The beauty of the law is that whatever hypothetical scenario you come up with, you will find that someone in real life has beaten you to it …
So it was on 18th August 2017 when this story – “Man admits being drunk in charge of a horse and cart” – popped up into the BBC News feed.
It brings to mind Victorian scenes of drunken dandies careering around town with their horses, running over peasants whilst swigging sherry. The truth is slightly more mundane – Mr Milner had ‘participated in a few beers‘ which, when it appears in a new story is frequently an understatement (although we don’t know if that was the case here), at a Christening.
He was was giving some children a turn in his horse and cart (why he has one, and why he had taken that, rather than an uber, to the ceremony remains unknown) in a pub carpark when he collided with a car.
He was swapping details when the boys in blue arrived and realised that Mr Milner had had a few. He was arrested and later apologised, saying that he didn’t realise he was so drunk.
But what’s the offence? The obvious one would have been criminal damage to the other car, but it seems that that wasn’t charged.
Other offences are the ‘drink-drive’ ones, but these require a motor vehicle, which this wasn’t (ignoring jokes about horsepower). There is a separate offence of drunk-cycling (for which one of my friends has the dubious honour of spending a night in the cells for) but by 1988 when the Road Traffic Acts were drafted, horses were less of a problem. A further problem is that a car park is (probably) not a public place which places limits on the offence (a very long story).
So, they reached further back, effectively before the invention of the car, to the 1872 Licensing Act. s12 to be precise, which reads as follows : Anyone “who is drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine, or who is drunk when in possession of any loaded firearms, … shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding forty shillings, or in the discretion of the court to imprisonment . . .for any term not exceeding one month.”
To a modern mind lumping together being drunk in charge of a cow, with being drunk in charge of a shotgun, seems a bit strange, but needs must.
Getting round the question of how you fine someone 40 shillings in this metric era, the magistrates gave Mr Milner a six month conditional discharge. Pretty much the lowest penalty you can get.
One thing to note is that s12 also makes it an offence for anyone to be “found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises“. I’m sure no readers of this blog have ever breached that of course, but if they do in the future, then they can get a £200 fine – you have been warned …