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Drivers Rights and Human Rights

Important: Reversed on appeal

It has been clear for a while that the Human Rights Act will have a major impact on UK law. If there are any left who doubt this, I suggest they look hard at Brown v Procurator Fiscal, Dunfermline (HCJ Times 14-Feb-2000). The High Court of Justiciary, the highest Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland, held that the power in the Road Traffic Act 1998 to force a registered keeper to say who was driving a car, denies the driver a right to a fair trial. It compels him to give evidence against himself. A refusal to answer is itself a crime. The fairness restriction on such powers must apply at the stage of evidence gathering as much as at trial. It does not apply at the stage where an officer is investigating whether a crime has been committed, but does as soon as he concludes that an offence has been committed, and moves on to ask who committed the offence.

This section which has long been part of UK Road Traffic law, has been a major plank, for example, in catching drivers who have been speeding on motorways by the use of cameras. The car rushes past, the camera flashes, and the registered keeper is sent a letter requiring him, on pain of committing a criminal offence, to say who the driver was. If the registered keeper was the driver, he has been compelled to provide evidence which will lead to his conviction. One can imagine that the consequences for Road Traffic law will be substantial.

I must admit that it all appears rather more clear when a judge explains it, than it did beforehand. Hats off to the lawyer who pushed the case.

14 Feb 2000

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