Back in 2012 I was driving through a village in Yorkshire. It was nothing remarkable, I was listening to my music and following the directions on my satellite navigation equipment as I headed home. It was during this journey, unbeknown to myself, that I had triggered a speeding camera.
By my own admission I was doing 40mph in a 30 zone. In the letter from the police it stated that although the speed for the specific area had previously been 40mph new and recent directives stipulated that the area was now a designated 30mph zone.
Pay up and shut up
Okay, I did feel a little bit saddened that this had happened but I would have been screwed over either way. I accepted that at that moment I had committed a wrong and so paid the £90 fine and carried the three points on my licence. Lesson learned and moved on.
However, if in my defence I had stated that “I did not know the speed limit within that zone” I would have been prosecuted for driving without due care and attention. On the other hand, if I had claimed that “I did not know about the recent law change” the principle of ‘Ignorantia juris non excusat’ would have been applied.
So what is Ignorantia juris non excusat?
It’s always an area of law I have had a problem with. Ignorantia juris non excusat translates as; “ignorance of the law excuses not” or, another alternative states that “ignorance of law excuses no one”. To be specific it is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content.
The rationale of the doctrine is that if ignorance were a legitimate excuse, a person charged with criminal offenses or a subject of a civil lawsuit would merely claim that one was unaware of the law in question to avoid liability. Thus, the law assigns that knowledge of all laws to all persons within the jurisdiction of the home they reside or the place of which the crime took place are fully enforceable.
Even though I consider it would be impossible, even for someone with substantial legal knowledge, to be aware of every law in operation, this is the price paid to ensure that wilful blindness cannot become the basis of defence or the discharge of non-responsibility.
For this doctrine to work it assumes that the law in question has been properly published and distributed. The ancient Greeks would have used the term; Leges instituuntur cum promulgantur (Laws are instituted when they are promulgated).By modern standards publication can be in the printed form or over the internet being accessed by modern smart phones. As a result a law can bind only when it is reasonably possible for those to whom it applies to acquire knowledge of it in order to observe it. Even if actual knowledge of the law is absent for a particular individual. A secret law is no law at all.
Although I have now established that ignorance may not clear a defendant of guilt, it can be a consideration in sentencing. This is particularly pressing where the law is unclear or the defendant sought advice from law enforcement or from further legal authority. I would argue that a police officer represents a legal authority. Wouldn’t you?
So, does an apology exonerate you from the law?
Well if you are a police officer, it does indeed seem to be the case.
Today (30th January 2018) The Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service apologised to Liam Allan after the rape case against him collapsed following the discovery of crucial text message evidence that had not been disclosed to his legal team.
The 22-year-old was cleared after lawyers were handed a mobile phone download containing previously undisclosed text messages which cast doubt on the claim the sex was non-consensual.
Although the CPS had submitted a short text conversation between Mr Allan and the complainant as evidence, they had not provided the whole download from the alleged victim’s phone until days before the trial collapsed.
As a result of the evidence eventually coming to light the judge threw out the charges against Mr Allan after his lawyer discovered messages showing the claimant wanted and enjoyed the sex which she later claimed was non-consensual.
A statement for all seasons
In a statement from the police and CPS they had the boldness to state;
There is no evidence that the phone download was withheld deliberately by the OIC (officer in the case) or CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) prosecutors.
Deliberately or not, a failure to disclose all relevant evidence was reckless in the least and catastrophically dangerous at the worst as an innocent man would have been wrongly convicted.
But in their defence, they further stated;
“The disclosure problems in this case were caused by a combination of error, lack of challenge, and lack of knowledge.”
Now let us look at this again.
‘A combination of…’
They clearly state that is was a ‘combination of…’. To my educated ear this implies that there are more than one error to consider. As if one wasn’t bad enough.
‘Lack of challenge’
The statement further states ‘lack of challenge’. It is not for the police or the CPS to establish guilt. By not challenging the validity of the evidence or facts as given then they opted to assume guilt. This of course flies in the principle of innocent until proven otherwise.
It is now evident that believing the victim now trumps ‘objective and thorough’ investigations. In effect it appears that there is no requirement for an investigation if they feel that the victim is being honest. Any intelligent person will know the dangers of presumption especially when questioning someones right to liberty.
Time and again I have highlighted and identified when the police and the CPS have cherry picked the evidence put before them. This has further been proven in Liam Allans case.
Liam Allan said in a range of interviews today following the apology that;
…[he had concerns that certain messages in his case] “were plucked specifically to go against me”…”It must mean at some point there was reading somewhere.”
‘A lack of knowledge’
So how is having a ‘lack of knowledge’ any different from claiming ignorance? Well in my eyes there is no difference. Being ignorant is having a lack of knowledge (and visa versa).
In fact the dictionary definition of ‘ignorance’ not only defines the understanding but it also offers a clear example. It states;
Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware, and can be used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts or individuals who are not aware of that important information or facts.
So how does this fit with “ignorance is no defence?”
Well based on my speeding fine I had three options.
- Accept it. Pay the £90 fine and move on.
- Claim ignorance of the law and have a conviction for driving without due car and attention.
- Not knowing of the recent speed change who have considered I was aiming to use ignorance as a defence.
By the police and CPS claiming to have ‘no knowledge’ indeed argues on the side of ignorance and as we now know under the principles of law that ignorance of law excuses no one. Or to put it another way – Ignorantia juris non excusat
The law applies but not to them…
I would like to think that I have proven that the legal system operates the principle of Ignorantia juris non excusat. However, I do not hear the police or the CPS rushing to prosecute one of their own. Far from it. Commander Richard Smith said he and Claire Lindley, chief crown prosecutor for London South, stated that it was a ‘mistake’. I failed to read or hear of any pending prosecution of an ignorant police officer.
Okay, based on their principle. My excessive speed one day in 2012 was a mistake and I am sorry. So, can I have my £90 back please?
We know the answer to this one, don’t we? Me and my kind are not above the law unlike ignorant police officers or CPS prosecutors. My ignorance of the law can now be defended by saying ‘sorry’.