Matters of moment, December 1967

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• Travesty of Justice

“Mr. X went to the Police and said that his next-door neighbour had been seen to commit a murder. On this slender statement alone the neighbour was arrested and although protesting her innocence, was found guilty of wilful murder on the evidence of Mr. X, and was duly hung. Subsequently Mr. X was found to have had a grudge against the woman, who was innocent.”

If you read that this had happened in Britain, you would not believe it. And you would be right, for this is a hypothetical case. But if you are a motorist you can be convicted of an alleged offence on information given by any passer-by or another driver. You may not be allowed to correct errors of fact in this evidence and, although you have pleaded “not guilty,” the case is likely to go against you. You will not be hung or imprisoned for life, but you will most likely be heavily fined and your licence will be endorsed; your livelihood may be imperilled.

Two cases of this kind were the subject of a long editorial in the Macclesfield Advertiser last October. The paper makes the points that drivers were fined and their licences endorsed purely on the evidence of two unqualified witnesses and that the first the prosecuted motorists knew of the alleged offences was notice of intended prosecution, a considerable time after the incidents reported to the police had taken place. To prepare a proper defence in such a situation is usually impossible. We have knowledge of similar cases and agree with the Macclesfield Advertiser that this is “an objectionable and highly dangerous trend in justice” and that “to be reported and convicted on evidence supplied by a private motorist who is little better equipped than any layman to judge whether a motoring offence has been committed is not in the traditions of justice.”

Indeed, that is expressing it mildly! The drink-and-drive laws (which Mrs. Castle is already proclaiming to have had an enormously beneficial effect, without any statistics to confirm this-not that we want any “specially-prepared ” figures from the R.R.L.) have already turned the previously-unsullied reputation of British Justice upside down. Those Magistrates and J.P.s who are prepared to listen only to the evidence of biased, unqualified witnesses are further damaging its reputation of providing fair trials in British Courts. Note that so far it apparently only happens if the case concerns a motor vehicle driver. . . .

• Presenting The Petition

Final details have just been completed for the presentation to the Minister of Transport of the anti 70 m.p.h. petition. This will take place in a few days’ time at the Ministry’s St. Christopher House headquarters, when we shall once more urge the Minister to think again about these blanket restrictions. Thousands of citizens, including many non-sporting motorists, have committed their wholehearted support to any efforts designed to lift the limit. Not only has the response been most excellent, but many people sent in letters of encouragement with their completed forms. None of these People—over a quarter of a million of them—is convinced of the authenticity of the statistics issued by the Road Research Laboratory and the Minister’s propaganda civil servants, and implore Mrs. Castle to give a little serious thought to the real problems. We hope to enjoy the full support of the National Press, I.T.V. and B.B.C. in as much as they will give full coverage to the presentation of the mammoth petition.

The speed limit has caused widespread bunching on motorways, which is exactly what the police consider to be most dangerous. A multi-car pile-up of horrific proportions will inevitably occur, as it did on a freeway into New York recently, and the source of this will almost certainly be traced to cars travelling too closely at the same speed—not simply by cars travelling at speed. The bunching is brought about by motorists who consider it their right to travel at speeds of far below 70 m.p.h, in the fast lane; all too often we have seen a heavy lorry struggling and blowing out black exhaust fumes to overtake a similar vehicle up a gradient—and this despite the banning of lorries. etc., from this section of the motorway. Surely the prime issue which should be tackled is to improve the general standards of driving, in particular for motorists to take notice of lane discipline. Road accident deaths will never simply be eliminated or noticeably lessened by enforcing Motorists to obey a law which they do not want, which they do not believe in, and which can only create increased tension on our already overcrowded roads.

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