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Appealing Traffic Commissioner Decisions

There is a right of appeal against decisions made by a Traffic Commissioner. Appeals are heard by a specialist appeal tribunal called the “Upper Tribunal” (it was previously called the Transport Tribunal).

The Upper Tribunal sits in London for appeals from cases in England: Cardiff for appeals brough by Welsh operators; Edinburgh for cases in Scotland and Belfast for Northern Ireland.  Appeals are heard by a panel of one appeal judge plus two panel members. At least one of the panel members comes from a background in transport and is there to bring practical knowledge of the transport industry to the tribunal’s decision making.

If you're not happy with a decision of a Traffic Commissioner then you should take legal advice as soon as possible from a specialist transport law solicitor.  Appeals are very complex and delicate matters and strict procedures are time limits apply.  

What decisions can be appealed ?

The Upper Tribunal can hear appeals against the following decisions of a Traffic Commissioner:

(a) Revocation, suspension or curtailment of an operator’s licence;

(b) Disqualification of an operator licence holder or director;

(c) Disqualification of a Transport Manager;

(d) Refusal to grant an operator’s licence;

(e) Conditions imposed on an operator’s licence or refusal to remove conditions;

(f) Certain decisions in relation to an operating centre;

(g) Financial penalties in the case of PSV operators.

Who can appeal ?

Depending on the facts of the case, the following may have the right to lodge an appeal :

(a) An operator licence holder;

(b) Director of a company holding an operator’s licence;

(c) A transport manager;

(d) Anyone disqualified from holding an operator’s licence;

(e) In certain circumstances, people who have objected to the grant of an application.

Is there a time limit ?

The time limit for putting in an appeal is 28 days from the date of the Traffic Commissioner’s decision (this is from the date of the decision, not the date you might have received the decision).

In certain limited circumstances, the Tribunal can accept an appeal, even though it was made out of time. The Tribunal will need to be satisfied about the reasons for late appeal.

The appeal process

An appeal form has to be filled in and submitted to the offices of the Upper Tribunal in London for each appellant.

The appeal form must include your grounds of appeal more about about grounds of appeal further down). It is often better to have a separate document setting out your grounds of appeal because space in the form itself is quite limited.

The grounds of appeal must be received by the Upper Tribunal Office within 28 days of the date of the Traffic Commissioner’s decision. You should also send a copy of the notice of appeal to the office of the Traffic Commissioner who made the decision you are appealing against.

Upon receiving the appeal forms, the Upper Tribunal office will allocate a case number and acknowledge receipt of the appeal. The Upper Tribunal office will then obtain all relevant documents from the Traffic Commissioner’s office and prepare an appeal bundle. The bundle will include a full transcript of the Public Inquiry as well as every other document in the Traffic Commissioner’s possession that is relevant. Appeal bundles can be very large and often amount to 500 pages or more.

A copy of the appeal bundle will be sent out to you a few weeks before the appeal hearing is to take place. You will also be notified of the date and time for the appeal hearing.

The appeal hearing

At the appeal hearing, it is customary (though not compulsory) to hand in beforehand what is called a “skeleton argument”. This document is essentially an outline of what your case is. If you instruct a solicitor or barrister, they will spend quite a lot of time perfecting the skeleton argument. It is a very important document.

The hearing itself will be heard by an appeal judge along with two other tribunal members. One of the non-judicial members will have some background in transport.

It is important to understand that an appeal hearing is not a re-hearing of the original case.

The appeal hearing is a review of all the evidence heard at the public inquiry. No new evidence can be considered, only the evidence that was at the public inquiry. The transcript is an important part of any appeal because it is a complete record of everything that was said at the public inquiry.

What are acceptable grounds of appeal ?

Valid grounds of appeal are quite limited. There is a high hurdle in being successful at an appeal.

It is not about persuading the Tribunal that the decision was wrong. You have to go beyond that an persuade them that there was something wrong with the process from which the traffic commissioner made the decision or that the decision was so wrong as to be unjustifiable.

It is not sufficient that you disagree with the Traffic Commissioner’s decision, even if the Tribunal themselves disagree with the Traffic Commissioner’s decision.

The legal test for a successful appeal is that by reason of fact or law, an appeal tribunal is compelled to reach a different view to the Traffic Commissioner.

What this means is that the Appeal Tribunal must not just disagree with the Traffic Commissioner’s decision but they must find that his decision was “plainly wrong” to the extent that the decision has to be set aside.

If the Traffic Commissioner has carefully considered all relevant facts and has conducted a fair public inquiry and his decision is supported by the facts and law, then the Appeal Tribunal will not set aside his decision, even if the Tribunal members themselves believe that the Traffic Commissioner reached the wrong conclusion.

Examples of what might be successful grounds for appeal are as follows:

(a) The Traffic Commissioner interpreted the law incorrectly or applied it incorrectly to the facts;

(b) The decision was plainly disproportionate;

(c) The Traffic Commissioner misunderstood some significant facts of the case;

(d) Some important facts were not properly considered by the Traffic Commissioner;

(e) The Traffic Commissioner’s explanation for the decision was insufficient to justify the conclusions;

(f) The Traffic Commissioner was biased;

(g) The proceedings were in some way unfair, for example, you weren’t able to say all that you wanted to say or something arose during the course of the Public Inquiry that you weren’t expecting and which meant you were unfairly caught unprepared.

Can the decision be put on hold while the appeal is heard ?

When the Traffic Commissioner makes a decision, that decision will either come into effect immediately or at some specified date into the future.

For example, with a revocation decision, it is customary to allow somewhere between 4-6 weeks (it could be more, it could be less) between the date of the decision and the date on which the revocation comes into effect. The problem is that an appeal hearing typically takes 4-5 months to be dealt with.

Once a revocation has taken effect, the business is normally by that stage lost forever and the appeal is therefore, in a practical sense, meaningless.

To get round this problem, there is a process that allows an operator to apply to the Traffic Commissioner for the decision to be “stayed” until the appeal hearing has taken place. This effectively means that the Traffic Commissioner’s decision is put on hold to allow the appeal hearing to take place first.

An application has to be made to the Traffic Commissioner who made the decision for the stay. An application to stay has to meet certain criteria before the Traffic Commissioner will grant it.

If the Traffic Commissioner refuses to grant a stay, then you have a right to apply to the Upper Tribunal direct for the Upper Tribunal judge to grant a stay.

Applications for a stay are made on paper. There is no hearing. Therefore, it is important that a persuasive and well presented case is put forward in letter format to the Traffic Commissioner and/or the Upper Tribunal to ensure that a stay is granted.

Stays are discretionary and are not always granted.

Appealing higher if your appeal is unsuccessful

It is only on very narrow grounds that a further appeal can be made if you disagree with the decision of the Upper Tribunal. A further appeal is to the Court of Appeal. The grounds for appealing to the Court of Appeal must include that there has been an error of law by the Upper Tribunal and/or a further appeal would include a matter of public interest.

It is very difficult to make further appeal after the Upper Tribunal and that is reflected in the fact that there have only been a handful or so of commercial transport related cases that have gone to the Court of Appeal in the last 10 years.

Contact us About Your Transport Law Problems

Please get in touch with us without charge or obligation.

Contact us today and we'll give you an idea about how we might be able to help you. We will be very glad to talk through your situation and review your papers free of charge to help you to make an informed decision about what to do.

You can call us any time on 0800 1777 522 or alternatively you can email us or make a Free Online Enquiry


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Latest Transport Law

Transport Law
We recently represented two companies who were both called to the same public inquiry. Although separate entities, the companies were closely connected because of having the same set of directors. One of the companies (the Operator) had years previously been issued with a restricted goods vehicle operator’s licence. The other company had recently applied for the same kind of licence (the Applicant).

Over the previous year, the directors had decided to progressively move most of the Operator’s business interests to its sister company the Applicant. Without understanding the potential consequences, and before being granted its operator’s licence, the Applicant began using the Operator’s heavy goods vehicle. The Operator company had not informed the Traffic Commissioner (TC) of its change in business arrangements and of the apparent change of entity (though the companies were actually wholly owned subsidiaries of another company – see below).

The Public Inquiry was convened because of changes at this business group and a fundamental misunderstanding of the operator’s licence regime, and that there had been what appeared to be a change of entity involving the companies.

The TC needed to be satisfied as to whether the companies were not unfit to hold an operator’s licence due to relevant activities and convictions, and about the events relating to a change in the circumstances of the licence holder. The Operator risked revocation of its licence. The Applicant was at risk of not having its licence granted.

In advance of the inquiry, and to start building their case, we obtained as much information as we could about the businesses and provided each company comprehensive legal advice. We examined the companies’ compliance systems and made recommendations about immediate and longer-term changes that needed to be implemented. On our recommendations, the companies invested time and resources into their maintenance and other systems

As a result of our preliminary work and advice, the companies were fully prepared for the public inquiry hearing. In particular, to answer questions and provide evidence about the apparent change of entity.

At the hearing we demonstrated that the companies were running professional and competent businesses. With specific reference to the issue of the apparent change of entity, the TC accepted that Section 3(4) of the Goods vehicle (licencing of operators) Act 1995 was relevant and that this was not a typical “change of entity” case – because of the companies being subsidiaries. We were able to persuade the TC that the issues that lead to the inquiry arose out of ignorance rather than an attempt to mislead or gain financial advantage

The TC granted the new licence to the Applicant with the Operator company voluntarily surrendering its licence. The directors were delighted with the outcome of the public inquiry hearing and that they managed to avoid the damaging consequences they feared.
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We were approached by a small business owner to represent them at the a public inquiry which had been called to consider their application for a new passenger vehicle operator’s licence.

The person applying for the licence had a long background of work in the transport industry as a driver but had never before operated his own transport business. One of the key issues was that the nominated transport manager was also nominated some other licences and the Traffic Commissioner was concerned whether this meant that the transport manager would be able to properly carry out their duties on so many licences at once. 

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The current system of regulating goods vehicle operations throughout Northern Ireland came into effect in 2012. The system for licensing goods vehicles and taking disciplinary action against licence holders is now largely in line with the system for the rest of the United Kingdom, though with some differences. There are about 5,980 goods vehicle operator licences issued in Northern Ireland.

The legislation is the same and the appeal process against decisions made at public inquiries is now one system covering the whole of the UK.

One key difference is that in Northern Ireland there are no Traffic Commissioners. The person in Northern Ireland who discharges similar functions to the Traffic Commissioners in Great Britain is the head of the Transport Regulation Unit (TRU), part of the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment. The current head of the TRU is Donna Knowles who has been in this position since 2014.

It is the Head of the TRU who ultimately decides who is fit to hold a goods vehicle operators licence in Northern Ireland. The Head of the TRU holds public inquiries to determine whether an operators licence should be granted and also to decide whether disciplinary action is needed against operator licence holders whose fitness has been brought into question.

There are roughly about 50 goods vehicle public inquiries in Northern Ireland each year. The public inquiry hearings are usually held at Causeway Exchange, 1-7 Bedford Street in Belfast.

The public inquiry hearing itself is a formal legal hearing. It looks and feels a little like a court hearing but the rules of procedure are less rigid and formal. The public inquiry hearing will involve oral and documentary evidence and at the end of the process the Head of the TRU will make a decision.

Currently, the public inquiry process in Northern Ireland relates only to goods vehicle licence holders, it does not involve passenger vehicle licences.

Outcomes of Goods Vehicle Public Inquiries in Belfast

The Heard of the TRU has wide ranging powers over operator licence holders. Where a public inquiry is convened to decide whether or not to grant a new licence, the licence could be granted or refused.

Where the public inquiry is to consider disciplinary action against an operator licence holder, the Head of the TRU has the power to revoke (ie terminate) an operators licence; to suspend it or reduce the number of vehicle operated under the licence. They have the power to add conditions to an operators licence and to disqualify people from being involved in holding an operators licence in future.

What to do if you've been called to a public inquiry in Eastbourne, London or the South East

First of all, recognise that any public inquiry called for any reason is a very serious thing. Secondly recognise that getting legal advice and having an experienced transport law solicitor on your side is at least half of the problem sorted.

A good transport law specialist solicitor will be able to get stuck into your case and do all sorts of important things to get you ready to face the public inquiry and come away with a good outcome.

We strongly recommend that you speak to us urgently if you've had a call to public inquiry. Nearly all of our clients (well over 90%) have a successful outcome at their public inquiries.

We handle public inquiries in Belfast as well all over the UK. We know how to prepare and present a successful case. We've been doing it for years and have helped hundreds of operators through what is always a very difficult and uncertain time.

Your chance of a successful outcome at your public inquiry increases dramatically if you have experienced and skilled legal representation. So choosing a good transport solicitor is of vital importance.

Contact Us About Your Public Inquiry

Please get in touch with us without charge or obligation. Ask to speak to Simon Newman about your public inquiry.

Simon will then give you an idea about how we can help you. He will be very glad to talk through your situation and review your papers free of charge to help you to make an informed decision about what to do.

You can call us any time on 0800 1777 522 or alternatively you can email on Simon.Newman@NALegal.co.uk