Chain of responsibility (CoR) provisions in the draft heavy vehicle national law (HVNL) need more thought, a Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into the laws has revealed.
Having recently tabled its report into the HVNL Bill 2012, the Queensland Parliament’s Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee found the imposition of automatic criminal liability and reversal of the onus of proof in the laws clearly conflicted with the long accepted principle that a person was presumed innocent of an offence until guilt was positively proven to the criminal standard.
The report stated: ‘With the greater exposure to criminal liability of executive officers of corporations, and given the very widely defined term ‘executive officer’ in the bill which is broader than that of ‘officer’ in the Corporations Act 2001, the committee finds further consideration needs to be given to the chain of responsibility and reversal of onus of proof provisions.’
The committee also called on the Queensland minister for transport and main roads to clarify why there was a need to reverse the onus of proof in 29 specific clauses of the bill.
Australian Trucking Association (ATA) policy manager David Coonan welcomed the report, and said its findings on CoR reflected the concerns raised in the ATA’s submission.
“Our submission to the committee called for amendments to the CoR provisions to make them stronger and fairer, as well as better enforcement and a national training and communications plan targeted at the industry’s customers,” Coonan said. “We said that businesses should have a positive duty to take reasonable steps at all times to prevent trucks from being overloaded or loaded unlawfully.
“We also said that company directors, officers, the members of business partnerships and the managers of unincorporated businesses should be innocent of CoR offences until proven guilty. Their businesses would still be held to account, and they would still be personally liable, but the prosecution would have to prove its case against them – which is what happens in any other criminal prosecution.”
On a positive note, in its report the committee also indicated it was satisfied the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s intention was to resolve the issues through ongoing consultation with industry and that these issues would be included in the forthcoming amendment bill and the forward work program.
The committee unanimously recommended that the Queensland Parliament should pass the Bill.