What Happens at Public Inquiry?
The combination of words ‘Public Inquiry’ and ‘Traffic Commissioner’ are sure to send a shiver of dread down the spine of every Road Haulage or Public Transport Operator, particularly if they have been called to their regional Commissioner’s office on account of their operation. But what does a Public Inquiry entail? Are the Commissioner’s soulless company destroyers – or do they want to see the Operator back on the road? Lets take a look…
According to the ‘Guide to Public Inquiries’
A public inquiry is a formal hearing held by a traffic commissioner. There are three main types of public inquiry – those held to determine licence applications; reviews of operating centres (for goods operator licences only); and those held for regulatory reasons.
Primarily, most Public Inquiries deal with regulatory issues, this could include issues with Drivers’ Hours Offences, Vehicle Roadworthiness or the Good Repute of the Operator or Transport Manager. A letter will be sent to the Operator, calling them to a Public Inquiry in their traffic area (for example in the West Midlands they will be called to Edgbaston, or in Wales it could be Caernarfon) underlining the reasons why they are called up and asking a for confirmation of who will be in attendance.
It is likely that the ‘Operator’ will be required to attend, this could be a director or sole trader/partner but also the Transport Manager and any representation they may wish to join them.
The Public Inquiry should be seen as an opportunity for the operator to present a case to the Traffic Commissioner (Pictured above) that even though they may, or may not, have done wrong, they can be capable compliant Operator. It is absolutely vital for any company being called to Public Inquiry to be pro-active in addressing the issues that have led to their call-up. For example, if Drivers’ Hours regulations have been broken, they it may be sensible to dismiss drivers who are guilty of breaking the rules, or outsource tachograph analysis to another company.
The Inquiry itself is not dissimilar to appearing in a court, it is open to the public, the Commissioner leads proceedings from the front of the room whilst the clerk of the court records the content of the Inquiry at the front. Operators are asked to present their case, which will include justifying any historical issues and presenting policies and procedures that they have implemented to alleviate further risk. The Traffic Commissioner will then take the information given to make their decision on the future of the Operator Licence. It is likely that the Traffic Commissioner will wish to question the Operator, as well as any representation they may have.
Commissioners have a few options when deciding on the future of an Operator Licence:
1. They can decide that the Operator Licence will be allowed to continue (but possibly add new conditions such as the requirement for quarterly brake tests)
2. They can curtail a licence, which means that the operator will have to reduce the amount of vehicles they are operating.
3. They can suspend the licence, for a specified period of time.
4. They can revoke the licence in its entirety.
While making their decision, the Commissioner will take into account any positive changes that the Operator has made and look upon this favourably. However, if the Operator has failed to make any changes then this will negatively impact the Commissioner’s decision. It may be that the Traffic Commissioner takes into account the importance of the business on the community, for example, will a revocation lead to mass redundancies? In our experience, we have found the Traffic Commissioners to be reasonable people who understand that sometimes things do indeed do go wrong. What they dislike, are Operators who clearly try to mislead enforcement agencies through falsification of records and false statements.
What should you do if you are called up then? Well the first step would be to consult with an experienced representative, either a Transport Consultant or Solicitor, about the best way to deal with the procedure. Then it is important to address any issues that have arisen, I have already mentioned that Traffic Commissioners look more favourably upon pro-active Operators. You will then need to compile a vast stockpile of relevant information and either send it to the Traffic Commissioner or take it up on the day.
For more information on dealing with the authorities, Public Inquiries or representation please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01432345556