Bang ’em up? Alas, no more

According to the Sindo,

Concerns were also expressed that the new system of fines “will see the canals fall into a similar state of dereliction to the 1960s, when entire sections of the waterways were filled in”.

Right. Well. Yes. The Sindo evidently has its own definition of the word “new”. This is from Section 7 of the Canals Act 1986:

(3) A person who contravenes a bye-law under this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £1,000 (together with, in the case of a continuing contravention, a fine not exceeding £100 for every day on which the contravention is continued and not exceeding in total an amount which, when added to any other fine under this paragraph in relation to the contravention concerned, equals £1,000) or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months or, at the discretion of the court, to both such fine or fines and such imprisonment, or

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding £5,000 (together with, in the case of a continuing contravention, a fine not exceeding £500 for every day on which the contravention is continued) or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding two years or, at the discretion of the court, to both such fine or fines and such imprisonment.

Emphasis mine.

So a Sindonian “new” includes anything up to twenty-eight years old.

The provisions of the Canals Act 1986 were modified by the Maritime Safety Act 2005. Now, I am not a lawyer, but this is what I think is happening. I would be glad to hear from any of My Learned Friends who happen to be passing. My interpretation, open to correction, is this:

  • under the Canals Act 1986 and the 1988 byelaws, contravention of a byelaw is an offence for which offenders can be fined or imprisoned or both; the severity of the sentence depends on whether there is a summary conviction (District Court) or a conviction on indictment (higher courts)
  • the Maritime Safety Act 2005 increased the level of fines, removed the threat of imprisonment and made all but one of the offences subject to summary conviction, thus confining all prosecutions to the District Court
  • the exception is that contravention of byelaws relating to fees, tolls and charges is no longer an offence: Waterways Ireland may instead initiate civil court proceedings to recover amounts owed and may (presumably) seek to have any judgement enforced through the usual channels
  • the Maritime Safety Act also provides an alternative to prosecution for alleged breach of those byelaws whose contravention is still an offence. In such a case, Waterways Ireland may issue a fixed payment notice, seeking the sum of €150 which, if paid, will avoid prosecution. The proposed Byelaw 7 will enable this provision to be implemented.

Working out how a speedy system of enforcement will lead to the filling in of waterways requires an exercise of the imagination that is beyond me. But the only thing that is new here is that Waterways Ireland is implementing a power that it has had for seven years. Under the system introduced in 2007:

  • offending boaters can no longer be imprisoned
  • a breach of the byelaws is now a summary and not an indictable offence
  • non-payment of fees etc is no longer an offence but WI can recover the money through a civil court proceeding and by enforcing a judgement
  • for those breaches of byelaws that are still offences, there is a fixed-penalty alternative that avoids prosecution.

I think that the explanatory note at the end of WI’s draft byelaws document is badly drafted in that it does not explain the difference between breaches of byelaws that constitute offences and those (relating to fees etc) that do not. On the whole, the 2007 rules, now being implemented, seem to me to represent an easing of the rules on enforcement.

I repeat: I am not a lawyer; my interpretation may be mistaken. Caveat lector.

2 responses to “Bang ’em up? Alas, no more

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