Hauliers turn to European court

Hauliers and their insurers have threatened to take the government to the European Court of Human Rights if the Home Office does not abandon its penalties for lorry drivers caught with illegal immigrants in their vehicles.

On 22 February, three Appeal Court judges found in a two-to-one judgment that the £2,000 penalties were incompatible with Article 6 - right to a fair trial - of the Human Rights Act.

The judges found the penalties did not breach the more minor Article 1 Protocol 1, concerning property rights, or Articles 28 and 49 of the EC Treaty, concerning provision of services and free movement of goods.

The Home Office has until 22 March to appeal to the House of Lords.

Davies Lavery partner Kay Pysden acted for hauliers Barsan Global Logistik and its insurer The TT Club in the case, which was brought with a number of other hauliers.

She said: "The court can't tell the legislature to strike down legislation, but it can make a statement of incompatibility, which should lead the government to strike the legislation from the books."

However, Home Secretary David Blunkett said he would not appeal and would continue applying the penalties, while deciding how to deal with the finding.

"We intend to look carefully at what steps we should take to deal with this issue, including the possible legislative options," he said.

"Large numbers of hauliers already met their obligations under the legislation - those who do so will not be penalised."

Pysden said the Home Office's defiant response to the decision could be bravado, but if it did not strike out the penalties, hauliers would go to the European court, which could trump the UK legislature.

She said the Home Office had argued that it cost £4.5m in annual salaries alone to run the Civil Penalty Administration Unit, and that the money would be wasted if the penalties were struck out.

She said the money would have been better spent employing more customs officers and installing imaging equipment at all docks, than penalising the already pressured transport industry.