A test case will be heard in the High Court to decide whether taking donated goods left outside a charity shop counts as theft under the law.
The case will be heard at the request of the defence counsel for an Essex man, Robert Ricketts, who was charged with theft after allegedly taking charity bags from outside British Heart Foundation and Oxfam shops in Brentwood last summer. His lawyers argue that the bags did not legally belong to anyone, so taking them did not count as theft.
The trial judge agreed at the end of April that the prosecution should be postponed until the High Court could hear a test case - known as a criminal judicial review - to decide the issue. No date has yet been set for the case to be heard.
David Moir, head of policy and public affairs at the Association of Charity Shops, agreed that the law on ownership of donations left outside charity shops was a grey area.
He said he looked forward to seeing it clarified.
"Charity shops always ask the public not to leave bags outside shops, not least because they might be interfered with," he said. "It is always better to donate directly during opening hours."