High Court upholds Council’s right to thwart unlawful animal trading

The Animal Protection Agency (APA) has welcomed today’s High Court ruling that Arun District Council acted properly in warning Fontwell Park Racecourse of a substantial risk of unlawful activity at an exotic pet market planned for 27 October 2013. The Racecourse heeded the Council’s warnings and cancelled the event. Judicial Review proceedings were subsequently brought against Arun Council by exotic pet market organisers who claimed that the Council had no power to ‘procure the cancellation of the event’.

Prior to the proposed pet market, APA had provided considerable evidence to Arun Council that sales were likely to take place that would contravene section 2 of the Pet Animals Act 1951, which prohibits trading in pet animals at market stalls. The evidence indicated that animal traders (including so-called ‘hobby businesses’) that had operated at other reptile and amphibian markets around the country were likely to attend the racecourse event.

Arun Council together with Fontwell Park Racecourse took swift action to successfully prevent widespread law-breaking and animal suffering, which is inherent in exotic pet markets. Mrs Justice McGowan today confirmed that the Council “has a duty to do what it properly can to prevent the commission of offences by legitimate means. Warning an organisation such as the racecourse that its premises might be hosting an event at which unlawful activity might take place is an entirely proper course to have taken.

APA formally intervened in the Judicial Review in order to make submissions on the proper interpretation of the legislation. The Court agreed with a judgement from a case (Haynes v Stafford Borough Council) brought by one of APA’s supporters in 2006, which acknowledged that animal welfare concerns are at the heart of the law on pet markets and that prosecutions can be taken against sellers. Since the ‘Haynes’ case, two people have been successfully prosecuted (by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and Newport City Council) with APA providing evidence on both occasions.

APA believes more prosecutions are likely to follow if these events continue to take place, not least because APA will be increasing its investigation work still further given the helpful result of the new judgment. The UK’s only remaining reptile and amphibian markets take place at Doncaster Racecourse and the next event is planned for 20th September 2015.

During the case, the Judge viewed video evidence of sellers at pet markets (often calling themselves ‘hobbyists’) and concluded: “Elaine Toland has provided a good deal of evidence setting out her views that sales outside the permitted categories were taking place at previous similar shows. It is clear that many of the same stallholders appear at these shows throughout the year. A selection of advertising material, photographs and video clips has been compiled. A review of the material clearly demonstrates that the impermissible sale of animals may well have been taking place at these shows.”

Says APA Director, Elaine Toland:

“The Court’s judgment upholds Arun Council’s responsible actions to prevent illegal activity and ensure that animal welfare legislation is upheld. The judgment represents a massive loss for the exotic pet trade and exotic animal keeping fanatics, and a great help to law enforcers and to APA’s campaign. The traders who brought the case against the Council will now be dining on their own words having before the hearing brazenly claimed: ‘…we are on what you would call a racing certainty.’ This latest judgment will enhance our work to ensure that the poor treatment of pet animals in temporary markets will soon be a thing of the past.”

The traders are almost certain to be ordered to pay the Council’s legal costs.

Animal welfare legislation regarding pet selling is due to be updated and DEFRA is committed to carrying forward current legislative protections to ensure that there is no return to trading of pets in markets.

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