As previously outlined, Operators Licences for HGV's or PSV's are issued by the Traffic Commissioner for the respective area in which the Operating Centre is located. Much of the initial paperwork is now dealt with centrally, but it is the Traffic Commissioner him/herself that has the final say.
There are eight Traffic Commission areas and each of the Commissioners is appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport and has responsibility for:-
- The licensing of the operators of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and of buses and coaches (Public Service Vehicles or PSVs).
- The registration of local bus services.
- Granting vocational licences and taking action against drivers of HGVs and PSVs.
The Traffic Commissioner for Scotland is also responsible for dealing with both appeals against decisions by Scottish local authorities on taxi fares and with appeals against charging and removing improperly parked vehicles in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Commissioners are independent in their licensing functions. When they consider it appropriate such as when there are objections to an Operating Centre or there is a need for disciplinary action against a licence holder, a Traffic Commissioner can hold a Public Inquiry (PI).
Public Inquiries are mostly held at the offices of the Traffic Commissioner, but may be held at other public buildings or even hotels closer to the Operating Centre if it is more convenient for potential witnesses.
What is a Public Inquiry?
A Public Inquiry (PI) is the method used by a Traffic Commissioner to hear either allegations against an operator who has not performed in accordance with undertakings given when the licence was granted, or where there has been a relevant conviction, or where an Operating Centre is objected to. This list is not meant to be exhaustive as a Traffic Commissioner may call a PI for a variety of reasons.
The purpose of the PI is to hear evidence from either complainants, VOSA or other interested parties, and the Operator, in order that the Traffic Commissioner can come to a fair and reasoned view as to a course of action, such as granting or refusing a licence.
A PI is basically a formal hearing very much like that of a Magistrates Court although the Traffic Commissioner sits alone and without a clerk for advice. The hearings are recorded and usually take the form of:-
- Introduction by the Clerk as to the matter to be considered
- Introduction by the Traffic Commissioner concerning his remit and how it is intended that the PI should proceed
- Invitation by the Traffic Commissioner to hear any representation concerning the proposed process or initial points of law
- Evidence of the reason for the PI is given
- Witnesses or objectors - if any - are called
- The operator has a chance to ask questions of the witnesses/objectors
- Once all witnesses/objectors have been heard the operator can then give his own evidence and call his own witnesses
- Witnesses/objectors can cross examine the operator and his/her witnesses
- The traffic Commissioner may also ask questions
- Traffic Commissioner reaches conclusion
The above is a very basic outline of what usually occurs, but it follows a general pattern. The Rules of Evidence are applied less formally
than in other tribunals, but this should not be considered an indication that there are no rules - a formal conduct is required.
Dependant on the purpose of the PI, the Traffic Commissioner will make his decision and give reasons for doing so. The Traffic Commissioner should always have regard to Human Rights issues. If the issue is in respect of a licence application then the application may be refused or granted. If granted the Traffic Commissioner can do so with restrictions which may include a reduction in the number of vehicles originally requested.
The Traffic Commissioner can require the payment of a fine and can also make an order that results in a financial penalty. For a wrong doing the Traffic Commissioner may order:-
- Revocation (the licence is taken away and the company can no longer trade)
- Suspension (the licence is suspended and the company cannot trade during that period)
- Curtailment (the number of vehicles on the licence is reduced)
- Formal warning
When preparing for a Public Inquiry or even considering if there is any basis for a defence, it is often useful to review previous cases. The Transport tribunal publish a 'Decisions and Digest' of current cases which can either be read or downloaded from:-
If the Traffic Commissioner finds against the Operator or the Operator feels that he has been dealt with harshly or in an unfair fashion, then there is a procedure for appeal to the Transport Tribunal. The procedure is complex and should normally only be undertaken with the guidance of a solicitor or experienced transport consultant. However a short guide to operators who wish to appeal can be found at:-
Many Public Inquiries are straightforward but some may involve complex issues of law or technical matters. Sometimes it is necessary to cross examine witnesses and members of the public and this needs to be done on a dispassionate and clinical manner to prevent the PI becoming an argument, where important issues may become lost. It is best to get specialist advice from a solicitor or transport consultant who specialises in Public Inquiries and these should be engaged as soon as it is known that a PI may be taking place. Preparation is everything.
If you require further information, please contact either a Transport Consultant, or the services of a specialist transport solicitor.