A guide to attending public inquiries
What is a public inquiry?
Operators of heavy goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles are normally required to obtain an operator’s licence and obey the undertakings attached to that licence. The licence system is overseen by the traffic commissioner for the relevant traffic area. If any concerns arise during the application for, or use of a licence, the traffic commissioner may call the operator to attend a public inquiry.
Why have I been called to attend a public inquiry?
A public inquiry may be called for a number of reasons, for example maintenance shortcomings, issues over drivers’ hours regulations, issues over financial standing, questions over repute and criminal prosecutions.
Being called to attend a public inquiry has serious implications for operators – the refusal to grant a licence, or the decision to revoke a licence will be fatal to most operators. Therefore the importance of seeking specialist advice and assistance cannot be overstated.
What will the traffic commissioner want to discuss?
This will normally depend on the issues which have led to the public inquiry. For example if the issue is financial standing, the inquiry will focus on your bank accounts, overdrafts or guarantees to determine whether you have access to sufficient funds to manage your fleet. If the issue is maintenance the Inquiry will focus on maintenance and testing records, systems, drivers' checks and auditing.
However, the public inquiry will not be limited in its scope and the traffic commissioner can investigate your operation in any way they wish. Therefore it is vital that you are fully and properly prepared before you attend.
What will be the outcome?
At public inquiries the traffic commissioner will consider whether to grant or refuse applications for operator’s licences and whether to take regulatory action against licences. Regulatory action may include formal warnings, curtailment, suspension or revocation of a licence.
During 2014-2015, 859 public inquiries were held to consider regulatory action against goods vehicle operators: 259 licences were revoked, 191 were curtailed and 123 were suspended*.
A further 252 public inquiries considered action against bus and coach operators: 97 licences were revoked, 31 were curtailed and 23 were suspended.
What should I do now?
The most important fact to bear in mind is that you will be judged on the state of affairs on the date of the public inquiry. It is vital that the valuable time between receiving your calling in letter and attending the public inquiry is used effectively.
Any issues or shortcomings in your operation need to be quickly identified and rectified. Representation from a specialist solicitor and transport consultant will help you identify what needs to be done in order to maximise your chances of a positive outcome.
If you have been called to attend a public inquiry our solicitors will be happy to assist.
*Traffic commissioners’ annual reports 2014 - 2015