RTA wins battle on height and width requirements

RTA allowed to prosecute parties for vehicle height and width breaches, after court overturns ruling labelling the practice double jeopardy

RTA wins battle on height and width requirements
Court upholds law on height and width requirements

By Brad Gardner | September 8, 2011

Companies and individuals can be prosecuted for vehicle height and width breaches committed in the one act, a NSW court has confirmed, overturning a ruling which labelled the practice double jeopardy.

The NSW Supreme Court has upheld an appeal from the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), which recently had its powers curbed by a local court magistrate during cases against Booth Produce and Christopher James Edwards.

Booth breached height and width obligations while hauling agricultural machinery on the back of a truck, while Edwards was pulling a boat on a trailer when he committed an offence.

A Goulburn Local Court magistrate found that Booth’s actions constituted one offence and applied the same reasoning when dealing with Edwards. Both parties were only penalised for breaching height requirements.

"The magistrate held that a breach of the width and height requirements constituted one offence, not two, and that to prosecute Booth for both charges placed it in double jeopardy," Supreme Court Justice Peter Hidden says.

Double jeopardy is the legal principle that states a person cannot be punished more than once for the same offence, but Hidden agreed with the RTA’s claim that height and width breaches were separate offences. The department used the Supreme Court proceedings to seek clarification on the law.

"Clearly enough, the legislative intention is that each breach constitutes an offence," Hidden says.

"In any given case where breaches of both height and width requirements are alleged, one might be a minor risk breach while the other is not. In such a case there might be a defence to the former but not the latter and, in any event, they might attract different penalties.

"It is in the interests of justice that the RTA be granted the relief it seeks. In each case the appeal is allowed."

Hidden sent both matters back to the Goulburn Local Court to rule on the width requirement, but after the RTA pledged not seek further penalties.

Although the magistrate dealt only with the height offences, Hidden says the local court factored in the width breach when deciding a penalty.

Lawyer Paul Macken, who represented Edwards, told the court his client would face a form of double jeopardy in that he might be punished twice if the RTA pursued the width offence.

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