Last year, we discussed the growing backlash against speed cameras
in the UK. However, many are still in place, and one man has now been convicted of a crime and fined for simply flashing his brights to warn oncoming motorists of a speed camera
(found via Glyn Moody
). The details suggest police clearly abusing their authority.
After flashing his brights at oncoming cars, to warn them of a mobile speed camera he had spotted, Michael Thompson was pulled over. This, alone, seems pretty questionable. After all, shouldn't the purpose of speed cameras be to get people to slow down? Thompson's actions probably did succeed in getting more people to slow down. But, of course, in many cases the real reason for speed cameras is money, so interfering with that is seen as a problem. Now, it does appear that, after being pulled over, Thompson got a bit belligerent and questioned the fairness of being pulled over. The officer responded by saying he was going to let Thompson off with a warning, but had changed his mind -- and was going to charge him with "perverting the course of justice." It seems ridiculous to think that warning people they should obey the law is "perverting the course of justice."
In the end he was not actually charged with "perverting the course of justice," but instead with "willfully obstructing a police officer in the course of their duties," which is a criminal offense. Lawyer David Allen Green, who wrote the article I link to above, points out that warning other motorists to obey the speed limit is hardly obstructing a police officer:
Preventing police officers from seeking to impose as much criminal liability as they possibly can is not the same as "wilfully obstructing a police officer in the course of their duties". Police officers' ability to arrest and charge is not an end in itself, but just one means of serving the wider interests of justice and the public. The criminal justice system does not exist solely for the satisfaction of a police officer wanting to coerce another human being.
And yet, the court found Thompson guilty, and fined him £175, along with having to pay £250 in "costs" and an extra £15 "victim surcharge." He sure does seem like a victim, alright. UK government prosecutors have defended their pushing forward with the case, still claiming that the police officer's job was obstructed, but failing to explain how. They also told Green that the UK highway code forbids flashing of headlights for any purpose other than letting people know where you are. However, Green points out that this still doesn't support the lawsuit and the fine, since a violation of the highway code is not a criminal offense.
It seems like the police and the UK prosecutors simply decided that getting people to actually follow the speed limit gets in the way of police making money -- and thus, it's an obstruction.