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The Cornwall Trial and Verdict

On Friday 17th, 2001 fishmonger John Dove and greengrocer Julian Harman attended Bodmin Magistrates court in Cornwall to be represented by barrister Michael Shrimpton.

Dove and Harman
John Dove and Julian Harman

More than 40 people came in support of the traders, including Neil Herron of Metric Martyrs, Bruce Robertson of BWMA and local UKIP members and officials. The regional, national and international media were also present.

Bruce Robertson of BWMA greets local supporter

By prior arrangement, the court case was set to last only one day, since no matter what verdict was returned by the court, it would be reviewed at the court of appeal later in the year. On this understanding, and with the court's agreement, Mr Shrimpton presented only a skeleton argument in order to save costs from what would otherwise amount to six days' legal argument.

The case then proceeded on the basis that there was no dispute as to fact, only to law. In other words, the traders did not deny that they sold granny smith apples, brussels sprouts, mackerel and pollack in pounds and ounces. The dispute revolved around whether or not this was lawful.

The prosecuting council said that, under regulations, traders were required to price and sell in metric. The prosecutor said (somewhat disingenuously) that traders could use lb/oz so long as they also used metric. To roars of laughter from the public gallery, he said that traders using lb/oz were engaging in unfair competition.

In defence of the traders, Mr Shrimpton said that the traders were entitled to use lb/oz since the use of such units had been authorised by the 1985 Weights and Measure Act. Mr Shrimpton said that courts were obliged to follow Acts of Parliament, not the later wishes of ministers. In this case, the minister had attempted to implement the EC's metric directive without changing the 1985 Act. The minister's actions had therefore brought about a great constitutional question: can Acts of Parliament be bypassed to implement EC directives?
  Defence barrister Michael Shrimpton

In the absence of the full six days of legal argument, the magistrates decided to follow the ruling of Judge Morgan of Sunderland and convict the two traders. Mr Dove and Mr Harman were each given a twelve-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £250 (reduced from a potential £2,250 each, due to their good character).

After finding the traders guilty under the 1994 regulations, the magistrate made the following comment: "…it is not within our remit to decide the case politically". This remark was considered interesting by BWMA observers since the case revolved around a legal question, not a political one, that is, can secondary legislation override an earlier Act of Parliament? Under the British constitution, obviously not, but it is remarkable how a government's endorsement of such a notion can be so influencial that a court of law describes ruling otherwise as "political".

Trading Standards Officer Mr Phillips defends the prosecution to the media.

The court of appeal, combining all Metric Martyr cases (Harman, Dove, Thoburn, Hunt and Collins) is set for November 19th-23rd, 2001.

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