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Geoconsult complains to European Court


AUSTRIAN TUNNELLING consultant Geoconsult has filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its treatment during last year's Heathrow Express tunnel collapse trial at the Old Bailey, it emerged this week.

Magistrates trying to collect the £500,000 fine imposed on Geoconsult for its part in the 1994 collapse have now been forced to delay enforcement proceedings for six weeks while details of the complaint are considered.

News of the complaint came in a letter read out at Uxbridge Magistrates Court on Friday. The consultant had been summoned to appear at the court to explain why it had not paid its fine or the £100,000 costs handed down last year after the month long trial.

Court officials said they were informed of the complaint 10 days before last Friday's hearing in a letter from Geoconsult director Klaus Musker. But they said the grounds for the complaint had not been made clear and that there was no reference number or hearing date to verify the claim.

A solicitor for Geoconsult also told the court that she had not been briefed about the claim but believed it related to certain aspects of the Health & Safety Executive's conduct during the original trial.

The Magistrates Court adjourned the hearing until Friday 31 March to allow court officials to resolve the matter.

It remains unclear whether Geoconsult's action will affect fine enforcement proceedings. But a leading human rights lawyer told NCE this week that despite the Austrian firm's complaint to the European Court the fine would still stand under English Law. Partner in public law at Bindman & Partners Stephen Grosz said: 'An application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg does not have a suspensive effect.'

According to officials at the ECHR, the Court would not review the arguments of the original trial and appeal, but would try to discover whether the company's rights had been violated.

Grosz warned that the procedure could take years. 'First the company has to submit an application to the Court. This is then reviewed. If there is anything in it they will ask the British Government to make observations,' he said. 'Then there will be a hearing before it makes a judgement. It could take three years and could cost between £30,000 to £40,000.'

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