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Trafford Metropolitan Magistrates' Court

Rapa Ltd. v. Trafford Borough Council
United Kingdom: England & Wales
Case Details
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Section 2 of the Pet Animals Act 1951 states that a person shall be guilty of an offence if he "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".

Small transparent cubes containing water and live fish were sold as novelty items, known as 'aquababies', from a barrow in a thoroughfare of a large indoor shopping mall. The manufacturers' instructions included that the fish should be fed a small pinch of food every one or two days through a tiny hole in the top of the cube, via the tip of a wet toothpick. The borough council refused to reissue a pet shop license for the barrow on the ground that the selling of animals as pets in these circumstances was prohibited by section 2. The licensee appealed to the magistrates' court.

The Court dismissed the appeal and held that the thoroughfare of the shopping mall was a public place for the purposes of the Pet Animals Act 1951 and that the selling of live fish in these circumstances would therefore involve the carrying on of a business of selling pets in a public place contrary to section 2 of the 1951 Act.

Opinion of the Court:

We have been asked to consider the meaning of a public place within the meaning of the Pet Animals Act 1951 and specifically whether the Trafford Centre is a public place or a place to which Section 1 of the Act can apply.

The Trafford Centre is a large shopping centre containing thoroughfares, shops, eating places, etc. The public have free access to the centre during its extensive opening hours under a private contractual right. Staff can exercise discretion as to entry or removal of members of the public.

The "Aquababies" are sold from free-standing large moveable structures designed to look and operate like a street barrow placed in one of the thoroughfares in the centre. At all times where the animals are sold the public have free and ready access to the stall. The Pet Animals Act provides no specific definition as to public place which limits or modifies its meaning.

We are therefore being asked to give the words their ordinary meaning in accordance with the principle in Brutus and Cozens. In doing so we have considered the mischief the Act is designed to address, the fact that Section 1 positively licenses premises that need not be private dwellings, and the exceptions in Section 2. In all these circumstances we find that the Trafford Centre is a public place within the ordinary common sense meaning.

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