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Irwin Mitchell will fight the UK Government in Europe over plans to force through a controversial new Boatmasters' Licence that critics say could increase the likelihood of Marchioness riverboat-type disasters.
Survivors and relatives of the 51 people who died in the 1989 Marchioness disaster have sought advice from Irwin Mitchell ahead of the new licence being introduced through a statutory instrument on 1 January 2007.
Margaret Lockwood Croft, who founded the Marchioness Action Group after her 26-year-old son Shaun died in the tragedy, said: "We've taken this action as we can't see how it's lawful to bring in legislation that undoes all the safety provisions implemented after Lord Justice Clarke's recommendations in the 2001 Marchioness report."
Sallie Booth, a litigation partner at Irwin Mitchell, said the licence was a backwards step, but barring a private members' bill being brought to Parliament not much could be done on a national level. She said: "It's now a question of taking the battle to Europe, as there's longstanding precedence that you can legislate to apply a different level of requirement."
The new licence, based on EU requirements, means that the training period required for boat captains will be cut from up to seven years to 24 months.
In another twist, controversial statutory instruments, such as the licence, are expected to be laid before Parliament so they can be scrutinised during a 40-day period. This did not take place, despite protests from MPs, European parliamentarians and safety campaigners.
The Conservative former Shadow Transport Minister Julian Brazier condemned the Government for "an underhand attempt to introduce a contentious licence through the back door".