Judge dismisses fatigue breaches appeal against Turners Transport

By: Jason Whittaker

A judge has called for wider powers to investigate companies that breach fatigue laws in light of the decision to

A judge has called for wider powers to investigate companies that breach fatigue laws in light of the decision to dismiss an appeal against Queensland-based trucking company Turner’s Transport.

Judge Nase made the comments while ruling on the validity of a search warrant used by police during a raid on Turner’s Palmwoods premises for telephone records, fuel receipts, driver rosters and logbooks in February 2005.

In the original action against Turner's, Queensland Transport refuted the ruling magistrate's decision to dismiss the case on the grounds the search warrant was illegal.

Upon ruling, Nase found the warrant to be too general to permit action against Turner’s, saying it identifies types of offences but not actual offences which may have been committed. He rejected the validity of the warrant, saying it does not justify access to, or seizure of, business records to determine whether a law has been breached.

Furthermore, he says the charge against company director Ron Turner is "so broad as to be unpredictable" because the number of charges made against him are too "imprecise to found a warrant".

To address this, the judge suggests changes be made to the law regarding warrants to search companies that may be in breach of fatigue management obligations.
"There may well be a social value in the effective supervision of the trucking industry," Nase says.

"If a wider power...is required to investigate breaches of the Act and regulations [Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995], that is a question for parliament not the courts."

Nase also ruled on a complaint made against the magistrate who excluded video evidence while ruling in the original action made against Turner’s. A video recording stemmed from the search warrant obtained by police. They recorded the search in which Ron Turner made remarks perceived as an admission of guilt over breaching fatigue laws.

But the magistrate decided it was wrong to record the execution of a search warrant, much to the opposition of Queensland Transport. During the appeal, Nase agreed with Queensland Transport, arguing it is legal to videotape a person.

"Excluding the evidence of the admissions on the basis there was no power to record the execution of the search warrant was an error by the magistrate," Nase says.

However, Peter Murrell of Cranston McEachern Lawyers, which represented Turner’s, says Queensland Transport selectively used comments made by Ron Turner, thus taking them out of context.

Murrell says he is confident Turner’s can get on with the running of its business, rejecting assertions that Queensland Transport can successfully appeal the decision in a higher court.
"We won, as I said we would from day one," he says.

In the original action against Turner’s, the magistrate dismissed some 1,000 chain of responsibility charges made against the company and three of its directors, which included allowing drivers to exceed maximum driving limits.

The decision is a setback for the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which pursued Turner’s over the alleged breaches for more than two years. Following the original decision, Queensland Branch Secretary Hughie Williams expressed surprise, arguing it was a blow for chain of responsibility because companies would be able to shirk their responsibility.

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