RSS Acting As Prosecutors?

Anyone involved in the industry of speed cameras will be aware of the activities of Road Safety Support Ltd (RSS). It provides expert advice, training and other support services to safety camera partnerships, police forces and local councils. For example, where a speed camera prosecution is contested in a court of law, they might provide evidence as expert witnesses. But it now appears that they have actually been taking over the prosecution of such cases. Is this legal?

Emma Patterson of Patterson Law was interviewed on talkRadio yesterday on this subject (4/11/2017 – see here: http://talkradio.co.uk/radio/listen-again/1509800400 – it’s about 5 minutes in). She is an expert on motoring law. She suggests that it has not been legal because RSS do not appear to be a registered law firm.

RSS was set up in 2007 by Meredydd Hughes a former Chief Constable, and former traffic officer Trevor Hall. They are still directors of this company which is a private limited company (limited by guarantee). It is not known who the “Members” of the company are, but their accounts make interesting reading. These are available in “abbreviated form” from Companies House and show net assets of £1.1 million at March 2017. In addition, it shows retained earnings of £1.04 million, up from £790,000 in October 2015; in other words surplus profits of £256,000 in a period of 18 months. This is not a small business.

Meredydd Hughes and Trevor Hall were also involved in the creation of NDORS Ltd who operated the scheme to divert drivers (via Police waivers) to profit generating speed-awareness courses – see http://www.speed-awareness.org/profits.html before that role was taken over by UK ROED Ltd. That’s another private company over which the Government has no control. Although all these companies mentioned above are technically “not for profit” companies who cannot distribute dividends they can of course pay their directors and staff large sums of money, and provide good homes for retired police officers, or even serving officers.

One can see exactly why and how there are doubts about the morality of this whole area when there is such a strong financial motive potentially influencing the people involved. As we have said before about the use of police waivers and speed-awareness courses, the dubious nature and illegality of these arrangements seems to have been ignored in the pursuit of profits, and with no regard to whether they provide any road safety benefit.

Note that RSS is receiving over £400,000 per year from police forces. See http://www.pattersonlaw.co.uk/rss-ltd-and-road-traffic-offence-enforcement/ for more information.

This latest allegation about the role of RSS reinforces the questionable nature of these private companies who operate outside the control of Government.

Roger Lawson

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Queen’s Speech – Waivers are Still Illegal

Readers of this blog will be aware that a Bill was going through Parliament before the General Election that aimed to make the offering by the police of waivers in return for attending an “education” course undoubtedly legal (after speeding and other road traffic offences). Or at least it aimed to clarify the law because we have argued it was a perversion of justice and illegal on other grounds, i.e. the whole speed awareness cash cow and the associated industry was a corruption of English law.

That Bill was called the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill but was abandoned when the last Parliament ended. Is a revised or resubmitted version in the Queen’s Speech for the new Parliament – given in the House yesterday? Or has it been crowded out by all the Brexit legislation and other popular measures?

The answer in brief is that it is not clear. There is a new Bill proposed called the “Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill” which certainly covers some of the aforementioned abandoned Bill. Whether the additional “Courses Offered as an Alternative to Prosecution” clauses will be snuck into that Bill again, as it was into the previous Bill, we will have to wait and see. An inquiry to the Department of Transport elicited a response of “we don’t know and neither do we know when the Bill might be published”.

As it may anyway take some time to get through Parliament, readers can assume that it is still a matter that would be vulnerable to a legal challenge in the meantime. But let us hope that condoning bribery of the police to waive prosecution is not added to the Bill so it does not set a dangerous precedent in English law.

In the meantime, if you are offered a speed awareness or other education course, you may care to ask the ABD for a suggested response. For the avoidance of doubt, and to remind you, the ABD opposes such waivers and payments because they are financing the increases in speed cameras and resulting rises in prosecutions. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with profiteering by the police, course operators and others involved in this industry. See www.speed-awareness.org for the evidence.

Roger Lawson

Profits on Speed Awareness Courses in Gloucestershire

Radio channel Heart published some information on the profits made by Gloucestershire County Council in 2016/2017 in an article which has subsequently been removed from their web site.

Gloucestershire were one of the few councils that ran their own speed awareness courses and reportedly made about £400,000 in profits from doing so that year. But Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl was reported as saying that they should not have made a profit in that way, and specifically said “The law is fairly clear, it’s been clarified. I think it was ambiguous at one point but it’s very clear now, you’re only allowed to recover the cost of the course, everything else must be paid for in some other way through taxation. I know they made money on it and I’m not blaming them for that but it isn’t legal anymore, if it ever was, so that’s just the reality and the courses are now £14 cheaper as a result”. The courses are now run by a private company, so presumably they will be making any profits available instead.

Nigel Riglar, from the Council, denied they did anything illegal. But they are now having to fund the Road Safety Partnership directly.

It is also worth noting that the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Police, Suzette Davenport, has recently retired. She has been very active in the gravy train of speed awareness courses and is a director of UK ROED Ltd (see http://www.speed-awareness.org/profits.html).

So why was the Heart article removed? Was it too embarrassing an admission from Martin Surl? Or simply that his comments were surely not quite correct. Perhaps he was referring to the new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill that was passing through Parliament before interrupted by the General Election. That might make it legal when it is not at present. But the Bill has yet to be passed.

Roger Lawson

More Profiteering and Bill Status

The police are persistent in inventing new ways to make money from motorists by expanding the coverage of “education” courses. The latest example is the creation of a new “National Motorway Speed Awareness” course for those who break the speed limit indicated on overhead gantrys in variable speed limit areas (“smart motorways”).

This is shorter than the normal speed awareness course but costs £75. It is ony being offered at 12 locations so drivers may have to travel a long distance to attend one.

Why has this new course been invented? One reason may be because drivers are only normally permitted to attend one speed awareness course in every 3 years, although in practice some police forces seem to ignore this rule. The reason for the rule is to avoid allegations of profiteering by allowing people to take repeated courses rather than avoid real penalties. But they will be able to do a standard speed awareness course and this new one within the same 3 year period.

Of course there is no evidence that any of these education courses do any good, and it will be some time before we see the results of a Government study on that issue. That’s even assuming it is done rigorously.

Comment: If variable speed limits were set wisely then enforcing them might make some sense. But in reality we all know that the automated software that does so is not fit for purpose. Often limits are set way too low for the traffic volume, with no exceptional hazards apparent either.

The Times covered this news item and this is what Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation had to say on the example of a driver who was offered such a course in Derby after being caught doing 49mph in a 40 limit on the M25 in Surrey: “It can’t make sense to require someone guilty of a motoring offence to drive 170 miles to learn how to drive more safely on the 170 miles back.”

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill Update

This Government Bill was passing through Parliament when the General Election was called, and hence has effectively been abandoned. It will have to be reintroduced in the new Parliament. The Bill contained clauses that would prevent any simple legal challenge to the misuse of police waivers and speed awareness courses, and although it introduced some regulations over them these are way too lax. See http://www.speed-awareness.org/vehicle-tech-bill.html for more background. Let us hope that the Government, or any new Minister who takes responsibility for it, will reconsider that part of the Bill so that it severely restricts the profiteering by the police from this corruption.

If you talk to your prospective M.P. before the election, you may like to ask him some pointed questions about his stance on this issue, and what he is doing to stop the “war on the motorist” of which this is just one more example.

Note that even RoadPeace, an organisation that campaigns on road safety and which is often not friendly to road users, has complained that the increasing reliance on speed cameras and the relative decline in actual prosecutions (which they believe are much more of a deterrent than speed awareness courses), is undermining road safety improvement. It said the number of people killed and seriously injured dropped by 16% between 2005-09, but only by 1% over the period 2010-15 in England and Wales. Meanwhile, the number of officers fell by 28% in five years, outside of London where the numbers fell by 11% from 2010-14, according to Home Office figures.

As we have said before, speed cameras in general, and speed awareness courses in particular don’t have much to do with road safety and the enormous amount of resources (and drivers time and money) spent on them would be much better spent on other road safety measures.

It’s the money that is associated with these practices that drives their expansion, not a rational view of what the road safety priorities should be.

Roger Lawson

Hayes Response and Course Evaluation

I have received a response from John Hayes, M.P., who is the Minister directly responsible for the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill which is currently going through Parliament. This is a response to my letter to Chris Grayling on police waivers and “education courses” but Mr Hayes letter says nothing new and is simply dismissive of our concerns. It fails to respond to some of the key issues that we raised.

However, as a General Election is being called, this will halt the progress of all business in Parliament although the aforementioned Bill is likely to be revived in the new Parliament. Or it might get rushed through the Lords without debate which would be most unfortunate.

Mr Hayes says in his letter that, as we already knew, research is currently underway which will report before the end of the year, on the impact of education courses. This is what he said to the Public Bill Committee on that topic:

“The Department, in conjunction with the Road Safety Trust, has commissioned an evaluation of national speed awareness courses. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is only one of several courses offered, but it covers about 85% of those that offend. The evaluation methodology will be suitable for the future evaluation of other schemes. Because the hon. Gentleman will ask me, I will tell him in advance that the research is examining course impact, including reoffending and reconviction rates and collisions. That will therefore provide analysis of the data requested in new subsection (6A) of the amendment. In fact, the amendment suggests a one-off basis, but I want to do this on a continuing basis. I expect the final report to be presented to the project board no later than the end of this year. 

The project board overseeing the work includes representatives from the Department for Transport, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Road Safety Trust, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the RAC Foundation. The project team has worked hard to ensure that appropriate and rigorous data processing arrangements are in place to enable data transfer between the police, the DVLA and Ipsos MORI, which is the organisation we have commissioned to do the work with those organisations.” 

Comments: Apart from the fact that the Government is not waiting for the results of this research before pushing ahead with enabling legislation, you will note that one of the joint sponsors is the Road Safety Trust. That is one of the organisations that are the main financial beneficiaries of the money raised from drivers for attending the courses and is a major source of their finance. In addition the police in the form of the NPCC are involved when the police are also a major beneficiary of the funds from courses. Will the report really end up being negative about this whole matter even if the results do not support the use of speed awareness courses?

If you have not already written to your Member of Parliament, please do so now. You should write via post or email opposing this Bill and ask for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond).

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

Also please write similarly to any Member of the House of Lords that you know.

Roger Lawson

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill Update

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is going to make police waivers and “education” courses legal for the first time. The Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is now in the Commons Committee stage. It is being heard by the Public Bills Committee – see http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html for more information and where you can see the progress of the Bill.

Although the ABD has called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

The discussions in Committee so far have been on other parts of the Bill. Unfortunately the key part of the Bill so far as we are concerned are a relatively minor part of this Bill. In effect this positively dangerous new legislation has been snuck into a Bill on other major topics and hence is not getting much attention. Perhaps that was deliberate and introducing it when there are other important politic issues going through Parliament is also prejudicial.

These are the Members of the Committee discussing the Bill: James Gray and Joan Ryan (joint Chairs), Steve Baker, Alan Brown, Richard Burden, Jackie Doyle-Price, Vicky Foxcroft, Richard Fuller, John Hayes, Drew Hendry, Sir Greg Knight, Kit Malthouse, Rob Marris, Christian Matheson, Andy McDonald, Victoria Prentis, Andrew Selous, Gareth Snell, Iain Stewart, Tom Tugendhat.

If you personally know any of these Members of Parliament, or they are your M.P., then please let me know. Likewise if you personally know any Member of the House of Lords who may take an interest in this matter, let me know. Phone 020-8295-0378.

If you have not already written to your Member of Parliament, please do so now. You should write via post or email opposing this Bill and ask for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond).

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

A Meeting with Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Policing

One contact we have had recently was with Brandon Lewis as part of trying to obtain awareness of the issues surrounding the Bill. Here’s a brief report on the meeting:

On the 17th March, Dr Geoff Luxford and I met Brandon Lewis M.P. (Geoff is one of his constituents). Brandon Lewis is Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service at the Home Office and my M.P. had corresponded with him previously on the issue of police waivers and “education” courses – to no effect. Geoff has previously been involved in complaints about speed cameras.

Geoff opened the meeting by making some of the key points regarding the new Vehicle Technology & Aviation Bill (the section on the use of education courses):

– Lack of public consultation re the proposals.

– No evidence that the courses provide any benefit (I later said the Government is pre-empting a report they have commissioned on that).

– The fact that the Bill will make payments to the police to waive prosecution legal.

Mr Lewis responded in essence that nobody has to accept the offers of a course – they can take the punishment for the crime if they wish. He suggested it was similar to a “plea bargain”, i.e. you can take a lesser punishment by admitting the crime, and also suggested that it was similar to payments under the Proceeds of Crime Act. [Comments: I have looked into these claims subsequently. Plea bargains do appear to be available in the UK in some circumstances – for example where there is doubt about the evidence or the proof may be difficult to obtain. But a speeding offence is not like those in that the evidence should be clear and indisputable. Plea bargains are not generally available. As regards the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Police can receive part of the award. This is a relatively new legal arrangement and likewise may create dubious incentives in terms of police operations].

But I and Geoff did make the points that it was leading to a focus on money raising and was in essence corruption. I said I considered it was illegal and was intending to challenge it with a judicial review. Profits were being generated by the police and being used for purposes other than road safety.

Mr Lewis made it clear he did not support our stance, but he did say he would represent his constituent’s views to the Department for Transport who are apparently behind the Bill and the relevant section.

It was of course a relatively brief meeting and the result was not particularly unexpected, but I think we got some awareness across of the issues. However Mr Lewis seemed unwilling to seriously consider the legal issues or any of the other issues we raised.

Incidentally at one point I asked Mr Lewis if he had attended a speed awareness course and he said yes – he had participated in one. Presumably another example of someone keen to avoid having a criminal record or having points on his license.

Roger Lawson

Making Bribery of the Police Legal

As followers of the AMPOW campaign against police waivers and speed-awareness courses will know, we have been considering a legal challenge to the abuses that this system has created. But the Government have launched a Bill in Parliament that could make it very difficult to challenge.

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is due for a second reading on the 6th March. In Part 4 Section 23 of this Bill the offer of courses as an alternative to prosecution for Road Traffic offences is covered. That effectively would regulate, and make legal, the use of police waivers and the offer of speed-awareness courses.

For the first time in British history this Bill would introduce into English law the concept that it is legal to pay bribes to the police to avoid prosecution for offences.

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has shown how these arrangements have been abused. Such practices have enabled the police to generate cash to fund their operations and that includes equipment and services that have nothing to do with road safety. In addition it has financed the acquisition and use of more speed cameras. In effect the police have been using the funds so obtained to maintain their establishments and the consequence is that there are clear incentives to the police to raise money in this way. This is a distortion of the justice system.

The evidence on how these arrangements are currently being abused by the police are present on this web site maintained by the ABD:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/index.html

Although the ABD has called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more speed cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

Indeed the evidence obtained by the ABD shows that the police are diverting the funds raised in this way to other activities and are misreporting the profits generated. This is a natural consequence of the perverse financial incentives that are being created.

Please write to your Member of Parliament (via post or email) opposing this Bill or asking for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond)

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

You can read the draft Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill and follow it’s progress through Parliament here:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html

If you agree with us, and wish to stop the financing of speed cameras by this dubious practice which has nothing to do with improving road safety, please register your interest by signing our petition and joining the campaign here if you have not already done so:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/join.html

Roger Lawson