Archive for the ‘City of London’ Category

Justice: City of London style

July 20, 2011

In February 2011, I was stopped by a police officer in the City of London for cycling through a red traffic light. It was the reason that I started this blog. I stated to that officer at the time, and I maintain, that I did not commit this offence and so since then I have been embroiled in the process of appealing it in court.

The Court

After one adjournment from an original court day in May, I received last month a Summons to City of London Magistrates Court for this morning at 10am.

I sat in the court room for 4 hours. During this time, I watched three cases. All of them were people who already had between 6 and 9 points on their driving licenses, and who had subsequently committed a variety of motoring offences. They were:

  1. A man with 9 points on his license, including various speeding convictions, who was caught driving at 48mph through a red traffic light in a 30mph zone.
  2. A man with 9 points on his license, including speeding and driving while using a handheld mobile phone in May 2011, who was caught driving at 30mph in a 20mph zone.
  3. A man with 6 points on his license for driving without insurance who was facing charges after having been caught driving while using a handheld mobile phone, at which point it transpired that he was not insured.

All three pled guilty. In normal course, they would all lose their licenses. However, they all claimed that it would cause “exceptional hardship” if they were to do so.

The magistrate told driver one that he did not accept the exceptional hardship claim, however due to his early guilty plea he would only face a driving ban of six months. Driver two was given three points (bringing him to a total of 12), but his exceptional hardship claim was accepted – he was given no driving ban.

Sadly, I was not around to see the verdict for driver three, as while the magistrate was deciding (4 hours after my arrival at the court), I was told that my case would be adjourned again and I would have to come back in November.

This is half the story.

The Street

After leaving the court, I cycled down Queen Victoria Street towards Blackfriars Bridge:

At this narrow point, I decided to “take the lane”, as I’ve been overtaken by buses here before and it’s a little close for comfort.

A black cab driver behind me became very angry, aggressively revving and trying to squeeze past. At the end of this section (about 15 seconds after the beginning of it), he leaned out his window as he overtook me and said, “Who do you think you are? I’ll slit your fucking throat.”

There was a police car stopped at the next set of traffic lights. I knocked on their window, reported what the taxi driver had said, and one of the two officers within asked both me and the driver to pull over.

The Police

One officer spoke to me and one to the driver. The one who spoke to me (CP 241) was very friendly, said she understood my concerns but also that it’s understandable that taxi drivers get frustrated being on the road all day.

Her colleague, PC Jeffreys (CP 267), spoke to the taxi driver then came over and said that I had been cycling in the middle of the road and this was why the taxi driver had become so aggressive. He said that the taxi driver had admitted that he had sworn at me, but not the threat to kill.

PC Jeffreys then told me that I should not have been cycling in the middle of the road and that both parties were in his view in the wrong. He said that in future if I felt intimidated by a taxi driver behind me, the correct action would be to pull over to the side of the road, dismount my bicycle and wait until I no longer felt at risk.

I could not understand why on earth we were talking about where I had been cycling, when it was clearly not illegal, whereas I had just been the victim of a verbal assault and threat. I said so.

I then tried to take a photograph of the taxi driver using my mobile phone, so there would be no possibility of the man denying that he was driving should I wish to take the issue forward with either to police or the Public Carriage Office. PC Jeffreys physically prevented me from doing this by grabbing my arm and pushing me back to the kerb.

Futility

Honestly at this point, I lost the will to continue. I’d just taken holiday from work to sit in a court room watching drivers who clearly should have been disqualified for a long time managing to avoid it, then to be told that these cases were more important than mine so come back in November, then immediately upon leaving been aggressively bullied by a taxi driver, and then been told by the police that it was my fault.

On the plus side, the London Assembly agreed today to review a 20mph limit on Blackfriars Bridge. Great, right? Speeding is incredibly harmful. (Source: Amy Aeron-Thomas’s Street Talk). (Update: having read this while less frazzled, they’ve actally agreed to “ask the Mayor to instruct TfL” to do a review. So it may not even happen.)

I’d like to pretend to care about the London Assembly vote, but I just can’t. We already have a report saying 20mph on London’s bridges would be safer. Even if the review says it is unambiguously advantageous to move to a 20mph limit (it won’t), and if somehow the London Assembly manages to on this basis pressurise the Mayor into actually implementing such a limit (doubtful), it will make basically no difference.

Unlike Tower Bridge, the road layout at Blackfriars lends itself to driving much faster than 20mph, which people will do. Enforcement of the limit will be rare, and as I saw today, consequences in those cases where it is enforced minimal. We need to stop devoting our energy to tinkering around the edges like this and start campaigning for proper infrastructure – yes segregated cycle lanes, but this as part of a package of properly designed streets, not huge urban motorways.

The Summons arrives

April 14, 2011

Note: This post refers to the incident that took place in February where I was fined for walking my bike over a junction while the traffic light was red. 

I’ve finally received my Summons from the Court. There are several things I’m learning about the justice system in even this most insignificant of cases:

  1.       Being not guilty can be expensive

Had I, in the first instance acquiesced to the police officer and paid the fine, it would have cost me £30. The letter I have just received says,

If you plead guilty the prosecution will apply to the court for an order that you pay a contribution of £80 towards their costs. If you plead not guilty or do not enter a plea, and you are convicted of the offence, the sum applied for may be higher.

This open-ended figure is slightly worrying, as the case does come down to my word against the police officer’s. I wonder if I can claim the cost of the time I will have to take off work if I win.

The amusing thing is that it is to an extent understandable to provide financial incentives at every stage for potential defendants to opt out of a hearing to save the court time. But the letter specifically says, Nothing stated here is intended to persuade you to plead guilty. Riiiight

2.       The police lie

I will quote exactly what the police have said once the case is over. At the moment, though, I suspect I am already on shaky legal ground just talking about this while it is happening. All I will say is that the police officer’s version of events differs significantly from my own.

3.       The system is incredibly difficult to navigate

Initially, I sent a letter to the police, raising a number of points. In response I simply received a letter saying I would be given a court date, which did not acknowledge any of the points that I had made (nor has any subsequent letter).

In the letter that I received today, there is a section where the “witness statements” are presented to me. This only consists of the police officer’s statement, and there is no mention of my written response. I have no idea if the court have seen my letter to the police (though I suspect not). I also have no idea how I am expected to present evidence to the court. Do I reply to their letter with my statement about what occurred? Do I just turn up on the day? Is there another process? Who knows?! There are plenty of instructions about how and why to plead guilty, where I can enter mitigating circumstances and so on, but on how to plead not guilty the letter is mysteriously silent.

4.      I need to work on my first impressions.

I am described by the officer as, of slim to proportionate build and 1.8m tall. The man [i.e. me] had long dark hair, was wearing a long, dark overcoat and was white with a sallow complexion.

After a description like that in the City, I’d be surprised if the judge doesn’t feel he can finally close the file on Jack the Ripper.

In any case, I will be pleading not guilty, forwarding the court my initial letter to the police as well as my objections to the police officer’s witness statement. If anyone has any advice on anything else I should do, or thinks I’m doing something wrong, please let me know!


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