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Crocodile Handbag Owner Scores Victory for Individual Rights

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

Rules may be rules, but their rigid application by the state, without consideration of individual circumstances, is unlawful. In a case which illustrated the point, a woman whose designer crocodile-skin handbag was seized by the UK Border Force (UKBF) has scored a triumph over officialdom.

The $3,400 tote bag, which was hand-crafted in Japan, was a 50th birthday gift for the woman from her husband. However, on its arrival in Britain by post, it was impounded by customs officers because it was not accompanied by an import permit as required by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The UKBF had since repeatedly refused to return it to her.

In allowing the woman’s appeal, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) noted that the crocodile had been farmed in Zambia and that its skin had been lawfully imported into and re-exported from Japan. She had been entitled to rely on the Japanese manufacturer whose responsibility it was to ensure compliance with CITES.

There was no suggestion that the bag had been smuggled into Britain; the woman had acted in good faith throughout and she had done all in her power to put right the honest mistake. Ordering the Director of Border Revenue to reconsider the matter, the FTT found that UKBF’s excessively rigid application of CITES was irrational and that the impact on the woman was disproportionate.

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