Comment: Travel Republic court case

Words can be tricky, especially in a legal context.

During last week’s Travel Republic court case at Stratford Magistrates Court much time was spent in discussion of what was “separate” or “linked” in a holiday purchase – what a “product” or a “component”.

About all that could be agreed between prosecution and defence in the trial of Travel Republic for breach of the ATOL Regulations was that the company sold holidays. But what do these comprise?

Travel Republic director Kane Pirie resorted to a ‘new paradigm’ defence, telling the prosecution: “We are a new business and you do not appear to understand what we do.”

He also invoked the “basket” defence – describing the way consumers shop online by adding items to a basket. I was under the impression the ‘holiday as a basket of products’ had been dealt with by the Court of Appeal in the case between the Civil Aviation Authority and ABTA in 2006, but I am no lawyer.

At one point, referring to an online booking of a flight, accommodation and transfer, the prosecution asked Pirie: “What does ‘complete your booking’ mean?”

At another, a cross examination on the company’s booking conditions led Pirie to concede “some of the wording was copied”. It was instructive to go straight from the court to a LexisNexis Travel and Tourism Law conference in London to hear a specialist in the field warn against copying any part of another firm’s terms and conditions.

Asked about dynamic packaging, Pirie told the court: “Dynamic packaging is a term used in the industry without meaning a package.”

Yet lawyers have warned for some time that calling a holiday a dynamic package will make it package in the eyes of the law.

He also told the court there was little or no financial advantage to foregoing an ATOL.

However, back at the law conference Thomas Cook director of government and external affairs Andy Cooper suggested an ATOL-holder might pay as much as £15 VAT on a £500 booking.


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