Monday, 5 November 2007

No Smoke Without Fine

Blackpool landlord Hamish Howitt has become the first pub landlord to be prosecuted for allowing customers to smoke in his pub, according to the Daily Mail.

District Judge Peter Ward, sitting at Blackpool Magistrates' Court, declined to fine Mr Howitt £2500 for each of the 12 offences under consideration, saying that he refused to make Mr Howitt a martyr. Instead, he fined Mr Howitt £500 and made a £2000 order for costs against him. The Judge also said that Mr Howitt's campaign against anti-smoking laws was "silly, pointless and misguided".

Mr Howitt, who claims that his campaign has cost him almost £40,000, has said that he will not pay the fine, will not stop his customers from smoking in his pub and is prepared to face jail instead.

I have expressed my views on this pointless, draconian law many times; it's unfair, unreasonable and an infringement of an individual's rights to do as the please in a so-called free country. I don't believe I have ever seen Judge Peter Ward's views on the subject reported before, however, and they make most interesting reading.

Needless to say, I don't agree with them, although he is undoubtedly entitled to hold such views if he wishes. Still, I can't help wondering whether this is the same "District Judge Peter Ward" who, according to the BBC, was travelling as a passenger in a chauffeur-driven car when the chauffeur was arrested and charged with drink-driving - his breath test showed him to be twice the legal limit. Apparently, the case was initially scheduled to come before Judge Ward, who, as a passenger in the vehicle, was obliged to step aside at the last minute.

That was in 2005. Also in 2005, a District Judge called Peter Ward jailed a guy for five months for driving to get a takeaway whilst both disqualified and over the limit. No problem there, but, in passing sentence, the judge said, "If you are stupid enough to do that you can't complain when you have to face the consequences."

Again, fair enough. But compare that to the ride in the drunken-chauffeur-driven car. On that occasion, the chauffeur's drink-driving was initially suspected when police officers smelled alcohol on his breath while telling him where to park. If they could smell it, why did it apparently escaped the attention of the not one, but two allegedly-astute District Judges he was ferrying?

If these articles all refer to the same District Judge, I can't help thinking that it may have been just a little bit "silly, pointless and misguided" of him to miss that fact that his chauffeur was unfit to drive. Of course, they may be different people - there may be a whole array of District Judges called Peter Ward. Even if that's the case, though, I also can't help thinking that THE District Judge in Mr Howitt's case may have been a little silly and misguided in making such comments on a subject that many people feel very, very strongly about.

Not only were his comments pointless, in that they are unlikely to have much impact, either on Mr Howitt or the millions of other law abiding citizens who strongly oppose the smoking ban, but they also go a long way towards reducing his standing as a just and fair judge - which, until now, he has largely shown himself to be. Still, in (possibly) his own words, if he is stupid enough to do that, he can't complain when he has to face the consequences - the ridicule and scorn of much-put-upon smokers.

Judges are very much public figures, and their views are of interest to a great many people. In this internet age of instant information retrieval, one misguided - or stupid - comment is likely to follow them for life, as I suspect District Judge Peter Ward will, gradually, come to realise.

Billy Seggars.

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