'Martyrs' lose battle to save the pound and ounce

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The Independent Online

The so-called metric martyrs lost their legal battle yesterday to trade in pounds and ounces rather than kilograms and grams when the Court of Appeal ruled that they must abide by European law.

Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Crane, said imperial measures were on the verge of extinction and refused to give permission for the five traders to go to the House of Lords to appeal. He rejected the men's claim that domestic law provided a loophole that meant European Union directives requiring goods to be sold in metric units did not apply in England and Wales.

Lawyers for the five had argued that the 1985 Weights and Measures Act authorised traders to continue using imperial measures, even though Britain had signed up to the 1972 European Communities Act and became subject to European directives.

But Lord Justice Laws said: "All the specific rights and obligations which EU law creates are by the European Communities Act incorporated into our domestic law and rank supreme." Making clear that no loopholes existed, he said: "That is, anything in our substantive law inconsistent with any of these rights and obligations is abrogated or must be modified to avoid inconsistency."

He added that "our imperial measures, much loved of many, seem to face extinction".

Neil Herron, spokesman for the Metric Martyr Defence Fund, said the case showed that an Act of Parliament could be overruled by a "mere directive" from "an entity, a gathering of unelected bureaucrats over which we have no democratic control". He added: "If they [the traders] want to take it to the House of Lords then we will." They can petition the law lords directly for permission to have their arguments reheard.

A Department of Trade and Industry spokesman welcomed the ruling, saying: "It is now time to move on ... Metric has been taught in our schools for nearly 30 years. This is not a European issue. Most of the world has gone metric."

Michael Shrimpton appearing for the five traders – Steven Thoburn, from Sunderland, John Dove and Julian Harman, both from Cornwall, Colin Hunt, from London, and Peter Collins from Surrey – described them as "ordinary men without means or higher education but whose patriotism and courage puts ministers to shame". They face a legal bill of about £100,000.