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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Driving bans - the solution to everything.

Obnoxio the (scary) clown has picked up on this (my emphasis):
A man found guilty of illegally keeping wild birds in his garden shed has been banned from driving for four months by a district judge.
Police and RSPCA investigators found 22 linnets, goldfinches and chaffinches at his property in Margam, Port Talbot.
Bobby Jenkins, 59, ran a small business buying and selling birds. District judge Jill Watkins said as he was on benefits and a "man of limited means" she would punish him with a driving ban as a deterrent to others.

Jenkins had denied three counts of possessing live wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but had been found guilty at a trial. He had claimed he had bought the birds "in good faith" during a trip to Belgium. But he had not been able to provide any documentation to back up his claims.

Sentencing him at Neath magistrates' court Judge Watkins described the subsequent trial as "lengthy and wholly unnecessary" and said she was "troubled" by many aspects of his evidence.
"You were not able to provide any documentary evidence even to confirm where they were purchased," she added.

Sounds like a piss easy prosecution when it sounds like the police have to do virtually fuck all other than establish possession and accused is expected to provide evidence of innocence. Looking around the room I'm sitting in I can see half a dozen things that I'm reasonably confident we didn't bother keeping the receipt for, but I'm reasonably certain no-one would assume we'd got them illegally. Here in Australia we have something called the presumption of innocence* which I'm fairly sure was a concept brought over from British law. Still, maybe the Wildlife and Countryside Act is worded in such a way as to make any possession of the bird species which this loon was keeping illegal without certain licenses and documentation, but from the Beeb report it sounds suspiciously like this law can make an accused guilty until proven innocent. I find that just a little bit distasteful, not to say worrying. I just hope that the police really did have evidence that he trapped the birds or otherwise came by them illegally, and that the Beeb's report has simply glossed over that aspect to concentrate on the weird idea that a driving ban is an appropriate sentence.

And that really is pretty weird. It reminds me of Stuart Harding, the guy who made a warning sign up to let drivers in Farnborough know that the police had a speed trap 300 yards down the road, and who was charged with obstructing police. Aldershot magistrates banned Harding from driving for a month and, rather nastily in my opinion, refused to suspend the sentence so that by the time he could appeal it (presumably on the grounds that while the circumstances were tenuously related to a motoring issue the charge itself had square root of fuck all to do with driving) the ban would be over. Now magistrates are advised by a clerk of the court and we could suppose that maybe the advice they got that day was particularly unfavourable to Mr Harding, but in the case of the Birdman of Port Talbot it was a judge, an expert in the law, who decided that a driving ban was a suitable punishment. Obnoxio notes that the judge felt that a driving ban was appropriate since the Birdman had limited means, but then hit the guy with £1000 costs. Being of limited means in the UK mustn't be too bad these days if you'd typically have a spare grand handy. Obnoxio also wonders if Judge Watkins was off her dial and asks:
How is a driving ban in any way, shape or form, a relevant punishment for keeping birds illegally? What's next, a Chinese burn for littering? A donkey punch for failing to stop at a traffic light?

For failing to stop at a traffic light maybe Judge Watkins would ban you from keeping pets. But how a driving ban is relevant is kind of, er, irrelevant. When I googled Stuart Harding just now one of the links was a local news story about Mr Harding's appeal, which went to the House of Lords. The interesting bit is in the last few paragraphs (my emphasis):
[Viscount Falkland] said: “Could the minister (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) allay the fears of the House and the general public by confirming that this is not the thin end of the wedge and that young people will not have to look forward to a future when they will receive driving bans for not separating their rubbish or for smoking in public places?”

But ex-Labour MP Dale Campbell-Savours, now Lord Campbell-Savours, spoke in favour of the new power and said “a very large body of public opinion is highly supportive” of using driving bans instead of fines, which were often not paid.

The Minister, Baroness Scotland, said the power to slap a driving ban on anyone convicted of an offence was granted in 2000 and “may be seen as an additional deterrent in the context of anti-social behaviour, environmental crime and other offences when a case has a link to the use of vehicles, such as kerb crawling.”

She said it was entirely up to the discretion of the judge or magistrate to impose a driving ban. “The sentence is available to the court if the court deems it appropriate for that particular offender.”

Not exactly shocked to see environmental crime in there, another fucking buzzword of a political generation. But from that it seems like the courts have the power to hit someone with a driving ban without having to justify it in any way or the crime having to be a motoring offense. If they think it's alright then a ban it is. How fucked up is that?

*But possibly not for speeding. The Australian police are even more worked up about hammering speeding motorists than their counterparts in the UK, and since there's pretty much a presumption of guilt for speeding in the UK now I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same here. Hopefully I won't have to find out.
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