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Old 18-08-2007, 05:17 PM
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Default Important – Reptile shows and the law.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I try and explain the legal situation in respect of reptile shows or pet fairs, call them what you will. This is a very complicated issue but I will try to keep to just the salient points. This is an issue that has been ongoing for some years and many events ran for over twenty years without any problems. Then the extreme Animal Rights movement in terms of Captive Animal Protection Society and Animal Aid (latterly Animal Protection Agency) saw these as a good means to raise publicity and money. As many will recall, once these extremist organisations get ‘stuck into the shows’ many shows, including those ran by recognised clubs and societies, were cancelled.

Animal Rights organisations, such as those mentioned above and the RSPCA, are extremely well organised and well funded, not to mention experienced in campaigning. In terms of funding, just the top ten AR organisations have an annual income in excess of £200,000,000 (two hundred million pounds).

The crux of the issue used by the AR lobby was that of the 1951 Pet Animals Act, principally Section 2

If any person carries on a business of selling animals as pets in any part of a street or public place, [or] at a stall or barrow in a market, he shall be guilty of an offence.

The antis argued that this made shows where animals were sold illegal as they constituted a ‘market’ (a concourse of buyers and sellers). They commissioned a Legal Opinion which supported this view, although interestingly the solicitor commissioned for this legal opinion was at the time the chief solicitor for the RSPCA! The antis used this opinion to threaten councils that if they allowed shows to go ahead they (the council) would be acting illegally and at this time virtually all shows were stopped.

The Federation of British Herpetologists commissioned its own Legal Opinion at great expense and unsurprisingly the FBH legal opinion differed from that of the antis. In truth the 1951 Act never took shows into account, as its concern was the selling of pets from pet shops. However, as this legislation governed the sale of pets it is/was the principle legislation and allowed the antis to make much mischief. The 1984 amendment to the 1951 Act prohibited the sale of animals at markets, but it is clear this was only intended to effect ‘street markets’, such as Petticoat Lane in London. However, lax wording allowed the extremist lobby to exploit it. Once the FBH had its legal opinion the fight back began and then on all shows run as Private Members Meetings ran successfully, as these were clearly lawful under the Act.

The legality of shows/pet fairs under the 1951 Act was, therefore, still unclear and would require a Judicial Review to seek clarity. Judicial Reviews are expensive, easily costing £30,000 – 100,000. Animal Aid were challenged many time to seek a Judicial Review if they believed their legal opinion was correct - I even challenged them at a government meeting to do so, but they declined. During this 3 or 4 year period the antis have raised huge sums of money by campaigning against shows, but were not prepared to spend any of the money on seeking legal clarity, one has to ask why?

When the Animal Welfare Bill, now Act, started its parliamentary course government intention was to clarify the law and specifically make such events emphatically legal. The proposal was to make such events licensable, which was the preferred option by just about all including 99% of Local Authorities. Naturally the antis were violently opposed to this. As the old law, the 1951 Act, was ambiguous if the such events were lawful or not governments intention was to clarify the law and specifically make them legal. Naturally the antis opposed this. In a last ditch attempt to stop all shows the antis, with the assistance of a newly formed body of ‘legal experts’ set up by members of the RSPCA Council, managed to fiddle a Judicial Review at tax payer’s expense, thus saving the antis risking any of funds raised on this issue - Haynes v Stafford.

The Judicial Review was not brought against a reptile society, rather a bird society, the Act concerning ‘vertebrates’, not specific taxa. Unfortunately the latter society declined to involve other interested parties and instead fought the case itself. Unfortunately the antis were partially successful with the case and the judgment ruling on ‘markets’ was very unhelpful, however, others parts of the ruling were favourable. It was unfortunate that other interested parties were not involved in this case as I believe that we had a very strong case. For example, what is the difference between a pet shop on a high street and sports hall - are they not both ‘public places’? It is a complicated legal issue and there is little point in debating it as its water under the bridge, we have to look forward not back.

Under the Animal Welfare Act government has stated the intention to still clarify the law concerning Private Members Meetings and to specifically make them lawful, but not ‘commercial events’. However, we are someway off from this happening and it is not expected that the legislation concerning Pet Vending and Pet Fairs will come into force until the end of 2008. Until then the old 1951 Act remains in force, so at the moment shows organised for the benefit of ‘recognised’ clubs and societies, such as the IHS etc, can go ahead unaffected, although commercial events are clearly illegal.

There is still a long way to go before this matter gets resolved, not least of which is setting definitions of what is a ‘Private Members Meeting’ or ‘Commercial Event’ or what constitutes a ‘Recognised Club or Society’. Clearly it is in our best interests to act as responsibly as possible and not give our opponents opportunity to make mischief. However, while the future is looking positive there are some difficulties on the horizon. As you will be aware there has been a change of leadership in the government and we now have new Ministers if charge of the Animal Welfare Act and new Minister in charge of DEFRA, the government department in overall responsibility for the Act. Hillary Benn is the new Minister responsible for DEFRA and his father, Tony Benn, is patron to Animal Aid. I for one find this association a little uncomfortable!

Chris Newman
Chairman Federation of British Herpetologists
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Old 18-08-2007, 05:43 PM
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Hello Chris, good helpful post
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Old 18-08-2007, 06:27 PM
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Agreed, thanks for the post... its good to know there still appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
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Old 18-08-2007, 10:15 PM
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Thanks for the info Chris, its very helpfull in getting to understand it all.
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Old 19-08-2007, 12:16 AM
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Thanks for this Chris.
Please could you keep us up to date with whats happening regards the private members meetings, as I think we should all be looking into this a bit more, just to make sure we all stay on the good side of the law and not give them any more reason to slate the herp community!
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Old 19-08-2007, 12:21 AM
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if anyone knows the laws regarding herps then Chris will
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Old 19-08-2007, 12:26 AM
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think this needs to be sticky.. thanks chris



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Old 19-08-2007, 12:32 AM
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Hmmmmm very interesting,
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Old 19-08-2007, 01:00 AM
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good read.
to me though i would read that and think that as it stands now you, if you had a pet shop for instance, could hire a second venue for a day due to expecting heavy custom for instance, hire out a hall, have other sellers come in on a fee or commision basis and go ahead under the name, license and everything else of the pet shop and not have any troubles.. especially if the organiser had a pet shop in the same district in which the show/meeting was to be held.

hope everything gets resolved soon.
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Old 19-08-2007, 11:16 AM
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A Pet Shop Licence (PSL) is specific to the area licensed, i.e. the shop or your home. It would not cover you even 50 yards down the road. It is illegal for someone that holds a PSL to trade in an area, be that next door or other end of the country that is not covered by a licensed. Until the Judicial Review many Local Authorities would issue temporary PSL for the day, this covered any trader licensed elsewhere, unfortunately this is now deemed illegal.
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