Drivers lose speed camera test case in Strasbourg court
PUBLISHED July 2, 2007
Two British drivers lost a test case at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg yesterday over whether the rules on speed camera prosecutions violate the 800-year-old right to silence. The two men claimed the law requiring car owners to reveal who was driving when the camera recorded a speeding violation infringes the right not to incriminate oneself, a key element of the right to a fair trial.
But despite a string of earlier judgments by the Strasbourg court upholding the ancient privilege against self-incrimination - which dates back to the 13th century in English law - the grand chamber of 17 judges ruled against the drivers by 15-2. Idris Francis, 67, from Petersfield, Hampshire, and Londoner Gerard O'Halloran, 74, claimed that forcing car owners to reveal who was behind the wheel breached their human rights.
They were convicted of speed camera offences, with Mr Francis refusing on grounds of the right to silence to say whether he had been behind the wheel. His 1938 Alvis was photographed doing 47mph in a 30mph zone. Mr O'Halloran was caught doing 69mph on a temporary 40mph stretch of the M11. He admitted being the driver but later invoked his right to silence and protection from self-incrimination. But magistrates refused to exclude his confession and fined him ?100, with ?150 costs, and put six penalty points on his licence. He failed to get a judicial review of the magistrates' decision. Mr Francis was convicted of failing to provide the information about the driver. He was fined ?750 with ?250 costs and incurred three penalty points. Instead of the usual seven-judge chamber, the case was heard by the grand chamber of 17. This happens when the court is asked a question which could produce a judgment inconsistent with its earlier rulings.
The drivers were backed by the human rights group Liberty. The 15 judges ruled yesterday that the protection against self-incrimination was not absolute, and a rule obliging car owners to identify the driver did not destroy the right of silence.
They added: "Those who keep and drive motor cars have accepted certain responsibilities and obligations ... in the legal framework of the United Kingdom, these responsibilities include the obligation, in the event of suspected road traffic offences, to inform the authorities of the identity of the driver." Two judges, from Moldova and the Netherlands, dissented. The Strasbourg court's ruling leaves the two drivers without any further legal remedies. Mr Francis said: "This is a perverse decision and I am shocked and amazed."