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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 12:24 GMT
'Metric martyrs' lose court battle
Steve Thoburn outside the High Court in London
Mr Thoburn was fined for selling bananas by the pound
Five market traders have lost their High Court battle for the legal right to trade in pounds and ounces.

Lord Justices John Laws and Peter Crane gave their decision on Monday to the traders - dubbed "metric martyrs" - who are from London, Surrey, Wearside and Cornwall.

Their lawyers argued in the High Court that making it "a criminal offence to sell a pound of bananas in order to please Brussels" threatened to cause a "deep constitutional crisis".

Neil Herron, spokesman for the five traders, said defeat meant "the death of democracy" but pledged that the fight would continue.

Customer request

Sunderland market trader Steven Thoburn, fined for selling bananas by the pound, said: "I am disappointed. I knew we would never beat them.

"I will now be seeking legal advice about what to do next. But I will keep on doing what my customers want. I have always sold in imperial and metric."

Mr Herron said it showed an act of the UK Parliament could be overruled by a "mere directive" from "an entity, a gathering of unelected bureaucrats over which we have no democratic control".

Peter Collins
Peter Collins' appealed against his licence terms

He said: "They have exposed how the democratically elected representatives are no longer responsible for running the country."

But the judges declared that the regulations which introduced metrication were valid and not "ultra vires" - outside the government's powers - as had been claimed.

The court also certified that the cases raised a point of law of general public importance but refused to grant permission for appeals to be heard by the House of Lords.

The traders and their lawyers will now have to petition the Law Lords themselves to give a final ruling. It is thought four will seek to leave to petition the Lords.

Mr Herron said there may also be the possibility of the fifth man going to the European Court of Human Rights.

He said: "We have had magnificent support from the British public. They are angry that they have been lied to by their elected representatives.

Defence fund

After the hearing the UK Metric Association (UKMA) said it was time for the Government to introduce an effective programme of public education.

It said a similar programme and well-advertised change-over day had made the conversion to metric a success in Australia.

The court ordered the traders to pay the legal costs of the prosecuting authority in their particular case.

Philip Moser, appearing for Sunderland City Council, which prosecuted Mr Thoburn, said the appeal costs was some 37,000.

Lord Justice Laws gave the prosecuting authorities 36 days to decide whether or not to apply for costs orders against the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund.

The court was told the fund had been backing the legal action, raising 250,000 from public supporters.

The men were brought to court after the government complied with European metrication directives by making it a criminal offence in 2000 to weigh and sell goods in imperial measures.

Their lawyers argued that a 1985 Weights and Measures Act provides a loophole, which means the directive does not apply in England and Wales.

John Dove, of Camelford, Cornwall, was ordered to pay court costs for selling mackerel at 1.50 a pound.

Metric pricing

Julian Harman, also of Camelford, was ordered to pay costs for selling Brussels sprouts by the pound.

Colin Hunt, of Hackney, east London, was given a 12-month conditional discharge for pricing pumpkins and other vegetables by the pound.

Trader Peter Collins, of Sutton, Surrey, was appealing against the terms of his licence, which required him to sell in metric.

It is legal for customers to ask for goods by the pound and to know what goods cost by the pound, but the trader has to deal in kilogrammes when weighing goods for sale.

A DTI spokesman welcomed the ruling, and said: "As this judgment shows, it is now time to move on. In the UK we have been moving to metric since 1965.

"Metric has been taught in our schools for nearly 30 years. This is not a European issue. Most of the world has gone metric."

The BBC's Bob Sinkinson
"They vowed to continue the fight"
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Our imperial measures... seem to face extinction"
The BBC's Nick Thatcher
"Their appeals have been dismissed"
See also:

23 Nov 01 | England
'Metric martyrs' wait for ruling
20 Nov 01 | England
Judge weighs up case for pounds
11 Oct 01 | England
'Metric martyrs' haggle for review
13 Jul 01 | UK
Grocer loses metric battle
15 Jan 01 | UK
Grocer fights metric laws
31 Dec 99 | UK
Measure for measure
29 Dec 99 | UK
Shops weigh up changes
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