European Court of Justice Dismisses Final Sealing Industry Appeal in Case Seeking to Annul the EU Ban on Trade in Seal Products

Humane Society International applauds ruling

Humane Society International

  • Rebecca Aldworth/HSI

The European Court of Justice has rejected an appeal brought by commercial sealing interests and some Inuit representatives with regard to the EU ban on trade in seal products. This appeal concerns a 2013 decision by the European General Court, which rejected the appellants’ request to find the legal basis and implementing measures for the EU ban on commercial seal product trade unlawful.

Joanna Swabe, executive director of Humane Society International/Europe, applauded the Court’s ruling, noting:

”We are overjoyed with, though not surprised, by this ruling. This was the final appeal in a series of spurious cases brought by the commercial sealing industry and some Inuit representatives in an attempt to annul the EU Regulation on trade in seal products. Time and again, the courts have ruled that the European Union’s decision in 2009 to ban the cruel products of commercial seal slaughters was entirely justified and had a solid legal basis. It is time for the sealing industry to finally realise that this landmark legislation, which enjoys the support of millions of EU citizens, is here to stay.”

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada, added: “For five years, the commercial sealing industry has wasted time and tax dollars with pointless legal challenges of the European Union ban on seal product trade. With the last of these cases dismissed, it is time the Canadian government acts in the interests of sealers and their communities–and all Canadians– and supports a sealing industry buyout.”

Help end Canada’s annual seal hunt, the largest commercial slaughter of marine mammals in the world.

The news of the European Court of Justice ruling comes just a week before the European Parliament is due to vote at Plenary on the amendment of the EU ban on trade in seal products. This minor legislative revision is the result of another legal challenge brought by Canada and Norway at the World Trade Organisation. 

In 2013, the World Trade Organisation upheld the right of the EU to ban the trade in commercial seal products on the grounds of public morality. In 2014, the WTO considered an appeal to that ruling. Although the WTO Appellate Body, once again, ruled largely in favour of the EU, the EU agreed to make minor amendments to the ban to achieve full compliance to WTO rules before 18th October 2015. 

At its September Plenary session, the European Parliament will vote on a first reading agreement compromise text, which was approved by the Committee of Permanent Representatives by a qualified majority of EU Member States in July 2015. 


  • More than seven in 10 adults (72 percent) across 11 EU Member States support the ban on the sale of seal products in the EU (Ipsos MORI, 2011). More than 6,000 people were surveyed for the poll.
  • In 2009, the European Parliament voted 550 to 49 in favour of a strong ban on trade in products of commercial seal hunts. In 2010, the EU ban came into force.
  • Applicants representing commercial and Inuit sealing interests immediately filed a request with the European General Court to annul the ban. However, it was found that they did not have standing to institute proceedings.
  • The applicants then challenged the European Commission implementing regulation and made an indirect challenge alleging that the basic regulation is unlawful.
  • Once again the claim put forward by the applicants was unsuccessful. In 2013, the General Court dismissed their request for annulment as unfounded.
  • The applicants appealed the 2013 decision, and this is the case upon which the ruling was issued. In March 2015, Advocate General Kokott had already issued strong legal opinion in this case urging the European Court of Justice to dismiss the case. 
  • In addition to the EU, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States have prohibited some or all commercial trade in seal products.

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