HL Deb 01 May 1956 vol 197 cc1-4

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her 'Majesty's Government, whether their attention has been drawn to reports in the Sunday Dispatch of March 11, 1956, and in the Sunday Express of March 18, 1956, of the case of the Chief Constable of Stockport v. Solomon Michael, recently decided at Stockport Magistrates' Court; and whether they would agree that these reports are substantially inaccurate and, unless contradicted, are likely bring the administration of justice into disrepute.]


My Lords, I have seen the newspaper reports to which the noble Lord refers, and I have also obtained particulars of the case from the magistrates concerned. The newspaper reports are not entirely correct, nor do they give the full facts 'of the case. In consequence of this, the magistrates who tried the case have, to my knowledge, been subjected to much undeserved ridicule and even abuse from persons who have read the reports. It would appear from the newspaper reports that the Stockport magistrates disqualified the defendant for driving for twelve months because he used his car to carry one bottle of orange juice which was required for his business as a café proprietor when his vehicle was licensed only for private purposes.

The facts are as follows. The defendant used his car to fetch from a wholesaler a half gallon jar of orange juice which he required for his café. The third party insurance policy for the defendant's car expressly stated that it did not cover the use of the car for the carriage of goods in connection with any trade or business. The defendant was therefore charged with using a motor vehicle when not insured. against third party risks, contrary to Section 35 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. He was not charged with -using the car without a licence for the carriage of goods, as was stated by the newspapers. The importance of this distinction is that any person convicted under Section 35 of the 1930 Act is, by virtue of the conviction disqualified for driving for not less than one year. This disqualification follows automatically under the Act of Parliament without any order or other positive action on the part of the magistrates. The court has no option whatever, unless there are special reasons why the offender should not be disqualified.

The defendant in this case admitted that the orange juice had been obtained for use in his café and that it was being taken there. He also admitted that in these circumstances he was not properly insured, and he pleaded guilty to the charge. This rendered him liable to a maximum fine of £50 or three months' imprisonment. In fact, the magistrates imposed a fine of 20s. The defendant also stated that he had no special reasons to put forward to show why he should not be disqualified for driving and, therefore, the disqualification for a period of one year followed automatically. I would add that the defendant asked the court to exercise the power conferred on them by Section 6 of the Act of 1930 and limit the disqualification to driving a vehicle of the same class as the vehicle in relation to which the offence was committed, namely, a motor car, so that he could continue to ride his motor cycle to his work. The court did so limit the disqualification, and the newspaper reports are inaccurate in suggesting that the defendant was totally disqualified.

These are the undisputed facts of the case. Nevertheless, I do not think there can be any doubt that persons reading the reports in question would be likely to conclude that the magistrates acted unjustly in imposing an excessive penalty for a very minor offence. The fact is that they could hardly have treated the defendant more leniently than they did, unless they had disregarded the provisions of the Act of Parliament under which the defendant was charged. I hope that what I have said will make it clear that any criticism of the Stockport magistrates for their handling of this case is quite unjustified. Magistrates are required to administer the law as they find it, and that is precisely what the Stockport magistrates did on this occasion.

I feel sure that your Lordships will agree with the noble Lord who has asked this question that inaccurate reports of proceedings in magistrates' courts are likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Magistrates have a heavy responsibility, but they undoubtedly discharge their duties day after day throughout the country with marked efficiency and it is only on the most rare occasions that any genuine criticism can be levelled against them.