A Public Inquiry – what is it and what to expect?

Recently the Upper Tribunal categorically re-affirmed that an appeal to themselves is not a second time around re-run of a public inquiry. But what is a public inquiry before the Traffic Commissioner and what should one expect?

Firstly, unless there is some specific legal reason, a public inquiry is open to anyone to attend. The Traffic Commissioner has an obligation to publish details of any applications for new operator licences or applications to vary any existing licences and the date on which the Traffic Commissioner proposes to hold a public inquiry to consider those applications. The Traffic Commissioner also has an obligation to publish the date on which he proposes to hold any other inquiry, where he will be considering taking action against the licence, which could involve revoking the operator’s licence.

Although the inquiry will be held in public, parts that deal with financial circumstances or commercially sensitive information can be held in private, with only the Traffic Commissioner, his clerk , the operator and his solicitor present. If there are other circumstances that you feel should be heard only in private, it is for the operator to make a case to the Traffic Commissioner to persuade him to hear those issues in private. The Traffic Commissioner can though admit to a private hearing anyone who he considers has an appropriate interest.

Anyone can attend an inquiry but there are certain rules about who can appear, ie speak at an inquiry. These include the licence holder and the transport manager and also, if the public inquiry is dealing with a new application, anyone who has made a valid representation regarding the application. This could include owners and occupiers of neighbouring premises. All those who have a right to appear have the right to give evidence to the Traffic Commissioner, call witnesses and cross examine witnesses. However, the Traffic Commissioner has control of the proceeding and may refuse to permit any evidence or cross examination which he considers is irrelevant, repetitious or vexatious. The Traffic Commissioner will not allow a public inquiry to become a platform for settling old scores or unsubstantiated attacks upon VOSA or other witnesses.

Attendance at a public inquiry is not a trivial matter. The Traffic Commissioner has control of the procedure that the inquiry will take. A lot is a stake at a public inquiry, not only the outcome, which could ultimately be the removal of the operator’s licence, but also information may come into the public domain, which with hindsight, you had wished had remained private. If you would like to discuss having professional help with you at the inquiry, please contact me on 01756 790631.

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