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Drunk in charge, Dundee Sheriff Court, June 2016

Our client was charged with being drunk in charge of his vehicle. He had driven to a University party and had planned to stay the night. However he got involved in an argument with friends and went to his car – which was parked outside on University land. His position was that he would not have driven the car until the afternoon of the next day. This is a defence of ‘no likelihood of driving’. Our client’s position was supported by three friends and a toxicology report confirmed that he would have been fit to drive by 0830am in the morning.

As  the case turned out, the defence was not required. This offence can only be committed on a road or other public place. There was no dispute that the incident did not occur on a road. The only issue was whether it was a public place as opposed to a place where a specific class of person (i.e. students and University staff) could visit.

The Crown had cited 2 security guards as witnesses. We were able to turn these witnesses to our advantage. Both witnesses confirmed that the land was private ground. Crucially they also confirmed that the general public had no right of access to the land. Finally they also confirmed that unauthorised persons would be asked to leave. As such we were able to argue that there was no express or implied ‘right of access’ for the general public. As such, the court accepted our submission that the Crown had not proved that the land was a public place. Our client was thereafter found not guilty.

‘Public place’ is usually very widely defined. It can – and often does – include private land. The key issue is whether the owner acquiesces to the public being there notwithstanding the land is private. In this case, the University clearly had  a policy of asking the general public to leave and therefore the Crown had not proved it was a public place.