Substantial VOSA costs award confirmed in failed operator appeal

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The Hythe-based operator, its Director (nominated as Transport Manager) and 13 drivers originally pleaded guilty to 69 tachograph misuse and Drivers’ Hours-related offences
The Hythe-based operator, its Director (nominated as Transport Manager) and 13 drivers originally pleaded guilty to 69 tachograph misuse and Drivers’ Hours-related offences

Administrative Court rules there was nothing disproportionate about the fines imposed on Buzzlines and its director, ordering a further £12.5k to be paid to cover VOSA costs

A decision by Margate Magistrates on May 30, 2012 to award VOSA a substantial contribution towards its investigation and prosecution costs totalling £59,000, has been upheld by the Administrative Court in a Judicial Review hearing on March 7, 2013.

This case involved a prosecution brought against Kent-based operator Buzzlines Travel Limited and Nigel Busbridge. The Company and its Director, who was then the nominated Transport Manager, together with 13 drivers had pleaded guilty to a total of 69 tachograph misuse and Drivers’ Hours-related offences. In addition, the Company had admitted 44 failures to produce tachograph records. Fines totalling £44,000 and £9,000 were imposed against the Company and Director respectively, in the latter case for neglect.

Dismissing the costs appeal, the Administrative Court stated there was nothing disproportionate about the costs order which amounted to around 50% of the costs claimed by VOSA.

Further, it concluded the costs were affordable in the 12-month period allowed by the Margate Justices.

The Administrative Court also ordered a further £12,500 be paid to VOSA in respect of costs incurred in the Judicial Review.

Heather Cruickshank, VOSA Director of Operations, said: “This case demonstrates how noncompliant operators and drivers can face significant fines. The case sends out that clear message.”

Mike Oliver, Trans-law and Consultant to Berrymans Lace Mawer LLP, told CBW: “The costs imposed presumably reflect the time spent by VOSA staff investigating, interviewing those involved and preparing the case. At the same time, costs need to be realistic and take account of the subject’s ability to pay. The Court appears to have considered that in this instance.

“However, this decision contrasts starkly with recent rule changes which severely restrict the costs accused parties, including particularly companies, may recover from central funds where a prosecution is dropped before trial. Those defence costs may then be largely irrecoverable, giving rise to the risk that early guilty pleas may be entered where there is an arguable defence, simply to avoid the risk of incurring prohibitive costs.”