Transport Safety Standards Upheld in Millmans Coaches Case: Key Legal Principles Explored

Citation: [2023] UKUT 264 (AAC)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of “Millmans Coaches Limited (trading as Grey Cars) & Anor v Traffic Commissioner for the West of England” ([2023] UKUT 264 (AAC)) involves an appeal against the decision of the Traffic Commissioner, who revoked the public service vehicle (PSV) operator’s licence of Millmans Coaches Limited and disqualified the transport manager, Paul Mark Hamlyn White, due to maintenance failings. The case offers a robust examination of the legal principles surrounding the upholding of transport safety standards, the proportionality of regulatory decisions, and the concept of ‘good repute’ in the transport industry.

Key Facts

The Traffic Commissioner revoked Millmans Coaches Limited’s licence and disqualified the transport manager, highlighting failures in vehicle maintenance that resulted in multiple vehicle prohibitions. Notable incidents included vehicles with missing or damaged parts and a tyre over ten years old fitted to a steer axle. Unannounced maintenance investigations further confirmed severe shortcomings.

Despite the appellants’ attempts to remedy identified issues through staff changes and procedural improvements, further prohibitions were issued, questioning whether the company could achieve future compliance. The Traffic Commissioner found the transport manager to be grossly incompetent, lacking basic technical and mechanical understanding, raising concerns about their ability to ensure road safety.

Several key legal principles were pivotal in this case:

  1. Maintenance Failings - Under s.17 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 (“the 1981 Act”), licensees must keep vehicles fit and serviceable. Multiple prohibitions signaled serious maintenance lapses.

  2. Proportionality of Decision - When considering regulatory action, the “Priority Freight” and “Bryan Haulage” questions must be addressed, determining whether trust can be extended to the operator for future compliance and whether it is necessary to end business operations to protect public safety.

  3. Good Repute - The concept of ‘good repute’ is essential for transport managers under the 1981 Act. It encompasses not just past conduct but also competence and the ability to ensure compliance with safety standards.

  4. Reportable Incidents - Section 20 of the 1981 Act mandates reporting certain types of incidents to the DVSA, which the appellants failed to do.

  5. Statutory Document No. 10 - The Senior Traffic Commissioner’s Statutory Document No. 10 outlines the principles of decision-making and proportionality in regulatory actions.

Outcomes

The Upper Tribunal dismissed the appeal, agreeing with the Traffic Commissioner’s findings and decisions, which were based on substantial evidence of incompetency and recklessness jeopardizing public safety. The Tribunal emphasized the severity of the case, noting that the ongoing operation of the company posed a “clear and present danger.”

Conclusion

The Upper Tribunal’s decision reaffirms the high standards expected of PSV operators and transport managers in maintaining vehicle safety and roadworthiness. The case illustrates the severe consequences for operators who fail to meet these standards, emphasizing the importance of competence, proactive management, and adherence to legal obligations. The principles applied in this case confirm the necessity for rigorous enforcement of transport regulations to ensure public safety, and the ruling serves as a stark reminder to operators of the consequences of non-compliance.

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