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Royal Prerogative bid refused for farmers disqualified from driving

Published 30/12/2015

The move aimed to restore the licences of farmers, whose lands straddled public roads, to enable them to drive tractors
The move aimed to restore the licences of farmers, whose lands straddled public roads, to enable them to drive tractors

Civil servants refused a request to use the Royal Prerogative o f Mercy to help farmers who had been disqualified from driving, according to Government files from 1988.

Officials concluded it would be "inappropriate" to use the measure to restore the licences of farmers, whose lands straddled public roads, to enable them to drive tractors.

A confidential briefing paper from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) criminal justice branch said there was "no positive support" to give farmers special treatment.

It stated: "Farmers are perhaps the least affected by disqualification as they can generally carry on working on their land.

"In the circumstances we have concluded that there is nothing to commend using the Royal Prerogative to give farmers special treatment which could be perceived as undermining the law."

The issue came to the fore following the conviction of a farmer for drink driving.

He was jailed for six months and banned from the roads for 10 years after being found guilty of his third drink driving offence in a decade.

A petition calling for the partial restoration of his licence, was backed by the civil rights veteran and former SDLP MP Austin Currie who highlighted the case in a letter to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, according to the files.

The briefing paper outlines opposition to the move from the Home Office, the Vehicle Licensing Office and the police.

It stated: "The police are opposed to the idea on practical grounds. Local police do not always know the ownership of lands in their area and some farmers rent lands belonging to others. If the system is to be properly enforced the police would require farmers to carry a certificate specifying the lands and roads to be used.

"The police also point to confusion which might arise in individual cases in defining 'agricultural vehicles'. Apart from tractors, lorries, vans, estate cars and even saloon cars are commonly used."

The judiciary were also opposed and said farmers should be treated in the same manner as all other road users.

Referencing opinion from the Northern Ireland Resident Magistrates' Association, the document added: "They point out that Parliament has specifically imposed a total ban on driving vehicles on public roads where the defendant has been found guilty of drunken driving.

"They believe that disqualification is one of the most effective deterrents to drunk drivers who know that if convicted they will not only be considerably inconvenienced but their ability to earn a living could be seriously impaired."

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