News and Publications

Who kept the dogs out? Victory for animal rescue charity whose approved importer status was wrongfully revoked

Posted: 20/12/2023

The commercial dispute resolution team at Penningtons Manches Cooper has successfully acted for an animal rescue charity in getting its approved importer status regranted after it was wrongfully revoked by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) amidst new border control regulations.

Background: bringing a dog into Great Britain

There are estimated to be over 1,000 separate organisations in England that rescue and rehome dogs, cats and other animals. Those which rehome animals in Great Britain from abroad have to follow a robust set of both domestic and retained EU regulations that govern their entry to Britain. For dogs, cats and ferrets, this primarily means having them microchipped, equipped with a pet passport, and vaccinated against rabies before they can enter the country. Protection from rabies is particularly important; the last case of rabies in an animal imported into the UK was in 1970, and today, several provisions are in place to stop it. 

Dogs which are brought into Great Britain from the EU for the purpose of selling them or finding them new owners must receive a valid rabies vaccine and must carry a health certificate signed by a vet. 

New measures: Eastern Europe

From 28 October 2022, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) introduced a set of special measures that tightened the requirements for animals arriving from Romania, Poland, Belarus or Ukraine. In summary, this requires an importing organisation to apply specifically for ‘approved importer status’ from DEFRA’s relevant division, APHA. Only with this importer status can an organisation conduct its import from Eastern Europe.

The dispute

The charity in question, which had its approved importer status revoked by APHA, helps thousands of animals to be rehomed in Great Britain from Romania, and uses the adoption fees to fund local community projects there, especially to help children’s learning. 

It was granted approved importer status after the introduction of the 2022 special measures but, in the summer of 2023, APHA wrongly concluded that the charity ought to have given two doses of the Canvac R rabies vaccine to a dog which was imported from Romania into Great Britain. 

The dog was quarantined for three weeks before it could be released to its owner, but APHA determined, notwithstanding that it had found this particular vaccine’s guidance unclear and ambiguous, that the charity had committed a ‘serious non-compliance’, and should have its approved importer status revoked for at least 12 months. 

Without approved importer status, the charity was in critical status and faced imminent closure. It made a request to the Environment Secretary to review APHA’s decision, but the decision was upheld. The charity therefore instructed Penningtons Manches Cooper to challenge the Environment Secretary’s decision. The commercial dispute resolution team commenced judicial review proceedings against the Environment Secretary, alleging that she had erred in law and had acted unlawfully.

Having seen the case put forward by the legal team on behalf of the charity, the Environment Secretary decided not to defend the claim and agreed to re-grant the charity’s approved importer status so that it could continue its mission.

Looking ahead

UK animal import regulations continue to exist in a complex state of part retained EU legislation, part domestic legislation, and part new provisions, such as the 2022 special measures. Both commercial and charitable organisations which import animals from other European countries should ensure they keep up to date with the latest regulations.

Penningtons Manches Cooper’s specialist regulatory lawyers are able to advise charities and similar organisations on this complex regime, including the proposed changes to the legality of breeding, selling and rehoming XL Bully dogs.

This article was co-written with Ryan Yao-Smith, trainee solicitor in the commercial dispute resolution team. 

Arrow GIFReturn to news headlines

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP