Blenners charges dropped
THE BLENNERS Transport case has run into the ground with the dropping of the remaining charges against the company, says Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR).
This state government action against the firm looks unlikely to re- emerge. Blenners’ owner Les Blennerhassett and company directors involved have always denied the accusations and put up a staunch legal defence of their position over three years.
The outcome follows a series of diminishing sets of charges that came after a 2012 department investigation that gained national prominence when it formed part of the ABC Four Corners program, ‘This Trucking Life’.
Legal action against management and the company came after 45 drivers pleaded guilty to 148 fatiguerelated charges and were fined a total of $ 65,000.
They faced 742 charges on alleged fatigue management and chain of responsibility (COR) breaches in February 2014.
These were dropped in August 2014 with costs awarded against TMR but the department then sought to pursue 53 new charges.
By September 2015, this had fallen to eight charges and the case has featured in a swathe of court rooms around the state.
The TMR’s latest Blenners move appears, in part, to lessen risks from breaches alleged to have occurred before the advent of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) being acted upon subsequently but the department insists there was a range of issues informing its latest decision.
“In February 2017, the Department of Transport and Main Roads chose to discontinue the chain of responsibility litigation against Blenners Transport first commenced in 2014,” a department spokesperson tells Owner//Driver.
“TMR made the decision after consideration of specific matters such as the progress of the litigation up to that point, that the relevant legislation in issue has now been repealed, and the level of Blenners’ compliance since the litigation first commenced.
“It is quite normal as litigation progresses to give ongoing consideration to whether it is worthwhile progressing an action in the public interest.
“Fatigue and chain of responsibility matters are now covered by the Heavy Vehicle National Law, which is structured quite differently.”
Pressed on what the move means for historic breaches, the department elaborated on its original response.
“As previously advised, the prosecution was discontinued due to a combination of assessing the progress of the litigation up to that point, the fact that the relevant legislation in issue had now been repealed, and the level of Blenners compliance since the litigation first commenced,” the spokesperson says.
“The repeal of the previous legislation [the subject of the litigation] was only one matter that was taken into account.
“It is relevant, because the Heavy Vehicle National Law is now the law of the land, and future cases will be decided on the basis of that legislation.
“Interceptions of Blenner’s Transport heavy vehicles between January 2014 to February 2017 were also taken into account, with the company’s compliance rate being well in excess of 90 per cent.
“The level of compliance and cooperation by a heavy vehicle operator or driver with Transport and Main Roads is a relevant consideration in compliance and enforcement decisions.”
Blenners and Four Corners are yet to respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, without naming names, the department also gave a snapshot of COR prosecutions since 2015.
“Since November 2015, we have, on behalf of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, commenced nine chain of responsibility prosecutions,” the department says.
“Six have resolved with the relevant party being convicted.
“In one case, the prosecution was discontinued following the receipt, and acceptance, of a submission from the defendant, and there are two cases still before the courts.”