It is becoming more common for operators to receive a letter inviting them to a preliminary hearing before the Traffic Commissioner. What are these and how important are they?
A preliminary hearing is called, either if the Traffic Commissioner has concerns about a licence and wishes to determine whether or not those concerns are so serious as to warrant the matter being listed for a public inquiry, or the matters are so serious that a public inquiry is inevitable but that it would help for the Traffic Commissioner and the operator to crystallise what are the important and salient issues before the main public inquiry takes place. What they are not is just a friendly chat. As one Deputy Traffic Commissioner is reported as saying that at a preliminary hearing he was “no less vigorous in examining the root cause of non-compliance”.
Preliminary hearings are not published and as such are heard in private. Neither are the decisions published. However, this doesn’t mean that they should not be treated with due concern and sufficient time and resources spent in preparing for the hearing. The outcome of the preliminary hearing is whether or not to hear the full case at a public inquiry, at which regulatory action can include orders for suspension, curtailment or revocation of the licence. It is therefore in the operator’s best interest to put forward as good a case as possible at the preliminary hearing in the hope of avoiding a full public inquiry. It is therefore important that the operator is properly prepared for the hearing and puts forward his case in the best possible way.
With the Traffic Commissioners having limited resources, preliminary hearings are becoming more common, so that resources can be targeted at the non compliant operators who pose a risk to public safety. If you have been asked to attend a preliminary hearing and would like help with preparation and/or for me to attend with you at the hearing, then please contact me on 01756 790631.