An animal welfare worker has claimed victory after the sale of birds as pets at a Parrot Society show in Stafford was ruled unlawful in a High Court test case.
The decision, which has implications for similar shows up and down the country, was a victory for animal welfare worker Malcolm Haynes.
Mr Haynes, from Great Wyrley, had challenged Stafford Borough Council's decision to allow pet sales at the Parrot Society UK's show, held last October at the Stafford county showground.
Mr Justice Walker, sitting in London, ruled the local authority's decision to licence traders was flawed.
The judge said the 1951 Pet Animals Act made it an offence to carry on a business selling animals as pets "in a street or public place" or "at a stall or barrow in a market".
He ruled the law also applied to a "concourse of buyers or sellers", such as those to be found at shows where animals were offered for sale as pets.
The judge declared that the word "market" was not confined to street markets, open markets or public markets. He said: "Concerns as to animal welfare generally, and pets being sold by persons who were not experts, are just as much applicable to showground markets as they are to street and non-street open markets".
The judge stressed he was not declaring that any particular person who had sold birds at the Stafford bird show had committed a criminal offence.
Lawyers for Mr Haynes, who runs an animal rescue and re-homing charity, said: "The implication of this is that all future pet fairs would be subject to criminal sanctions under the 1951 Act."
The Parrot Society said the ruling would not mean the end of the shows it holds up and down the country. Society council member Colin O'Hara said: "We will organise our subsequent shows without these sales. We have every expectation that the shows will be as popular with birdkeepers and families as before."
Later the Animal Protection Agency (APA), a national organisation that campaigns against the trade in wild animals as pets, said today's judgment "clearly rules that pet or wildlife markets are illegal".
APA described Stafford Council as one of only two local authorities in the UK still issuing licences for pet markets.
Elaine Toland, director of APA, said: "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.
"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 spokeswoman in the House of Lords for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, recently described pet fairs as the "car boot sales" of the animal trading world"
She said: "This is excellent news for animal welfare. Given this clear judgment, 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."
Public health consultant Clifford Warwick 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."