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Metric Culprits

The Legal Campaign (updated Nov 04)

Issue summary

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 explained

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.
Summary of other links on this page Seizure of Steve Thoburn's scales July 4th 2000
  Michael Shrimpton's Legal Opinion Dec 22nd 1999
  Michael Shrimpton supplementary legal Note Jan 23rd 2000
  Michael Shrimpton Legal Opinion Aug 7th 2000
  Trial of Steven Thoburn, January 15-18th 2001
  Judge Morgan's Sunderland Judgement in Full (and in brief)
  Trial of Dove & Harman (Cornwall)
  Peter Collins Verdict (Sutton)
  The High Court Appeal in photos, November 20th-22nd 2001
  Appeal proceedings in detail
  Christopher Booker's Notebook, November 25th, 2001
  Day of Verdict in Photos, Feb 18th 2002
  Verdict - proceedings and summary, Feb 18th 2002
  Verdict in Full, Feb 18th 2002
  House of Lords Appeal Committee Hearing July 15th 2002
  BWMA statement on rejection of Appeal process July 15th 2002
  Threat of prosecution against pub using litres, Oct 7th 2002
  BWMA comment on ECHR rejection of Appeal
  New doubts converning the conviction
  Robin de Crittenden's NPAS appeal hearing 18 November 2005
  The outcome of Robin de Crittenden's NPAS appeal hearing 21 November 2005

Chronology of Events

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 (Dec 22 1999, Jan 23rd 2000, Aug 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 Guilty.

Since that verdict, four other traders have been prosecuted: Julian Harman and John Dove from Cornwall, Colin Hunt from Hackney, and Peter 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 here.

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 here.

12 FEV. 2004

Application no. 30614/02 THOBURN v. the United Kingdom

Dear Sir,

I write 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 Convention.

In 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.

This 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.

Yours faithfully,

For the Committee

F. Elens-Passos

Deputy Section Registrar

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