All traffic commissioner public inquiries have been postponed until further notice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesman for the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC) said face-to-face hearings were all now postponed, with new hearing dates to be notified in due course: “Traffic commissioners have to ensure that hearings are fair and that parties have time to take advice,” he said.
“The present circumstances would make it difficult for operators to prepare for public inquiries by gathering physical evidence, meetings with their lawyers or calling additional witnesses, potentially denying them the fairness and time required. Taken together with concerns around the safety of OTC staff, the operators and the TCs themselves, this meant that tribunal hearings were no longer practicable.”
The spokesman added: “Like all responsible businesses and citizens, we will seek to follow government advice before starting to hold public hearings again. The position will be kept under review by the traffic commissioners.”
It is understood that the use of conferencing software has previously been trialled for a TC hearing. The OTC said TCs were looking at what lessons could be learned from that experience but it was unlikely to offer a solution for the majority of hearings, which are often factually complex to hear remotely.
Asked if the TCs would be making decisions based on paperwork only, the spokesman said the majority of compliance decisions are already made on this basis: “We have encouraged applicants and operators to use digital services and electronic communications so that relevant information can be put before a traffic commissioner,” he said.
“Even where an operator has been called to a hearing, the commissioner might make case management directions to be complied with during the intervening period on the basis of paperwork received. The operator would then be notified of the matters of concern.”