2019 marks 200 years of offering sound legal advice to the transport industry for the expert legal team at Backhouse Jones. FACTS spoke to Directors James and Jonathon Backhouse to learn more
FACTS (F): What can you tell me about your career history and your key roles and responsibilities at Backhouse Jones?
James joined the business originally as a partner with his father John Backhouse in February 1994 and worked alongside him (and later Jonathon) until Mr Backhouse passed away in 1998. Jonathon worked in the business in 1993 for a while and then re-joined as a trainee Solicitor where he went on to qualify in 1999. The development of the modern business ‘Backhouse Jones’ that is known today was instigated in 1999 when Ian Jones was invited to join.
F: What is the story behind the founding of Backhouse Jones 200 years ago?
Backhouse Jones can trace its heritage back to 1819. The link is an unbroken line of our family working as Solicitors. In around the 1930s, as road transport became more and more regulated, the Backhouses developed a specialism in advising operators in the road transport sector. A recognisable name in the valleys of Lancashire, the Backhouse name built itself a reputation. From a line of Henrys, Harrys, Johns and Isaacs came a surname that a cross-section of truck owners could always turn to for legal advice. Burning our brand into the logistics sector, the now-named Backhouse Jones has committed itself to providing industry-specific expertise.
F: How has Backhouse Jones progressed and grown over the years?
Over the years, since we worked in the firm from 1994, the plan was to develop a broad commercial law firm specialising in all aspects of the legal work required by the operators of commercial passenger and goods fleets. Initially the specialism was focused on the operator’s licensing regulatory regime and employment law. The plan was to develop a national brand offering a full spectrum law firm whose specialism was understanding the goods and passenger industry sectors. This plan was advanced with Ian Jones joining and bringing additional transport specialist work to the business. Together with Andrew Woolfall, who joined the firm later, we have grown the business from a modest specialist regulatory practice employing less than 10 staff in 1999, to one of the market leading businesses of today.
Backhouse Jones has represented transport operators at every judicial level, up to, and including the European Courts of Justice. We have been at the vanguard of transport related legislation and no other firm undertakes more public inquiries before the Traffic Commissioners of the United Kingdom.
F: How does it feel looking back on your 200 year history as a family?
We are proud of our heritage and it has been great to have been part of the Backhouse family and story but in reality, we are very forward-looking as that is where our future sits.
F: What do commercial vehicle fleet operators seek advice about most frequently from Backhouse Jones?
Many of the calls we receive relate to compliance investigations or training where operators are seeking to get their systems up to date. As well as advice, we also offer road regulatory compliance reviews to identify key problem areas in operator compliance and provide training to ensure those issues are addressed and best practice implemented.
Many businesses now seek advice before making changes in commercial direction to avoid regulatory pitfalls, and this creates an increasing role for Backhouse Jones.
F: In your opinion, what are some of the most common areas of non-compliance which operators must look to address?
Poor transport management leading to poor maintenance and to poor drivers’ hours compliance are still some of the most common areas of non-compliance we see. ‘Entity’ (eg: limited company, partnership or sole trader) is also an issue, where the operator licence may be in the wrong entity for example. This is then compounded by operators failing to keep up to date with the expectations and requirements of them. Only recently, a Traffic Commissioner highlighted the need for transport managers to attend adequate refresher training to keep on top of this. We have been running reasonably priced refresher courses for our clients delivered by our specialist lawyers and they are proving very popular. There is a much greater focus on the proactive involvement of lawyers now than historically was the case.
F: With compliance becoming an increasingly important concern for the road transport industry and amidst increased scrutiny from enforcement authorities, has the standard of vehicle and operator compliance improved?
Things have definitely improved. We have moved from the requirements not always being enforced to enforcement being much more robust and the issues which are being raised are more subtle and focusing on detail that would not have been picked up historically, even 10 years ago. Over time, the bar has been steadily raised so that although there are as many cases of non-compliance as there were before, the issues are not always as fundamental as they were years ago.
Overall, a better standard of compliance is expected and on the whole achieved. In conjunction, the vehicles have improved and driver training is much better, which also helps.
F: How has Backhouse Jones prepared for the Smart Tachograph changes – what are your thoughts on the legislation?
We have been monitoring the guidance and legislative changes to understand the requirements and expectations. Ultimately, as well as advice, we will also be offering training in due course.
F: Does Backhouse Jones work with the DVSA and other industry bodies at all?
Backhouse Jones works closely with the RHA, the FTA the CPT, BAR, IRTE and FSDF. James has an advisory role on the board of the FSDF. Fellow director Andrew Woolfall is a Member of the North Western Freight Council of the FTA and member of the National Council. Ian Jones is on the CPT Council and the firm works with the associations when requested to assist particularly in dealing with potential legislative or regulatory rules which the industry might wish to influence the direction of.
F: What does the future hold for Backhouse Jones?
We will be increasing our digital offering and there will be a much greater level of support for our clients to avoid the problems of non-compliance before they happen rather than responding after they have happened. As part of this, we have developed our BACKup legal services product which provides legal advice for operators on road regulatory matters and HR matters for a fixed monthly fee. The beauty of BACKup is that it fixes an operator’s legal spend which means they use us more before problems happen as they are not afraid of the cost. Prevention is always better than cure.
For more information: www.backhousejones.co.uk/about-us/our-journey/