Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rough justice

Some UK readers may already know of the case of Carl Johnson, M3VWP, who was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, found guilty, fined and received three points on his driving license for operating his 2m mobile rig whilst driving.

In the UK it is, quite rightly, illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving - though you can see this law being flouted every day of the week. There is, however, an exemption for the use of two-way radio, which applies to ham radio mobile operation. You could argue - and personally I would argue - that if it's dangerous to use a mobile phone then it is no less dangerous to use a ham radio. But that's beside the point. It is not illegal to use a ham radio whilst driving and unless he was actually driving dangerously as a result, M3VWP should never have been prosecuted for it.

Nevertheless, he was, and when summoned to court he decided to represent himself. Despite the existence of many holes in the prosecution's case - according to his letter in Practical Wireless, Carl was stationary at traffic lights when spotted by the officer, who after an hour at the roadside apparently admitted he didn't know the relevant law himself - M3VWP was found guilty. He decided not to appeal.

Of course, it's just my opinion, and I know only what I have read, but I feel sure that if M3VWP had been professionally represented in court, or had appealed, he would probably have got off. A good solicitor might have got the point across that the law against using mobile phones did not apply in this case and that Carl could hardly have "not been in proper control of his vehicle" as he was stationary when spotted by the police.

Unfortunately in the UK only the very poor or the very rich have access to justice. If you're poor, you receive legal aid, but if you have any means at all you have to pay the exorbitant legal fees yourself, and only the very wealthy can afford to take such a hit to their bank balance. One can only feel sorry for M3VWP for being convicted when he did nothing wrong. It seems that it doesn't matter what the law says, if the police think you've broken it then that's it.

Radio amateurs in the UK take note. Operating your radio whilst mobile could cost you a hefty fine and even, if you already have some points, lose you your driving license.
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