I wanted to make a quick elaboration on yesterday's post about speed cameras
. My problem is with the standard arguments against cameras and fines at the levels they are at today. These are firstly that cameras are simply a revenue raising device and secondly, as Bagaric asserts, humans are not infallible and are therefore punished excessively when they accidentally break the law. The arguments are interrelated.
Bagaric does not address the revenue raising argument explicitly, but his discussion of fine levels implies the argument. I would argue that of course cameras are a revenue raising device. This is the point of fines for breaking the law. The law sets a speed limit and, at least for all you 'anti-revenue raisers', does not make jail an alternative unless in extreme circumstances. This is the point of the law - to revenue raise. The only way people change their behaviour is if it hurts them in some way, and usually the most hurtful way is either a death in the family or caused by the driver, or a big fine. I would not wish the experience of killing another person on anybody, so for me, fines are the way to go.
I also notice that if the government really
wanted to revenue raise just for the sake of it, they could be a hell of a lot more devious in their use of speed cameras. I may be wrong, but last I heard, cameras are never hidden (in trees for example) and are never placed on the bottom of a hill. It is, therefore, usually in an open space where if you are speeding you deserve to get booked. Further, fixed cameras are fairly widely publicised. Hands up if you didn't know cameras are all over the Western Ring Road, in the Burnley Tunnel and outbound on Alexandra Parade. For people who get booked at these points, all I can say is, well, why on earth were you speeding there?
So, of course speed cameras are there to revenue raise. As I always say, don't speed and you will not get booked, especially if you know cameras are fixed. This runs into Bagaric's next argument, that human beings are fallible and make mistakes. Of course they do, I would not deny that. However, I'll let you in on a little secret that Bagaric never would, indeed never does. He is discussing fundamental principles of criminal law that he would never fiddle with because of the massive cost that would impose on the legal system.
For the uninitiated and in a broad sweep, criminal liability requires not only a criminal act, but a criminal intention to commit that act, or a recklessness as to the harm that might be caused by that act. Some crimes, called crimes of absolute liability, require no criminal intention and apportion liability simply for doing the act. There is an intermediate category of crimes called strict liability, which allow an offender a defence of honest and reasonable mistake of fact. Therefore, if an alleged offender can prove they were mistaken as to a fact, such as the speed they were going, rather than mistaken as to the law, such as the prevailing speed limit, they will not be criminally liable. Speeding offences impose strict liability.
When Bagaric argues that humans are fallible and should not be punished when they speed accidentally, he is actually saying that speeding offences should not be ones of strict liability. He is saying that an offender should be able to go before a Magistrate and say 'Your Worship, I didn't mean
Can you imagine the chaos that would be caused if every time the police wrote a speeding ticket, they needed to go to court to prove the offender meant
it? This is why speeding is a strict liability offence, the harm from imposing strict liability where sometimes people will speed accidentally is outweighed by the social cost of allowing many offenders to get off their fines because the police could not prove their criminal intention at the time they were speeding.
Have a think for a moment how difficult it is to prove somebody had the intention to do something. It is a near-impossibility, which is why the cost to the legal system and to society of proving such intention is done away with.
Bagaric would never tell you that, which is amazing for a criminal law academic. It is almost intellectually dishonest, but I wouldn't actually accuse him of that - he might get angry with me.