Robin Milner pleads guilty of being drunk in charge of a horse

Robin Milner pleads guilty of being drunk in charge of a horse

Not an actual reconstruction of the crime

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 …




  1. I once tried to argue the fine remained 40s or 200 new pence. Legal advisor was sceptical. I should have appealed :p

  2. @Conor McFalsenane – it depends. Is it a car park to which the public has access? If so, it’s a public place.

  3. I am only a layman, but in my opinion, I am dubious whether the 40 shillings is really still current. It seems that things have been complicated due to some botched amendment of legislation, along with some questionable application of amending legislation on the site.

    Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together from the various statutes regarding how the 40 shillings shown on that site apparently comes about.

    The Licensing Act (LA) 1872 s.12 creates an offence of being found drunk in the first paragraph, and creates aggravated offences (including drunk in charge of a horse) in the next paragraph. (The paragraph layout, referred to in amending legislation quoted below, is slightly unhelpfully not shown under the “Original (As enacted)” link on, but can be seen in the Original Print PDF.)

    The Penalties for Drunkenness Act (PDA) 1962 as originally enacted increased the fine to £5 for offences under “the first paragraph of section twelve of the Licensing Act, 1872”, and increased the fine to £10 for offences under “any other provision of the said section twelve” (the aggravated offences).

    The Criminal Law Act (CLA) 1977 s.31(1) then set the fine for the “Offences under the first paragraph of section 12” to £25, and s.65(5) also repealed from the 1962 Act the words “the first paragraph of section twelve of the Licensing Act, 1872”, but CLA1977 did not mention the offences under “any other provision…”

    The Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 1982 s.46(1) converted those £25 fines to level 1, and CJA1982 s.38 converted to level 1 any fines of below £25 for offences created before the CLA1977 that had not altered by the CLA1977 or later.

    The result of all of this seems to be as follows.

    Regarding the basic offences, it seems straightforward enough. The penalty is now level 1 by virtue of the CLA1977 and CJA1982, and is shown as such on (PDA1962 s.1(1)(a) is not directly affected by the CJA1982 provisions, so it still says £5, but it is no longer relevant to LA1872 because it was superseded by CLA1977.)

    Regarding the aggravated offences, things get a bit more complicated.

    PDA1962 s.1(1)(b), which originally raised the fine to £10, has been amended on to say level 1, in accordance with CJA1982 s.38. However s.1(2)(b), which defines the offences to which s.1(1)(b) applies, still contains the phrase “any other provision of the said section twelve” but there is no longer any “said section twelve” to which it refers, because the reference to it in s.1(2)(a) got repealed.

    Obviously they have decided on that the reference to “the said section twelve” in PDA1962 s.1(2)(b) is simply void, and they have therefore shown the fine for the aggravated offences in LA1872 s.12 as the 40 shillings originally enacted. I guess it is debatable whether the words “the said section twelve” should still have effect as referring to that of LA1872 as originally intended, but even if the words are struck out (such that the immediate effect of CLA1977 would have been to undo the 1962 amendment and revert the fine for the aggravated offences to the original 40 shillings), I see no reason why the provisions of CJA1982 s.38 should not then apply directly to LA1872 s.12, thereby still converting the fine to level 1.

    I guess that maybe if the magistrates had believed that there was a meaningful fine available for them to impose, he wouldn’t have got a discharge.

    Can one of you professionals shed any light on this?

    In any case, even if the prosecution and the court accepted that the interpretation that the fine for the aggravated offence is (for perverse historical reasons) now less than that for the basic offence, I don’t then understand why they didn’t just charge the basic offence.