Motorist, 51, who was caught using his phone to film a crash WINS appeal to overturn conviction on a legal loophole because he wasn’t talking, texting or browsing internet
- Ramsey Barreto was prosecuted after police saw him filming while driving
- A judge found he was filming, but should not be convicted due to loophole
- His lawyers insisted law only covers ‘communicating’ at wheel, not filming
- The potentially landmark case has now been brought before the High Court
Ramsey Barreto was prosecuted for filming while driving but his case could be overturned after his lawyers pointed out an apparent loophole in the law
A driver prosecuted for filming the aftermath of a road crash while behind the wheel could be let off in a potentially landmark legal case.
Builder Ramsey Barreto was convicted of driving while using a hand-held phone by Willesden Magistrates last summer after police spotted him filming while driving past a crash in Ruislip, north London.
But his conviction was overturned when his legal team insisted the current laws only ban people speaking or texting on phones while driving, not filming.
The case has now been brought before the High Court, with lawyers saying it could expose a loophole in phone use while driving cases.
Mr Barreto was stopped by police in Field End Road, Ruislip on August 19 2017, with police saying he filmed for between 10 and 15 seconds, the High Court heard.
He denied the police officer’s claims, insisting his passenger was filming, but both magistrates and then a crown court judge rejected his claims.
But despite rejecting his pleas of innocence, appeal judge Simon Davis still quashed Mr Barreto’s conviction because his use of the phone did not involve ‘interactive communication’, the High Court heard.
Mr Barreto was stopped by police who said he filmed the aftermath of a crash on this street
Mr Barreto had been charged under road safety regulations dating back to 1986, which were revised in December 2003 to take account of the mobile phone hazard.
The 2003 rules bar drivers from using hand-held phones, but Mr Barreto’s lawyers claim the restriction is aimed only at ‘performing an interactive communication function’.
That would prevent all talking, texting and internet usage – but not using a phone as a camera, argued Mr Barreto’s barrister, Jyoti Wood.
In the High Court, prosecution lawyer Louis Mably QC attacked the crown court ruling, claiming it was illogical.
‘The purpose of the regulation is to guard against unsafe driving caused by drivers holding their phones and using them, thereby distracting themselves from proper concentration and control of their vehicles,’ said the barrister.
‘There is no rational distinction to be drawn between a mobile telephone used by a driver to perform an interactive communication function on the one hand, and use by a driver for a different equally distracting purpose on the other,’ he added.
What is the law on driving while using a mobile phone?
Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal. Laws were first enacted in December 2003.
Since 2017, the penalty has been six points on your licence and a £200 fine.
Driver are allowed to use a phone if it is fully hands-free, but not allowed to pick it up.
The law still applies when your vehicle is stopped at lights or in a traffic queue.
The current case centres on whether using a phone to film, rather than communicate with someone, should be treated as driving without due care and attention rather than driving while using a hand-held phone.
But Miss Wood, for Mr Barreto, said the rules in question never referred to using mobiles as a camera.
If using a camera while driving was an offence it should be covered by a charge of driving without due care and attention, she also argued.
Top judge Lady Justice Thirlwall will now give judgment on the case at a later date.
Outside court afterwards, Mr Barreto’s solicitor, Dominic Smith, said he hoped the High Court would clarify the law as it stands.
‘If the DPP wins, it means any use of a handheld mobile phone while driving is prohibited – whether that’s using it to scratch your head or even swat a fly,’ he said.
‘If we’re correct, it means you cannot use a phone to communicate, send texts, answer calls or access the Internet.
‘But if you use it for any other purpose, you cannot be prosecuted for this offence, although you may be committing another offence such as driving without due care and attention.
‘We are finding complete inconsistency with police forces up and down the country; some police forces will say that any use of a mobile phone while driving is prohibited, while others take a more pragmatic approach.’