Under the rule of law, judges are bound to apply statutory laws as they are written. Sometimes the results may be at first glance hard to understand. The recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in the case of “Regina v. Brignall” illustrates the problem – a technical victory for a bad driver.
Mr. Brignall, as described by the Court of Appeal, “has an extensive criminal record, including convictions for dangerous driving, and driving while disqualified…. At the time of these offences, Mr. Brignall was subject to an indefinite licence suspension imposed pursuant to s. 232(3)(c) of the Motor Vehicle Act.”
This case arose from, as the court puts it, a set of straightforward facts: “In the early morning hours of July 26, 2007, the police stopped a vehicle being driven by Mr. Brignall because it did not have its lights on. As the officers approached the vehicle Mr. Brignall drove away. With the police in pursuit, Mr. Brignall, driving without any lights on, proceeded through two intersections, traveling in the wrong lane for two blocks. Mr. Brignall and his female passenger, his 14-year-old daughter, got out of the vehicle while it was still in motion. The vehicle traveled about 30 feet until one of the officers was able to enter it and bring it to a stop.
Mr. Brignall was apprehended after a brief foot chase.” Mr. Brignall pleaded guilty to two offences: dangerous driving, and failing to stop for a police officer when being pursued. The BC Provincial Court imposed a ten-year driving prohibition. Mr. Brignall appealed contending that he could not have his license suspended for more than the three-year maximum permitted under the Criminal Code. On appeal, he succeeded in having this ten-year prohibition reduced to three years —a result many might find puzzling.
The Court of Appeal had little difficulty with reaching its decision because, as it reasoned, “Although counsel appearing for the Crown in the Provincial Court sought a ‘licence suspension’ under the Motor Vehicle Act, it was open to the sentencing judge to impose a Criminal Code driving prohibition. …The sentencing judge used language that tracks the wording of …the Criminal Code prohibition.” The Court of Appeal could come to “no conclusion other than that the driving prohibition was imposed under the Criminal Code, which allows a three year suspension”.
In other words, there were in this case two legal sources of authority for suspension of a license, and the one finally relied upon by the Provincial court judge – the Criminal Code and not the Motor Vehicle Act – only allowed a three-year suspension. Technicality? – Perhaps. But, the law has to be applied accurately and consistently for the integrity of the legal system, sometimes even if the results may seem unsatisfactory. Results are important, but due process is essential.
Without this strictness, if you or I ever come before a court on an issue of any kind, all sorts of unpredictable and unfair things might happen.