We are wanting to hear from any fishing vessel owners, who have been prosecuted alongside the skipper, under Section 163 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
Section 163 states: "Where any vessel is used in contravention of any byelaw made under section 155, the master, the owner and the charterer (if any) are each guilty of an offence under this section."
The above prompts the regulator to issue proceedings against the owner of the vessel, automatically at the same time as the skipper, despite offences falling short of being strict liability. The way that the Act is currently drafted, alludes to the offences being of strict liaiblity, whereas some degree of knowledge by the owner, as to the propensity of the skipper to be likely to commit an offence, or to be a maverick skipper, is required. Where it can be shown, for example, that the owner has expressly forbidden the skipper to go into a restricted area, the proceedings against the vessel owner would fail.
What we are finding within the Court system is that the Courts are more and more accepting that the offences are not of strict liability in nature, and are at the very end of the proceedings, finding the owner not guilty due to the offence falling short of strict liability. Unfortunately, by this time some considerable time has elapsed, causing a high degree of stress, together with a hefty legal bill.
More recent cases that have been examined, are showing that the regulator is unsuccessful in recouping legal costs against the owner, and is having to find costs out of it's own budget, after issuing futile proceedings against the vessel owner. The waste of costs to the tax payer is concerning.
NUTFA are lobbying for a change with regard to Section 163 of MACAA, to avoid the automatic issue of proceedings against the vessel owner, in tandem with the skipper of the vessel, to avoid wasted costs for all, and furthermore, to avoid additional administrative workload on an already over stretched justice system.
I am collecting data on the level of wasted costs that there have been in respect of the futile proceedings against vessel owners, particularly if these have then had to come out of the IFCA/MMO purse, in order that I can write effectively to government with all of the data that is available from the fishing industry.
Ideally, we need an amendment to Section 163 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, in order that the green flag that is currently there for regulators to issue proceedings against both vessel owner and skipper automatically at the same time, is removed. It is a lack of understanding as to the nature of the offences not being of a strict liability threshold, that needs to cascade through the regulatory process, and data is needed from the industry to effect change.
If you are a vessel owner and have been within the enforcement process, under Section 163, please would you make contact with me confidentially via email at firstname.lastname@example.org - particularly if there has been a scenario that the regulator has wasted costs as a result of the issue of proceedings against you.