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Campaign (updated Nov 04)
BWMA is campaigning against the conviction
of Steven Thoburn and other traders convicted of selling foods in pounds and
ounces in February 2002. We believe that the regulations under which they were
prosecuted were ultra vires - null and void. This is due to the
unconstitutional manner in which they were enacted. To understand the legal and
constitutional issues, please click here: The High Court Appeal Ruling
To read about BWMA's campaign to expose
the unconstitutional nature of the conviction, please click here:
New doubt concerning conviction of traders using lb/oz
For the history of the legal
campaign, browse through the below links, or read the Chronology of Events
further down this page.
On September 6th 2000,
Greengrocer Steven Thoburn became the first person in Britain to
be charged under the 1994 Units of Measurement Regulations - but, according to
barrister Michael Shrimpton, in two Legal Opinions and a supplementary Note
22 1999, Jan 23rd
7th 2000) the government's metric regulations are ultra
vires - illegal.
This is because UK
regulations compelling metric and brought in to implement EC metric directive
89/617, were legislated for using the 1972 European Communities Act. However,
in 1985, Parliament passed the Weights and Measures Act which expressly allows
the use of lb/oz as well as metric. Under British constitutional law, when two
acts are conflict, the later act must take precedence by means of "implied
repeal". This means the 1985 Act repeals the compulsory use of metric units
provided for by the 1972 European Communtities Act.
Mr Shrimpton argues that, for
the government to pass the EC directive into UK law, it must first pass a new
Act of Parliament repealing or amending the 1985 Act. Until it does so,
compulsory metric regulations are ultra vires, and trading standards
officers who tell traders to convert to metric do so with no legal authority.
Mr Thoburn underwent a
three-day trial at Sunderland magistrates' court
between 15-18 January 2001 followed by a day for final submissions on March
1st. The verdict, delivered on April 9th 2001, was
Since that verdict, four
other traders have been prosecuted:
Harman and John Dove from Cornwall, Colin Hunt from Hackney, and
Collins from Sutton. The five traders combined their cases in
an Appeal to the Divisional
Court in London during November 20-22nd, 2001.
The appeal verdict, delivered
on February 18th 2002, was again Guilty. To see a summary of the verdict and
the court's proceedings,
click here. To see the day in photographs,
click here. To see the
written verdict in full, click
The Divisional Court's Guilty
verdict was based defining the 1972 Act as a "constitutional act", meaning that
it could repeal the later but "ordinary" 1985 Act. This notion of a "hierachy
of acts" is contrary to constitutional law as previously understood in Britain.
Consequently, the judges certified that the traders may appeal further to the
House of Lords on the following question:
"Is the 1972 European
Communities Act capable of being impliedly repealed by later legislation?"
On July 15th 2002, however,
the Appeal process was halted by the House of Lords Appeal Committee. After a perfunctory
hearing, in which the Committee took only fifteen minutes to
consider the matter, the Appeal process was stopped. The Committee gave no
reasoning, but said, they did not consider that it would, "give rise to points
capable of reasonable argument".
On August 12th 2002, the
traders lodged their Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in
Strasbourg. Liberty director John Wadham, said: "It's ridiculous
that people should be criminalised for this. It's completely out of proportion.
The Government, the EU and the criminal justice system should not be involved
in whether a grocer uses imperial or metric measurements".
On February 12th 2004, the
ECHR applications committee refused permission for the traders to argue their
case. For BWMA's comment, click
Application no. 30614/02 THOBURN v. the United Kingdom
to inform you that on 3 February 2004 the European Court of Human Rights,
sitting as a Committee of three judges (M. Pellonpaa, President, S. Pavlovschi
and L. Garlicki) pursuant to Article 27 of the Convention, decided under
Article 28 of the Convention to declare the above inadmissible because it did
not comply with the requirements set out in Articles 34 and 35 of the
light of all the material in its possession, and in so far as the matters
complained of were within its competence, the Court found that they did not
disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in
the convention or its protocols.
decision is final and not subject to any appeal to either the Court or any
other body. You will therefore appreciate that the Registry will be unable to
provide any further details about the Committee's deliberations or to conduct
further correspondence relating to its decision in this case. You will receive
no further documents from the Court concerning this case and, in accordance
with the Court's instructions, the file will be destroyed one year after the
despatch of this letter.