The Animal Protection Agency (APA) - a national organisation that campaigns against the trade in wild animals as pets - is today celebrating a High Court decision that clearly rules that pet or wildlife markets are illegal. The case, brought by Malcolm Haynes against Stafford Borough Council, means that local councils should now act to prevent the sale of pet animals at markets.
Malcolm Haynes, a local resident to the UK's largest exotic bird market, was appalled by gruesome scenes of wildlife trading in an APA film shown on TV. Malcolm wrote to Stafford Borough Council, calling for it to refuse to licence further such events, including a bird market planned for last October that was to involve the sale of up to 13,000 birds (many of them wild-caught). Not satisfied with the dismissive response he received, Malcolm - on the APA's advice - contacted environmental law specialists, Richard Buxton Solicitors, who brought judicial review proceedings against the Council challenging its interpretation of the law.
The judicial review claim centred on whether the pet market was prohibited by Section 2 of the Pet Animals Act 1951, which makes it a criminal offence to carry on businesses of selling animals as pets from market stalls. Giving judgement today, Mr Justice Walker granted the application for judicial review, formally rejecting the Council's argument that the Section 2 prohibition could be confined to franchise markets, street markets, open markets or public markets. The Council was also ordered to contribute to the Claimant's legal costs.
Stafford Borough Council was one of only two local authorities in the UK still issuing licences for pet markets. Despite the fact that the overwhelming view of local councils and legal experts was that pet markets were unlawful, DEFRA had continued to describe the law as ‘ambiguous' and sought to ‘clarify' it by proposing to legalise such events in the Animal Welfare Bill. Today's judgement determines that the law is clear and pet markets are banned.
Elaine Toland, Director of APA, said:
"The judge's decision, though no surprise to us, is a vindication of the position we have repeatedly expressed, both to Stafford Borough Council and to DEFRA. The selling of animals at pet fairs is not only a major animal welfare and public health problem, but is also against the law. We can finally put to bed the argument that the law is a ‘grey area' and that the answer is simply to legalise such fairs. The judge emphasised that the ban on pet markets was introduced as an important animal protection measure and that its rationale was just as applicable to pet fairs as it was to the selling of animals on street corners. It would be a travesty of reason were DEFRA now to carry on with its plans to legalise such fairs so as to override the effect of today's court decision."
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Liberal Democrat EFRA spokeperson who recently described pet fairs in Parliament as the "car boot sales" of the animal trading world, said:
"This is excellent news for animal welfare. Given this clear judgement it is important that the very real protection afforded by the law as it stands is maintained in both spirit and letter in future legislation rather than held at risk in the face of speculative and hitherto entirely untested regulatory mechanisms."
Clifford Warwick, Public Health Consultant said:
"Today's decision is not only good news for animal welfare and species conservation but also for human health. Exotic bird markets have been identified by scientists around the world as ‘mixing pots' of infection, providing opportunities for diseases and viruses like bird flu to transfer from animals to people. Wildlife markets are also recognised as a hub of illegal trading and prohibited species have often been found on sale."