Covid-19 rules could jeopardise justice

HMRC

New rules for operators appearing at Public Inquiries in light of Covid-19 could jeopardise fair hearings and may result in a rise in the number of appeals, according to solicitors.

The senior traffic commissioner has produced a guidance document explaining the rules around attendance and preparation for anyone appearing at a PI as lockdown restrictions are eased.

According to Backhouse Jones lawyer Mark Davies, it includes a request that paperwork is lodged with the TC at least seven days before a hearing; the inclusion of limits on the number of people who can attend PIs and a ban on the use of consultation rooms prior to a hearing.

Davies said: “If you’re having to produce documents a week in advance that can significantly reduce the amount of time you have to prepare.

“The other issue is the scale of what they want you to produce. The standard position is that they want six months of maintenance records for your full fleet.

“It’s a huge undertaking.”

Davies said there was also lack of clarity over the number of people allowed into a PI.

He said Backhouse Jones was aware that in Leeds it was limited to five, but it was not clear whether this included the TC and the clerk as well.

He added that he was sure the TCs would listen to the concerns: “For me, one of the biggest issues with the guidance notes is that there’s no capacity in any traffic area office to allow you in an hour before the start with a client in a consultation room,” he said.

“It’s really, really important that we can.”

A spokesman for the office of the traffic commissioners (OTC) said the health and safety of PI attendees, staff and commissioners remains its priority:

“Anyone called to a PI receives prior notice, weeks in advance of the hearing,” he said.

“OTC continues to ensure that parties are provided with copies of the evidence and to receive documents in a way which seeks to protect the health and safety of all concerned.”

The spokesman added: “What we have seen in the first fortnight of hearings is not only a willingness by most lawyers to comply with the timetable, but in many cases them sending timely written representations, which assists the tribunal and thereby benefits their clients.”

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