In a collective hearing, the facts surrounding a national transition between imperial and metric measurements for the purposes of trade, gave rise to claims of unlawful application and subsequent challenge within the High Court as below:
Thoburn v Sunderland City Council
In this matter a greengrocer was accused of trading without licensed weighing scales under section 11(2) of the Weights and Measures Act 1985, while it was also alleged that despite repeated warnings to calibrate his scales in line with the legal requirements, the defendant had continued to operate the machines until their seizure by the local authority, and so losing his case in the Divisional Court the defendant later applied for referral to the High Court in order to further discuss the legalities of both imperial and metric measurements.
Hunt v Hackney London Borough Council
On this occasion another fruit and vegetable trader was accused of a number of offences under section 4 of the Prices Act 1974 and section 28(1) of the Weights and Measures Act 1985 after commercial standards officers made discreet purchases revealing average product weight losses of twenty percent in favour of the defendant.
Charged in the first instance, the defendant challenged the validity of the legislation and also sought the opinion of the High Court on grounds that he contended the applicability of the 1974 Act and the unlawfulness of displaying goods under the imperial weights system.
Harman and another v Cornwall County Council
This matter involved a market trader and fishmonger, who were both accused of selling their produce using imperial units of cost and thereby violating article 5 of the Price Marking Order 1999, as found under the Prices Act 1974 and schedule 1 of the Weights and Measures Act 1985, as amended by The Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994 (SI 1994/1851).
Here, it was alleged that the two defendants had also prevented their attending local authority representative from removing the imperial price stickers when attempting to obtain evidence of their acts; and so, having admitted liability the judge was referred to the outcome of Thoburn and raised the question as to the intention that both imperial and metric systems were to continue to run in parallel to one another; and whether the trading standards officers were acting beyond their powers when attempting to obtain pricing stickers from traders, despite no suggestion of dishonesty by those accused.
Collins v Sutton London Borough Council
In a slightly different circumstance, the appellant had argued that the terms of the renewal of his trading licence had been unlawfully amended by the issuing council, and so applied for a summons under section 30(1)(a) of the London Local Authorities Act 1990 while claiming that under the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994, Units of Measurement Regulations 1994 and The Weights and Measures (Metrication Amendments) Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/85) the local authority had instructed the appellant that he must display and charge for his produce under the metric weights system, and that such a request constituted a breach of statutory powers and a violation of article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (Freedom of expression).
To clarify, section 1(1) of the Weights and Measures Act 1963 provided that both the metric and imperial system of measurements were permitted equal presence within the United Kingdom until the creation of the European Communities Act 1972 and the introduction of Directive 80/181/EEC in 1979; after which, chapter 1 of Directive 89/617/EEC cited that the metre and the kilogram were to become the single legal measurements of both length and mass, however chapter IV provided that certain goods sold loose in bulk were allowed to be measured in pounds and ounces until 31st December 1999.
In the following two years, The Units of Measurements Regulations 2001 (SI 2001/55) provided that imperial measures (while unlawful as primary indicators for sale) were still permitted as secondary indicators until 1st January 2010, while contrastingly the Price Marking Order 1999 required traders to indicate unit prices in metric measures, yet anything to the contrary was a criminal offence under para.5 of schedule 2 of the Prices Act 1974.
When brought before the High Court, the four appellants relied upon a contention that the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994, Units of Measurement Regulations 1994, Weights and Measures (Metrication Amendments) Regulations 1994 and the Price Marking Order 1999 were all unlawful and void under the principle of ‘implied repeal’, which is a process applied when Parliament enacts successive statutes containing inconsistent terms, and where the former is repealed by the latter in order to avoid future binding and confusion of effect.
While it was also argued that the 1985 Act had repealed section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 in order to prevent future subordinate legislation, as had been used to replace the imperial system with the metric measurement system.
Having considered the appellants’ somewhat unorthodox line of argument, the Court dismissed the appeals on grounds that while observation of European Community law remained first and foremost to the function of the sovereign, there was nothing in the European Communities Act 1972 that allowed any outside jurisdiction to compromise the supremacy of Parliament; and that the executive measures of the 1972 Act were not subject to repeal by implication but through express and specific decisions, before reminding the parties that:
“Parliament cannot bind its successors, and that is a requirement of legislative sovereignty.”