I’ve had a Public Inquiry call up letter, do I need a specialist road transport solicitor?
The level of representation a goods vehicle or passenger carrying vehicle operator requires when a Public Inquiry call up letter arrives.
GV – S26 – Consideration of disciplinary action under Section 26
GV – S27 – Consideration of disciplinary action under Section 27
GV – S28 – Consideration of disciplinary action under Section 28
GV – Sch.3 – Consideration of Transport Managers Repute under Schedule 3
Whether you are a goods vehicle or passenger carrying vehicle operator your operator’s licence is a valuable asset and needs to be protected against the possibility of curtailment, suspension or revocation, which are enforcement powers available to Traffic Commissioners. If you have read your ‘call up’ letter which was sent to you from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner based in Leeds, you will probably already be aware of the enforcement action that can be taken against your licence and also aware that goods vehicle licensing starts to look complicated and troublesome as soon as the prospect of disciplinary action raises its head.
We have acted on behalf of large, medium and small sized companies, partnerships, sole trades and owner drivers and we have appeared on behalf of clients at hearings all over the UK. In particular we have appeared on behalf of operators at all the principal hearing venues of the Traffic Commissioners – Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Leeds and Warrington appearing before all the Traffic Commissioners and most of the Deputy Traffic Commissioners covering disciplinary hearings, preliminary hearings and driver conduct hearings as well as appeals before the Upper Tribunal Administrative Appeals Chamber.
Whether you are a large, medium or small operation the issues are usually very similar. One of the obvious benefits of using a specialist transport solicitor is the breadth and depth of our experience. We have seen it all before, we can predict what the real issues are going to be and we can ensure that these issues are dealt with so that the operator’s case is presented in the best possible light. We can also help to unscramble the issues and put the operator on the right path. We know who the Traffic Commissioners are. They are used to us appearing before them and we are used to appearing before them. One of the key benefits of engaging a specialist firm such as ours is that we can foresee and predict the elephant traps and the pitfalls so you do not walk straight into them.
Please therefore ensure that you are either equipped to handle the inquiry yourself (we genuinely very much doubt this unless you have had experience of such Inquiries (which would not necessary assist you in your next Inquiry) or that your representative is best placed to represent you. We doubt that the solicitor you normally use for your commercial transactional work or in other areas of commerce such as litigation or your transport consultant are necessarily the right people to represent you. Does your usual Solicitor have the experience from having handled hundreds of Public Inquiries over the years? Have the issues that have arisen been on your transport consultant’s watch or is your transport consultant more likely to be a witness of fact as opposed to your advocate on the day? Has a conflict of interest arisen between you and your transport consultant? You genuinely do need to watch out for such risks because they can have an important bearing on the outcome of the Public Inquiry. We are experienced transport solicitors and certainly well able to give you the independent advice and support you need to ensure you obtain the best possible outcome at the Public Inquiry before the Traffic Commissioner. We will readily liaise with you, your transport consultant and your everyday Solicitor to achieve the best outcome for you.
We are a professional organisation with years of experience and we always put our client’s interests first and foremost and as our priority. Don’t take our word for it, read our website pages where you will find testimonials from many of our satisfied HGV and PCV operator clients.
Think carefully before you appoint your legal adviser/ representative. In the case of transport consultants, they are not solicitors or barristers and submissions from them will not carry as much weight as in the case of solicitors or barristers. This is due to the fact that solicitors and barristers are regulated professionals and transport consultants are not.
Hugh Carlisle QC, President of the Transport Tribunal echoed such observations in Appeal 2006/252 (an appeal by Alec Hayden T/a Trans Consult) when he quoted observations made in the case of 2005/385 K Grant:
“The effect of the rule is that the Tribunal may refuse to hear representatives other than counsel or solicitors: this distinction is based on the fact that unlike that of other representatives the conduct of counsel and solicitors is regulated by the Bar Council and the Law Society respectively. For this reason submissions from counsel and solicitors carry more weight than those from other representatives.”
· Over 35% of Goods Vehicle operators attending Public inquiry had licences revoked.
· Over 48% of Goods Vehicle operators attending Public Inquiry had licences revoked or suspended.
This makes stark reading for those goods vehicle operators who think it is not worth investing in proper representation and preparation for their Public Inquiry. All too often we hear goods vehicle operators tell us that they’ll “go on their own and see what happens.” This is a risky attitude to have and one wonders whether these are the operators who end up in the 48% of operators who attend Public Inquiry and have their licences revoked or suspended. This reminds us of the good old days (perhaps the bad old days) when the MOT was used as a means of finding out what was wrong with the goods vehicle or trailer! Not something we would ever recommend!
It is important that goods vehicle operators prepare thoroughly for Public Inquiry and, not only make sure they take all the relevant evidence with them on the day, but make sure that evidence is presented properly to the Traffic Commissioner. It is an unfamiliar situation for most people and even the most confident and articulate of goods vehicle operators can become tongue-tied under the stresses of a Public Inquiry.
Therefore goods vehicle operators should carefully consider the gamble they may be taking by attending a Public Inquiry on their own without legal representation. An Goods Vehicle Operator should ask themselves:
- How important is my operators licence to my business?
- Could my business function without an operators licence?
What may appear an unnecessary cost to a goods vehicle operator called to Public Inquiry is a cost that rather pales into insignificance when set against the financial cost of an unsatisfactory outcome at Public Inquiry such as a revocation, suspension or curtailment of the Operators Licence.
When you instruct us we will give your transport operation a through legal audit with a view to helping you identify the root cause of the issues that have led to the Public Inquiry. We will be discrete and diplomatic and we will engineer commonsense and effective solutions. We will check your maintenance records and driver defect sheets. We will point out any shortcomings and alert you to issues. We will go through the call up letters with a fine toothcombe to ensure nothing is overlooked. We will quickly get to the heart of the matter to avoid you getting bogged down in side issues to help you focus on what really matters and what needs to be done to get your operation back into compliance and to deal with the real issues at large. We are not interested in selling you aftermarket services (which is frankly an unwelcome distraction for when faced with a disciplinary public inquiry) and all we are interested in is getting you through the process as painlessly as possible. The advice we give you can usually be implemented with the minimum of fuss or cost. Need contracts of employment and a disciplinary procedure for your drivers – we can deliver this. Need driver handbooks – we can provide this. Need sensible commonsense advice – we pride ourselves in supplying this. Our advice is frank and pragmatic and we are extremely effective at identifying all the positives about your operation so that these can be balanced against all the negatives that have given rise to the Public Inquiry. At the end of the day the Traffic Commissioner will weigh all these matters up before making a decision as to whether or not it is necessary to take disciplinary action against your operator licence.