Judges reject privacy plea in drink-drive case

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Five judges quashed a bid by a driver to escape prosecution for drink-driving yesterday after she claimed the Road Traffic Act breached her right to privacy.

Five judges quashed a bid by a driver to escape prosecution for drink-driving yesterday after she claimed the Road Traffic Act breached her right to privacy.

Margaret Brown said that legislation which forces suspected drink-drivers to say who was driving their car breached her right under the European Convention of Human Rights to a fair trial.

Miss Brown claimed she was being forced to incriminate herself as she was providing evidence for her own prosecution while facing legal proceedings if she did not supply it when she was stopped by police at a supermarket in her home town of Dunfermline, Fife.

But yesterday five law lords, sitting on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, rejected her case and said the public had a right to protection on the roads.

Sue Nicholson, of the RAC Foundation, said the decision meant public safety was being put first.

"It is a victory for common sense," she said. "What we are talking about here is public safety and people's lives, not getting one over the police and judicial system."

The case also had implications for thousands of prosecutions for speeding, as another driver launched a case under the same section of road traffic legislation claiming he was incriminating himself if he told police who was driving his car when it was photographed speeding.

But yesterday the law lords unanimously threw out Miss Brown's case and said her right to a fair trial and privacy had to be balanced with the right to safety of the wider community.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill said: "I do not for my part consider that section 172 [of the Road Traffic Act], properly applied, does represent a disproportionate response to this serious social problem, nor do I think that reliance on the respondent's admission, in the present case, would undermine her right to a fair trial."

The Privy Council hearing was the last round of a long legal battle which had seen Miss Brown backed by Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Scotland's most senior judge, and the charges against her dropped.

The move was welcomed by the Crown Office, Scotland's prosecution service. A spokesman said: "Their decision is a helpful clarification of the law. Section 172 is a useful investigative tool for the police and it has been established that it can provide a useful source of evidence for the prosecution."

And a spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "We welcome the decision, particularly in the run-up to Christmas when people are most likely to drink and drive. Police will be able to continue to oblige motorists to give information about who is driving when an offence takes place."

John Scott, of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said the decision would build public confidence in the convention. "A decision like this in which the public has been given priority will give people confidence and show it is not just a chancers' charter," he said.

* Angry relatives attacked an eight-year sentence given to a drunk kerb-crawler yesterday who killed three women when he careered into them while being followed by police.

Allan Jackson, 39, pleaded guilty to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving at Bradford Crown Court after he mowed down Angela Ovington, 28, Victoria Fisher, 27, and Susan Briggs, 30, on 28 August, in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. He was three times over the limit and had two previous convictions for drink-driving.