Sea Containers Ltd., passenger transport operator, marine container lessor and leisure industry investor announced today that its subsidiary Hoverspeed Ltd.
operator of fast ferry services on the English Channel, has been successful in its legal challenge of UK Customs and Excise procedures.
HM Customs and Excise have been checking and detaining Hoverspeed passengers and seizing their goods and the vehicles in which they travelled. The High Court ruled
today that the Customs' policy currently in place could be regarded as a "disproportionate executive policy" and Hoverspeed won on all points.
President of Sea Containers Ltd., Mr. James B. Sherwood said the implications of the judgement are very far reaching. "No longer will HM Customs and Excise be entitled to stop passengers at random. They will only be able to do so if they have specific grounds to suspect that passengers are acting unlawfully. This represents an important and authoritative statement of the law on the key issues of freedom of movement and the human rights of the travelling public."
The case involved a review of HM Customs and Excise policy under European Community and Human Rights law. The Court found that the basis of Customs' policy is incompatible with European Community law. HM Customs and Excise current stated policy of stopping individuals based on generalised trend intelligence rather than specific intelligence has also been declared unlawful.
Hoverspeed brought the challenge as the activities of HM Customs and Excise at its Dover (DOV)
terminal, including the high level of detention of passengers and the seizure of goods, was having an adverse effect on its business.
The Court has said that Customs must have "reasonable grounds to suspect the person who they are checking" and that in the absence of such suspicion "they have no right to impede Community travellers" movement at the frontier for purposes connected with the collection of excise duty.
"Hoverspeed does not condone smuggling and has always co-operated with HM Customs and Excise providing intelligence, information and facilities to assist in tax evasion. However we had no choice but to mount this legal challenge on this important issue not only on behalf of the Company but the rest of the ferry industry and the travelling public", Mr. Sherwood said. He added that Hoverspeed, which carries around 2-1/2 million passengers and half a million vehicles a year on its fast ferry services from Dover to Calais, France and Ostend, Belgium, will be seeking compensation from HM Customs and Excise for the damage caused to its business.