Opinion, Robert Bell

Fighting the good fight

OPINION: Legal representation is a decisive weapon against Australia’s ham-fisted road enforcement strategy.

This Brisbane Truck Show edition of OwnerDriver also marks the second birthday of Highway Advocates Pty Ltd. During the past two years we have progressed from the ‘will this succeed’ stage to having six staff members and counting. We have been through the lockdown of COVID-19 during this time, and we have seen the expansion of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) into New South. Wales, among other industry developments.

We have helped over 700 clients in courts in almost every jurisdiction over this period. With a predominant focus on heavy vehicle drivers and operators, we have become the legal practice to the heavy vehicle industry throughout Australia, with our industry insider advantage.

We see enforcement towards the heavy vehicle industry as a continuing concern for the drivers and operators affected and the country generally. More often in recent times, we are telling courts that our clients will not re-offend as they are leaving the industry for good. Experienced drivers are leaving road transport for good, and the void they leave is not easily or safely replaced.

Of particular concern is the behaviour of various police forces throughout the country, especially ones with units specifically tasked with heavy vehicles. Offences are being particularised using GPS data from companies employing some of these drivers. Police are now using Google Maps to work out times between different points. I bet I could also find thousands of web pages that say the earth is flat.

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Clients commonly contact us with court attendance notices with over 50 separate breaches. We are pleased to say that our industry insider advantage has come to the fore on these occasions, with court outcomes that are lifesaving in a fashion. Some recent outcomes include:

 A Victorian matter involving 14 Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) charges with a maximum penalty exceeding $111,000. The outcome was a non-conviction order with a $500 donation to the Court fund

 NSW Matter with eight HVNL offences with a maximum penalty of $100,350 plus 16 demerit points. The outcome was one conviction with a $300 fine and no loss of demerit points

 NSW Matter with 13 charges mixed NHVL and Road Rules with a total maximum penalty exceeding $90,000 and six points. All matters were withdrawn and dismissed

 NSW Matter involving 10 HVNL charges with a total maximum penalty exceeding $120,000 and 16 demerit points. The final outcome was one conviction, a $1000 fine and four demerit points

 NSW Matter Critical Breach with a maximum penalty of $17,740 and four demerit points. The final outcome was no fine, no points and no conviction

 NSW Matter involving 11 HVNL charges with a total maximum fine of $130,060 and 23 demerit points. The final outcome on appeal was no fine, no convictions and no demerit points

 Victorian matter with five HVNL charges with a total maximum penalty of $59,100. The final outcome was a non-conviction order to pay $500 to the Court Fund.

Inside knowledge

The above is just a small cross-section of what may be achieved using our industry insider knowledge combined with our unique legal approach. Our experienced solicitors know what it takes to explain these offences and how they usually come about. Our written submissions explain the personal circumstances of individual clients in a fashion that courts are not used to seeing.

We find that most so-called ‘fatigue’ offences do not involve any actual fatigue. In fact, in most cases, the offences occur due to having too much rest. A somewhat paradoxical result that takes some explaining. However, it is what we do best.

The work diary instructions in the front of your logbook are beyond most of the audience it is directed to. A certain South Australia Supreme Court Judge refers to them as the “trap” that occurs when a driver commences a new 24-hour period following the major rest break; they may be concentrating only on that new forthcoming 24-hour period and not appreciate fully that for some hours the old period may also still be running.

Many of you might know that we have partnered with Logmaster who supplies and support a Regulator-approved Electronic Work Diary (EWD). These are essential tools for obtaining the outcomes we regularly achieve. They let us inform the Court that our clients are unlikely to re-offend, they have taken responsibility for their offending conduct, and it also demonstrates remorse and contrition. These important sentencing principles go a long way towards persuading a court to extend leniency.

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As Highway Advocates looks towards our third year of operation and beyond, we see no respite in the rigorous enforcement of the Law as we see it. The lack of discretion applied by all enforcement authorities is disturbing – and we often see the Law misinterpreted by those enforcing it.

The industry insider edge is what makes us what we are. As our legal team grows, we investigate some anomalies within the Law that may have enormous ramifications industry-wide.

So enjoy the Brisbane Truck Show. And don’t forget to say g’day to Robert and his team of legal professionals who will be about during the event.

Highway Advocates – keeping you on the road where you belong.  

ROBERT BELL, a former truck driver and now managing director of Highway Advocates Pty Ltd, and his team of legal professionals assist truck drivers and operators across Australia. Contact Highway Advocates at admin@highwayadvocates.com.au or 0488 01 01 01. Visit their website at www.highwayadvocates.com.au

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