A hearing before the Traffic Commissioner, known as a Public Inquiry, can have significant consequences for a road transport business. If called to a Public Inquiry, you should seek legal advice immediately.
Woodfines is one of the few firms of road transport solicitors with expertise in this type of advocacy work. We can help you to achieve a positive outcome – call us on 01223 411421 (Cambridge) or 01908 202150 (Milton Keynes).
What is a Public Inquiry?
If you wish to be a goods or passenger road transport operator and apply for an operator’s licence (or you already hold a licence and wish to change it), the Traffic Commissioner may call a Public Inquiry to consider whether to grant the application. The Traffic Commissioner will grant or refuse the application, or possibly grant the licence with conditions or restrictions.
A Public Inquiry may also sometimes be held because there has been an objection to an operating centre, the place where vehicles will be parked when not in use.
If you already hold an operator’s licence, the Traffic Commissioner can call a hearing if you have not been complying with the terms of the licence.
A poor annual test rate, the imposition of roadside prohibitions, fixed penalties, convictions, overloading, drivers’ hours or tachograph offences, or poor maintenance systems are just some of the reasons for a hearing to be convened.
What happens at a Public Inquiry?
The Traffic Commissioner will wish to be satisfied that the operator can be trusted to comply with the terms of their licence going forward in terms of future conduct.
He or she must also decide whether to take any action against the licence and, if it is a Standard National or International one, against the nominated transport manager(s) too. Evidence will be heard, which may include the involvement of the Driver & Vehicle Services Agency (DVSA).
A public inquiry is potentially very serious – the power of a Traffic Commissioner might be said to be greater than a criminal court because he or she can:
- Revoke the operator’s licence – this may mean the end of the business if it depends on operating lorries or passenger vehicles. Also, if the licence is revoked a director disqualification can also be imposed
- Suspend the operator’s licence – meaning that the licence cannot be used for a specific period of time and nor can the vehicles be used by another operator. This can have a huge financial impact on a business
- Curtail the operator’s licence – the licence may be reduced in size either permanently or for a fixed period of time. Again, this may have huge consequences for the business.
The Traffic Commissioner will also want to be sure that any nominated transport manager remains of good repute and that they are of professional competence. He or she can remove the ability to be a transport manager on any EU operator’s licence. In addition, the operator can be required to give undertakings, which are promises that certain things will take place.
It is vital that operators think carefully about being represented at a Public Inquiry. The procedures and case law in this niche area are particular to this type of transport law.
We are very familiar with the approach you need to take to Public Inquiry hearings and how to conduct yourself at them. For help and advice, please contact a member of our Road Transport team.
Traffic Commissioners have now introduced a separate type of hearing known as a ‘preliminary hearing’. These are relatively new – the Traffic Commissioner decides whether there is a need for the case to proceed to a Public Inquiry. Again, such hearings need to be fully prepared for and taken very seriously so as to avoid a Public Inquiry. We attend such hearings frequently and can guide you through this process.
Road transport lawyers – at your service nationwide
Public Inquiries are held in each Traffic Area and we are able to travel to any location to assist you.
Our Cambridge office is situated a very short distance from the Office of the Traffic Commissioner for the East of England, meaning that we are able to provide a highly convenient service for our clients.
For further information and advice on public inquiries or any area of road transport law, please contact a member of our Road Transport team.