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Speeding in Scotland: Some Basic Legal Principles
By: Michael Lyon LLB (Hons) Dip LP
Road Traffic Law Solicitor in Glasgow
In Scots Law, there are two fundamental facts the Crown require to establish: that a crime has been committed and the identity of the alleged perpetrator. The standard of proof in a criminal trial in Scotland is “beyond reasonable doubt” and accordingly the Crown case requires to meet a high and exacting standard if an acquittal is to be secured.
You may be familiar with the provisions of s.172 Road Traffic Act 1988 which are ostensibly framed to enable the Crown to identify who was driving the vehicle at the particular time the alleged offence occurred by imposing certain duties on the registered keeper. The 172 requirement or Notice of Intended Prosecution has been the subject of much case law and continues to be a source of interesting legal debate. It is impossible to consider every possible scenario and would suggest that expert guidance should be sought if you have been made subject to such a request. You should always bear in mind that if there is a doubt about who was driving the vehicle at the relevant time then this should be raised with the Camera Partnership who may be able to assist you by the supply of photographic evidence. Do not, under any circumstances, run the risk of making a false admission.
I have defended thousands of road traffic cases in Scotland and I still continue to be amazed at the deficiencies in the Prosecution case that continue to be exposed. When I first started defending road traffic cases, the most common device in usage was the VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder). It is probably the most basic and easy to understand speed measurement device which, through a programmed computer, measures the speed of the vehicle by the time it took to travel that distance. I remember a case when I decided, more as an intellectual exercise than anything, to drive down to the locus myself and measure the distance between the two fixed points used in the speed check. To my amazement, the distance was out by over a third and therefore the speed measurement was entirely unreliable.
Since then I have learnt that it pays to meticulously check every aspect of the Crown case. From visibility issues to calibration, the VASCAR device continues to be successfully challenged which is obviously great for the clients who get the benefit of the investigative work, although not so good for the huge number of accused persons who simply plead guilty at the first calling and take the inevitable punishment.
A routine journey in a motor vehicle is now peppered with fixed roadside cameras (the GATSO), long-range units on overbridges (the Lti 20-20 Speedscope) in addition to mobile units patrolling the roads. Things could be worse however: during a visit to the GATSO factory in Amsterdam I was shown a prototype GATSO camera that was housed within a wheelie bin! Don't worry, though, I have it on extremely good authority that this unit will not be making an appearance in the UK.
Nevertheless, the point remains that high mileage drivers are exposed to increased surveillance on the roads and the 12 point latitude we are graced with can be eaten away on a single journey. As a general rule, if a driver is convicted at 30mph over the speed limit that a period of disqualification looms large. The Crown have also started using the provisions of s.2 Road Traffic Act 1988 to prosecute higher speeds which will result in a minimum 12 month ban and an order to resit the test of competency. Even more worryingly, the Crown can move the Court to forfeit the vehicle used in the commission of the offence. Imagine you had just treated yourself to a brand new 911!
My best advice to drivers who have concerns about speeding is very simple: don't speed. Human beings, by their very nature, do make mistakes and I can only emphasise the importance of seeking specialist advice from a recognised expert in the field.
When I was a student I received a ticket and three points for travelling at 42mph in a 30mph limit. Knowing what I know now, I would not be so keen to accept the fixed penalty the same were to happen again.
Michael Lyon is a practising Solicitor in Scotland specialising in road traffic law.
Michael Lyon has a clean driving licence.