9/13/2006UK to Discourage Motorists from Fighting Traffic Tickets
UK police form litigation team designed to scare motorists away from challenging traffic tickets and impose court costs up to $7500.
The UK has long had an unofficial policy of using high-profile court cases to discourage motorists from fighting traffic citations. Last month, for example, a court imposed £5700 (US $10,700) in fines and fees on a man and his lawyer for fighting a ticket for driving 10 MPH over the speed limit. The Association of Chief Police Officers is now expanding this into an official policy. The plan centers on a special litigation team that will prosecute all speed camera tickets, driving up the potential cost of losing in court to £4000 (US $7500). This will mean that, regardless of their innocence, fewer drivers will choose to exercise their rights because the penalty for losing would be far greater than the £60 (US $112) saved by winning.
In support of the policy, South Yorkshire Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes cited several drunk drivers who injured people and escaped punishment on technicalities. "There have been a number of cases where people feel that justice has not been done, both in the drink-driving world and in other cases where people have evaded the law having driven cars recklessly and at very high speeds," he told BBC News.
Yet police officers like Mark Milton have escaped punishment for driving 159 MPH on public roads for fun, while an ordinary citizen lost his license for rushing his accidentally poisoned daughter to the hospital. Imposing £4000 in "court costs" is also unlawful under current Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines which state, "The costs paid should not be in the ordinary way grossly disproportionate to the fine imposed for the offence" (full text in PDF, page 88). The government, however, last year overturned double jeopardy protections that have been in place for far longer than the sentencing guidelines. This means motorists are subject to multiple prosecutions for the same offense, even after being found not guilty.
"I am disgusted that, in efforts to enforce petty regulations against us that the Police in this country are now prepared to bend the law for reasons of intimidation and expediency," said Paul Smith, founder of the Safe Speed road safety campaign. "Effectively they are saying -- don't bother us -- you are guilty. But countless thousands of erroneous speeding tickets are issued each year and motorists are entitled to proper justice."