‘Judge cut corners,’ says DfT

By Jack Semple

DfT policy appears to be pointing two ways over the Keltruck test case on trade plates (Motor Transport  last week).

On the one hand, the DfT has launched the first stage in an appeal against its losing the case before a district judge in Leicestershire. It has instructed its solicitors in the case to seek a statement of case from the judge, which is normal practice when moving to an appeal.

But the solicitors, Fraser Brown, also appear to concede that the relevant law is a muddle and may have to be clarified by the government.

In a letter to Keltruck lawyers Ford & Warren, they state that: “It may be that the powers that be decide eventually that the appropriate way of resolving the problem is to amend the legislation to make it clear exactly who is, and who is not, entitled to operate under trade plates in the prevailing circumstances”.

As the judge in the case noted, the DfT gave an undertaking to clarify the law ten years ago but, regrettably, has done nothing since then to make that clarification. Instead, the trade would argue, it has chosen to bully and prosecute the industry using a high court decision which has been criticised and debated since it was made.

The DfT’s lawyers say that the judge “cut quite a few corners when coming to the conclusion that he did [in favour of Keltruck]. This is not to say that he got it wrong, merely that I think there are issues of law which should be debated at a higher level”.

The industry may feel that the debate at the high level should be within the DfT and with the industry, rather than through the courts, given the apparently admitted lack of clarity and the failure of the DfT to put that right over a decade.

Stephen Kirkbright, of Ford & Warren, tells Motor Transport: “I can only endorse the view of the district judge that this matter should have been clarified by legislation many years ago. Appealing the present decision will do nothing towards clarification.”

The case against Keltruck was brought after it used a tractive unit on trade plates to take a customer’s trailer to a VOSA site for annual test.

Andrew Bentley, MInst SMM
Head of Vehicle Contracts and Marketing