New Zealand Law Society - Four cases about footpaths

Four cases about footpaths

Four cases about footpaths

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Once solely the domain of people on foot, footpaths are increasingly contested space in a world of e-and non-e scooters, growing cycle traffic, skateboards, and, of course cars crossing them (rule 4.4 of the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 requires a driver entering or exiting a driveway to give way to a pedestrian or rider on a footpath, cycle path, or shared path). Some cases which revolved around footpaths:

The Kerikeri Segway case

After a car accident in 1990, former Kaikohe hotel owner Neal Summers was left partially disabled. In spite of a total knee replacement operation in 2009, he suffered chronic pain and could only walk short distances. Mr Summers found that a Segway PT was the answer. This is a two-wheeled self-balancing personal transporter (hence the “PT”). Battery-powered, it has a top speed of 20 km/hour. Three times between March and June 2011 Mr Summers was cruising along a footpath in Kerikeri when he was stopped by police and issued with infringement notices. Little did he realise this was the start of three years of court proceedings. Among several charges laid against him were three of driving a motor vehicle along a footpath.

At issue, of course, was whether the Segway was a motor vehicle (and therefore prohibited) or a mobility device which came within a legislative exception (and allowed). Believing there was an important matter of principle involved, Mr Summers chose to defend the charges. He decided to do this himself without counsel, in spite of being urged to get a lawyer by the Judge in the first proceedings. For some unknown reason the Police didn’t disclose that they intended to call expert evidence about classification of the Segway until two weeks before the trial. Mr Summers wanted to call his own expert from Segway, but it would have taken six weeks for him to arrive. The Police refused to agree to a change of hearing date and Mr Summers reluctantly agreed. He turned up to court on 23 March 2012 and was subsequently “convicted” for seven infringement offences and fined between $150 and $200 for each.

Still without representation Mr Summers appealed. In his 13 July 2012 decision Toogood J very quickly set aside the convictions, with the Crown conceding that they should not have been entered when the appellant was found guilty of an infringement offence. He then decided there were arguable grounds for resisting the proposition that the Segway PT was a motor vehicle and remitted the matter to the District Court for rehearing.

The final chapter took place in the Kaikohe District Court in June 2013, with Judge Simon Maude delivering his decision on 12 March 2014 (Police v Summers [2014] DCR 268). After experts had given evidence on both sides (and the defendant had cited various Wikipedia articles), Mr Summers was found not guilty. In deciding whether the Segway PT was a mobility device, Judge Maude said he was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that it was. It was designed and constructed (ie, not merely adapted) for use by persons requiring mobility assistance due to a physical or neurological impairment, and it was solely powered by a motor with a maximum power output not exceeding 1500 watts. However, “it is not possible, or necessary, for me to determine whether all Segways comply with the … device exemption”. Mr Summers was free to continue Segwaying along the nothern footpaths.

The car on the Tauranga footpath

Summer 1997 and a Mr Awa was peacefully walking down the footpath on the hill on Tauranga’s Third Avenue “minding his own business” as the District Court Judge later found. A Mr Claessens (first names are lacking) drove down Third Avenue and spotted Mr Awa as he passed him. Messrs Awa and Claessens had both been members of the Filthy Few gang, but Mr Awa had left and it was alleged he owed them money. Mr Claessens turned his car around at the bottom of the hill and deliberately drove back up the hill towards Mr Awa, with his left hand wheels on the footpath and the right hand ones remaining on the carriageway. Mr Awa was forced to jump out of the way. Mr Claessens stopped and “there was an altercation between the pair”.

Mr Claessens was charged with reckless driving. He was convicted of such in the District Court and lost his appeal to the High Court. The question of recklessness loomed large. “It is clear that the appellant must have had the foresight that the consequences of the course of driving which he followed may well have been dangerous to legitimate users of the footpath and it is also clear … that he intended to continue driving along the footpath up the hill regardless of the risk to the pedestrian who was on the footpath walking down. Mr Claessens was reckless about the safety of that pedestrian and imperilled his safety to the extent that the pedestrian, reasonably enough, felt it necessary to take evasive action,” Williams J decided.

God never intended to obstruct footpaths

The occupation of footpaths and public spaces by individuals or groups to set up places of worship is a major problem in India. In September 2011, tiring of continued lawsuits around illegal occupation, the Supreme Court directed the chief secretaries of states and territories to ensure that no further land was encroached in their districts and to remove any new religious structures. Monthly reporting by district magistrates was ordered. Nothing changed. No reports were ever filed by any of India’s 29 states and seven territories. The Supreme Court is getting angry. An order on 8 March 2019 directed compliance – with absolutely no response. Now Justices Gopa la Gowda and Arun Mishra have warned of “serious consequences of non-compliance”. “None of the states are doing anything to comply with the Supreme Court’s directions. God never intended to obstruct footpaths and pavements or encroach upon public land,” they said in a 19 April 2019 judgment. They went on sternly: “Are our orders passed for keeping in cold storage? The chief secretaries have no respect for the highest court. We will show them what the court can do. They do not deserve any leniency.”

Furious cycling in Salford

In August 2017 Marlene Crossley was coming out of a corner shop in Salford, England when she was knocked down by cyclist Jesus Medina who was riding on the footpath. Mrs Crossley, aged 72, was spun around by the impact and one of her hips was broken. She needed surgery, but did not recover full mobility. Mr Medina, 24 and a photography student, was charged with “causing harm by wanton and furious driving”, a law framed in 1861 to prosecute carriage drivers. The use of the obscure law – with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment – and the injury to an elderly pensioner made the resulting court proceedings national news.

After an appearance in the Manchester Crown Court, Mr Medina was required to pay Mrs Crossley £750 in compensation and to carry out 40 hours of community work. He avoided a harsher penalty it appears because he stopped to assist her and then offered to do odd jobs for her husband while she was in hospital. Judge Anthony Cross QC was plainly willing to consider jail: “I accept you have shown genuine remorse,” he said “…and it is unnecessary for me to impose a period of imprisonment.” He then stated that cyclists riding on footpaths were “potential killers” who posed a serious risk to pedestrians and faced jail if they were caught after knocking someone down. In March 2018 after Kim Briggs, 44, was knocked over and killed by bicycle courier Charlie Alliston the UK Department of Transport said it was considering a recommendation that cyclists involved in fatal accidents should be charged with a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling.

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