Insurance certificates and the unintended effect of the Internet
by Steve Wedd
When people are charged with no motor insurance, the burden of proof reverses. Instead of the police proving that they were not insured for that vehicle on that day, the user has to prove that they were insured. For years this was done by simply presenting the certificate in court and it being accepted.
Partly due to the advances of the Internet, now many people can print their own documents at home – just like train tickets and other forms. Unscrupulous offenders exploited this so that they would download something like the real thing and present it to the court as proof of cover. Naturally, some succumbed to the temptation to adjust one or two trifling details such as the date of cover or the vehicle index number, so as get cover when none actually existed.
That meant that officers of the Crown Prosecution Service and or Justices Clerks found themselves from time to time being called up much later on to give evidence about some document or other that had drifted into and out of and past their consciousness while dealing with a Magistrate’s Court list months ago.
This, it was concluded, was a waste of time and money, since prosecuting lawyers have better things to do with their time, and they are not and should not become witnesses to anything. Add to that, the improbability of them remembering some detail from a list from time gone by, and it became apparent that the task had to be streamlined and simplified. How?
By sending the alleged offender round to the police station to show the certificate to the police there. That meant that the investigator with access to the computer database could quickly look up the driver, the vehicle, and the date and certify that the accused was indeed insured on that date. The officer would produce a little chitty which the accused would trot back to the prosecutor, who would accept the written word of the officer, and the no insurance allegation would be dismissed. Simple, quick, cheap, effective. The police worked hand in hand with their prosecutors and the Court to the benefit of the whole system, nicely joined up.
Not on Maundy Thursday at Brighton Magistrate’s Court. My client MD faced this charge amongst others. I sent him to the police station to do the above. Refused 1 – we need to see the bundle of evidence to check the charge against your insurance document (no, you don’t).
I sent him back to the police station to do the above. Refused 2 – we don’t do that any more (yes, you do).
We went into court and pleaded not guilty. The court was about to set up a trial date for an hour, to block other worthy cases from taking place on that trial date, to engage the time of a Crown Prosecutor, to book Constable G off his job of catching criminals, and to use me to prove what a few clicks on a computer could achieve, until the worthy prosecutor today (MS) stepped in with an attempt at common sense. Refused 3 – the policy has changed.
In the time it’s taken me to write the above, common sense should have descended. 18 minutes and five human beings later on, we get grudging agreement that the ages old policy does indeed exist.
- At first, a plain denial that it ever did exist, followed by
- If it did, it doesn’t now, followed by
- It’s the officers job, followed by
- He’s off duty, followed by
- We can’t, followed by
- Speak to my supervisor, followed by
- Explaining all the above again, this time to that supervisor, followed by
- ‘Well as its you, we’ll do it this once’.
Outside my remit I went to the police station with the papers and handed them to Sgt D who promised to do what was needed.
Forty minutes and one salad later, I went back to collect all, suitably endorsed to show that the certificate was the real McCoy. Alas, no such endorsement thereon. Completely unendorsed.
Apparently the officer not dealing with the case rang the prosecutor over lunch and agreed that we were genuine.
Four visits to the police station, three unresolved.
When did the policy change?
If it’s the new policy, how can it change if we nag individuals enough to change policy?
Of course, to speed up yet further the whole exercise, cameras do it all by ANPR now – maybe that’s why no one expects to see a real certificate anymore.