the purposes of this Act.

As per paragraph 2, an inspector may enter any premises, other than premises used only as a dwelling, if the inspector has reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence under section 1 is being, has been, or is about to be committed on the premises or that evidence of the commission of such an offence may be found there.

Premises’, for the purposes of this Act, includes any place, including any vehicle, tent or movable structure. The occupier of premises, in relation to any vehicle, is the person who appears to be in charge of the vehicle.

Paragraph 3 provides that an inspector may enter premises used only as a dwelling, if a justice of the peace has issued a warrant authorising the inspector to enter those premises to search for evidence of an offence under section 1. In order to issue such a warrant, the justice must have the same grounds to suspect as an inspector under paragraph 2. In addition to this, at least one of the conditions set out in paragraph 3(3) must be satisfied: that entry to the premises is unlikely to be granted without a warrant and that notice of intention to apply for a warrant has been given to the occupier; that an application for admission to the premises or the giving of notice of intention to apply for a warrant might defeat the object of entry; that the premises are unoccupied; and that the occupier is temporarily absent and it might defeat the object of entry to wait for the occupier’s return.

Paragraph 4 requires an inspector, on request, to produce evidence of identity before exercising a power of entry under the Act and to state for what purpose the power is being exercised. If entry is under a warrant, the inspector is required to supply a copy of the warrant or to leave such a copy on the premises. As per paragraph 5, an inspector exercising a power of entry must do so at a reasonable time unless it appears to the inspector, that if entry is made at a reasonable time, the purpose of entry and inspection would be thwarted.

Reasonable force and additional persons

Paragraph 6 allows an inspector to use reasonable force where necessary to exercise a power of entry and to take onto the premises up to two other persons, plus any equipment and materials that the inspector considers to be appropriate. These persons could include, for example, a zoological specialist to assist, or police officers to help keep the peace.

Powers of inspection

An inspector exercising a power of entry under the Act has various powers of inspection, which are set out in paragraph 7 of the Schedule. This paragraph states that an Inspector may -

search the premises;

examine, measure or test anything, including an animal, that is found on the premises;

question any person on the premises;

require any person on the premises to give the inspector such assistance as the inspector may reasonably require (for example, to enable access to an animal cage, handle an animal or move a vehicle);

take a sample (including a sample from an animal);

mark an animal found on the premises for identification purposes;

take a photograph or video recording of anything, including an animal, that is found on the premises;

require any person on the premises to produce any document or record (in whatever form it is held) that is in the person's possession or control;

take copies of or extracts from any document or record found on the premises (in whatever form it is held);

require information which is stored in an electronic form and is accessible from the premises to be produced in a form in which it can be taken away and in which it is visible and legible (or from which it can readily be produced in a visible and legible form); and

seize anything, except an animal, that is found on the premises and which the inspector reasonably believes to be evidence of the commission of an offence under section 1.

As per paragraph 8, these powers may also be exercised by a person taken on to the premises by the inspector under paragraph 6, if in the company and under the supervision of the inspector.

Retention of seized evidence

As stated above, an inspector (or person taken with the inspector) may seize anything, except an animal, that is found on the premises and which is reasonably believed to be evidence of the commission of an offence under section 1. As per paragraph 9 of the Schedule, anything seized under using that power may be retained for so long as is necessary in all the circumstances, but a record of the seizure must be provided, if requested by the premises occupier or the person who had possession or control of the item.

Fail to provide assistance / obstruction

Further offences of failing to provide assistance reasonably required and intentionally obstructing, are provided by paragraph 10 of the Schedule:

‘10(1) A person is guilty of an offence if -

(a) the person fails without reasonable excuse to comply with a requirement for assistance reasonably made under paragraph 7(d), or
(b) the person intentionally obstructs another person in the exercise of a function under this Schedule.’

A person who is guilty of either offence is liable on summary conviction to a fine of any amount.

Liability of inspectors

Protection is given to inspectors and their assistants from liability in any civil and criminal proceedings for anything done or not done as a result of carrying out their duties under the Act, providing they acted in good faith or with reasonable grounds.

Other legislation

So far, 27 other countries have banned wild animal circuses. Other pieces of legislation affecting the UK include the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018, and the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Wales) bill currently going through the National Assembly for Wales. Animal cruelty is a significant issue that is greatly highlighted in the media. Along with other pieces of legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses Act 2019 will assist in eradicating animal cruelty in the UK.

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