The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Private or Public?

I dealt with a drink-drive case recently that hinged on whether a particular piece of ground was private or public, and, if the former, whether it was ground to which the public has access. This issue often arises in drink-drive offences that take place in pub car parks, and the case law is such that courts nearly always find that such car parks are in fact public places.

In the most recent case counsel had prepared photocopies of various judgements to help us, and one particular case rang a bell in my mind. I read it and I realised that it was a trial that I had sat on. The defendant appealed, and I was quite chuffed to read that the higher court had agreed with the magistrates.

Chatting about the case later, we were reminded of the sad tale of the eldest son of an aristocratic landowning family who had organised a gymkhana and fair on his family's estate. Some way into the day he was driving his Range Rover across a meadow when he stopped to speak to one of the local policemen who were supervising traffic in and out of the site. Eldest Son had taken some champagne with his pals earlier, and he was shocked and indeed furious when one of the officers required him to take a breath test (which he duly failed). Protesting loudly he was taken off to the nearest police station where the evidential machine produced a reading around double the limit.

Solicitors were instructed and the case came before the local bench, by which time learned Counsel had been engaged. The defence hinged on the fact that ES had been driving on his family's land where the Road Traffic Act does not apply. Unfortunately for him, the court found that the fact that the field was being used as a car park by members of the public made it fall within the category of a public place, albeit only for the two days of the event.

So he was convicted, and that conviction was upheld on the subsequent appeal. Summer event time is upon us again, so do be careful even if you think that you are on private land - there could be a nasty surprise in store.