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The BBC's Simon Montague
"Traffic camera law now seems confused"
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Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 20:17 GMT 21:17 UK
Speeding loophole is legal 'nightmare'
Police officer operates a speed gun
The ruling could cause a rethink in police procedure
Two drivers caught speeding on a police camera have escaped conviction after claiming protection under European human rights law.

A judge in Birmingham ruled that police could not ask the drivers exactly who was behind the steering wheel when the car was filmed.

He said that would be asking them to incriminate themselves - in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is due to become law in England and Wales later this year.

This is a prosecutor's nightmare

RAC Foundation
There are fears that the case could open the floodgates to many legal challenges from motorists already convicted of driving offences.

Amesh Chauhan, 22, and Dean Hollingsworth, 23, both from Birmingham, were caught by a speed camera, allegedly racing cars around the city centre with several others.

West Midlands police sent the two men standard letters asking for the name and address of the person who was driving the vehicle.

But the letters also warned that the police were considering a prosecution for dangerous driving - a combination which fell foul of article six of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Speed camera doubts

The Crown Prosecution Service is considering an appeal, but the RAC Foundation said the case exposed doubt about the viability of the current reliance on roadside speed cameras.

Spokesman Kevin Delaney said: "The Home Office is going to have to sit down and draw up guidelines.

I fear it is just the first of many chaotic situations to come

Ann Widdecombe
"As of Monday, people are going to be receiving these notices and are going to be believing, rightly or wrongly, that they are under no legal obligation to do anything with them.

"This is a prosecutor's nightmare."

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said the Tories had already warned the government of potential problems with adopting the convention, and said there would be more to come.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is extraordinary, but I fear it is just the first of many chaotic situations to come now that the European human rights legislation is being incorporated in our own and we find areas where perhaps clever lawyers can show that there have been breaches."

She added: "I think you can have a law that is based on recognising human rights - we always have in this country.

"We have always respected thing like, for example, the right to silence, innocent until proven guilty, freedom of movement etcetera.

"But when you actually come to enshrine it in very, very technical things like this, you have a problem."

'Legal rethink'

The Home Office said if higher courts upheld the judgement, ministers recognised they would have to change the law or bring in a new one.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "Court cases may produce complications, but it has long been a principle of European law that people should be protected against incriminating themselves.

"We should be pleased that every UK citizen is protected by human rights and we must begin to get used to European standards, which may require some re-thinking at home."

Earlier this year in Scotland, where the European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated into Scots law after devolution, a woman was acquitted on a similar basis after being accused of drink-driving.

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See also:

16 Jun 00 | Scotland
Fresh warning over rights law
29 Apr 00 | Scotland
Leading QC backs human rights law
29 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Warning over rights act
04 Feb 00 | Scotland
Car ruling threatens court chaos
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