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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

DPP v Meade [2011] VSC 358: Why? Because he says so

It's now common for magistrates in traffic light and speeding cases to receive the whole of the prosecution's case in the form of documents authorised by statute.



These 'certificates' may have a photograph in them but their real evidentiary value is contained at s 83A of the Road Safety Act 1986 which reads,



83A. Evidence relating to prescribed road safety cameras



(1) A certificate containing the prescribed information purporting to be
issued by an authorised person certifying-



(a) that a prescribed road safety camera was tested, sealed or used in the prescribed manner; or



(b) that an image or message described in the certificate was produced by a prescribed road safety camera or by a prescribed process; or



(c) as to any other matter that appears in, or that can be determined from, the records kept in relation to the prescribed road safety camera or the prescribed process by the police force of Victoria-



is admissible in evidence in any proceedings and, in the absence of evidence
to the contrary, is proof of the matters stated in the certificate.



(2) In this section authorised person means a person authorised for the
purposes of this section by the Chief Commissioner of Police.




In DPP v Meade & Anor [2011] VSC 358 a magistrate dismissed speeding charges in two cases, ruling after submissions that the prosecution had to prove the person who signed their certificates was an authorised person.



The DPP appealed and Curtain J found that the magistrate got it wrong [starting at 3, then at 8 and 9]:



The question of law to be answered in each appeal is posed as follows:



Is the prosecution required to prove that a person is authorised by the Chief Commissioner of Police to issue a certificate under s 83A of the Road Safety Act 1986 before the certificate can be relied upon in proceedings in proof of a charge under Road Rule 20 of the Road Rules – Victoria?



...



Section 83A(1) speaks in clear and unambiguous terms of a certificate in the prescribed form purporting to be issued by an authorised person, and s 83A(2) clearly defines an authorised person for the purposes of this section as a person authorised by the Chief Commissioner of Police. The word purport is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary, 5th Edition, as “to profess or claim”, and in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, as “to mean, imply or to profess or claim by its tenor”. Thus, given the plain meaning of the word purporting, when read in combination with s 83A(2), it is clear that the section does not contemplate actual proof of authorisation before the certificate is admissible as proof of the matters contained therein.



Section 83A of the Road Safety Act 1986 forms part of the owner onus provisions of the Act and, as such, one of the purposes of the section is to streamline the prosecution of speeding offences; reliance upon the certificate obviating the need to call witnesses in every case. To adopt the learned Magistrate’s approach would clearly frustrate and contradict the legislative purpose. The section does not require the authorisation of the person issuing the certificate to be established independently, that is, as a pre-condition to the admissibility of the certificate. To do so would be to deny the meaning of the word purporting. The section does not require the person to be actually authorised, only purporting to be so, but read in conjunction with s 83A(2) effects no injustice. The section provides that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the certificate is evidence of the matters contained therein. It would still be possible to call evidence challenging matters in the certificate and the authorisation of the person certifying, but that is quite distinct from the prosecution having to prove the authorisation of the person certifying in order to prove the offence. It follows, by reason of the above, that the answer to the question posed on the appeal is no.




The appeals were granted and the matters remitted for rehearing.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about the situation where the certificate was signed by a person other than the named "authorized person" as in one of ithese cases. It wasn't argued and not considered. Anyone can sign the certificates!!!

Anonymous said...

When the signature appears it ws not made by the person who "purported" to be authorised, the accused would have to convince a magistrate that the person who signed it was not authorised, and the only way to do that is to have evidence of whose signature it is, or get the person named in the certificate into court to admit it is not their signature.