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Howard's End: Drivers Licensing Dogs Breakfast

The announcement today that Government is to review the photo driver licensing system is welcome news. Its administration and enforcement has been a dog's breakfast with not all people treated equally before the law. John Howard writes.

The Government plans to take a closer look at some aspects of the new driver licensing regime including costs to drivers and how licensing services are managed.

That's good news.

But, I agree with Green MP Nandor Tanczos, when he also urges Government to now abolish the July 1 deadline for getting the photo driver licence pending the outcome of the review.

Mr Tanczos believes many people are genuinely concerned about the privacy implications, that there has been frustration and inconvenience caused to our older people, the criminalisation of the poor, and concern over the beginnings of the "surveillance state" which has turned ordinary New Zealanders into criminals without cause.

I can't disagree with that. But I want to go a couple of steps further.

By accident of birth I had to have my photo licence months ago and I was recently issued a $400 instant fine because I didn't and I was forthwith forbidden to drive any motor vehicle.

Meanwhile, some other New Zealanders still have until next Monday to get theirs. Isn't that inequality before the law and blatant age discrimination?

The terms of my licence had not been extinguished, revoked, suspended, or disqualified. My licence had an expiry date of 2014 and I had not committed any offence when I was stopped by an officer not wearing a cap, which is part of his police uniform, and with his patrol car hidden out of view down a side-street.

I understand the officer has a discretionary power whether or not to issue the fine and forbid me to drive any motor vehicle. But no, I was immediately fined and forbidden to drive a motor vehicle and had to park it up - by the way, there is no public transport or taxi's in my town.

I did that, and I have not driven since - nor do I intend to - because I want my day in court with the officer under cross-examination and on equal terms.

Despite trying to explain my reasons, the officer just kept writing, appeared to have a closed mind and didn't appear to give a stuff about me.

He never asked whether I had been in hospital, overseas or in prison which appears to be a defence to not having the photo licence in time.

When I tried to explain that the English Bill of Rights Act 1688 still has force in NZ law he said, "I don't know anything about that." But he didn't appear to want to listen either.

That Act which, by the way, is the one from which our Parliament claims its sovereignty says, " That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void."

I will be most interested to find out in court if Parliament can claim its rights from that Act and whether the ordinary citizens will be denied their rights in the same Act.

Effectively, I was being fined before conviction and I was being arbitrarily required by a lone enforcement officer to forfeit my long-term earned privilege to drive a motor-vehicle gained through passing the appropriate tests, the terms of which had not been suspended, disqualified or revoked, nor had it "expired" in my view.

But, if this is the law - then we already live in a police surveillance state. I say that because it also appears the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) is able to contract (sell) any of its functions - including the photo database - to the highest bidder. That's dangerous in light of what has happened with stored public information in the past.

Moreover, when you sign the application form to get your photo licence you have to voluntarily surrender your right to your own signature. - "I authorise the electronic capture of my signature for use on my photo driver licence," the form says.

I wonder if you would still get your licence if you didn't voluntarily authorise that?

Since this part of the enforcement requirements of the photo driver licence seems to be discretionary and a merely a rule of the LTSA - not a statute - I reason that a statute of Parliament will always take precendent over a rule.

I am not satisfied that Parliament or the courts will sanction, or be at all happy, with a rule of a Government bureaucracy that can override its statute law.

Worse, what the enforcement officer has arbitrarily done, in my view, is to oust the jurisdiction of the constitutionally independent courts to decide whether I am guilty and should be convicted, whether the officer was acting in excess of his powers by hiding his patrol car, not wearing his full police uniform and deciding to stop me without reason when I had committed no offence.

If the constitutionally independent courts say that I am wrong, then so be it. But, meanwhile, I will not be ruled by fear or oppression.

At least when I go to court I will have had the circumstances of my case properly reviewed by a legally qualified and impartial judge and not a lone person standing at the side of the road purporting to be a police law enforcement officer.

There are currently two further cases before the High Court challenging the legality of the photo driver licence.

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