As we begin to ease our way out of the COVID-19 restrictions, you may have noted in the Senior Traffic Commissioner’s press announcements recently an intention to resume face to face Public Inquiries.
During the lockdown period, the Traffic Commissioners have undertaken a small number of Virtual Public Inquiries, but what should we expect if you are called to an in-person hearing?
From the call up letters that we have so far seen, it would appear that the Traffic Commissioners are imposing a number of directions for an operator to comply with prior to the Public Inquiry hearing. Whether or not there is a power to impose such directions is probably an argument to be had in due course, however assuming that you wish to comply, what sort of things should you be expected to undertake.
For anyone who has attended a Public Inquiry previously, you will be aware that you would usually attend with your maintenance documentation, evidence of drivers’ hours systems and any other evidence that you wish to put forward. The clerk would come to see you an hour or so before the inquiry and take the documentation away with them for the Commissioner to review.
What we are expecting going forward is for an operator who is called to Public Inquiry to be required to submit the records in advance of the hearing (usually by post) so that (we assume) those records can be quarantined prior to the Commissioner and his/her staff handling them. At present we are unsure when you will be expected to take those records back with you (you may need to risk assess whether it is appropriate to take them away at the end of the hearing on the basis the Commissioner has been handling them) and also how the Commissioner may intend to put documents to you during the inquiry if he/she is asking for specific comments on a particular document.
From a practical angle, if you are sending documents to the Commissioner, we would suggest you retain copies for use at the inquiry (and as part of your system) and if the Commissioner has asked for all your vehicle records, it might be open for you to ask them to narrow this request down to a handful of vehicle files so as not to overburden you or their office. The Commissioner will expect the records to be organised and legible.