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Director of Public Prosecutions v Issler & Bamburger, High Court, 12 March 2014

4 April 2014

The issues
Emergency vehicles – Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 – whether volunteer paramedics entitled to drive ‘ambulance’.

The facts
A charge was brought against Michael Issler and Mordicay Bamburger for using a Renault Grand Espace Dynamique, that was fitted with a siren, contrary to Regulation 37(4) of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

On the 14 October 2012 each defendant had driven a motor vehicle fitted with two-tone sirens and blue flashing lights. At 8.15pm a road traffic accident had happened in Bury and a police officer saw the defendants vehicles approaching. They identified themselves as belonging to Hatzola Fast Response. Hatzola was a professional organisation with high standards, which dedicated itself through teams of highly trained paramedic health professionals to saving lives. Their overriding objective was the preservation of life, but they acted as first responders only and it was rare for them to convey a patient to hospital. The vehicles that they used were not designed or adapted for that purpose, but were privately owned. The cost of providing the equipment in the vehicles, the cost of regular training and manning the call centre 24 hours a day, were met by voluntary contributions from the Jewish community. The personnel were volunteers and most had full-time jobs in the locality.

The District Judge who heard the case found Hatzola to be a responsible, dedicated and public spirited organisation with well trained and motivated operatives, of whom the defendants were two. The District Judge found that the defendants were entitled to the benefit of statutory exemptions and dismissed the summons’ defences. The matter came before the Divisional Court by way of case stated. The questions the court were asked to consider were:

  • whether the vehicles being driven by the defendants were being used for ambulance purposes
  • whether the District Judge was right therefore to acquit both defendants.

The decision
The vehicles were not ambulances. Unless however they were used for ambulance purposes in the context of both sets of Regulations, the deployment of “blues and twos” would place their drivers in breach of the law.

On the basis of the test laid down in Lord-Castle v DPP, the focus had to be on the core activity of the vehicle in question. Even if it were not an ambulance, the vehicle had to be, at the very least, capable of conveying sick, injured or disabled persons and to do with a frequency such that the core activity might fairly be designated as its primary use. This approach focused on the sole or primary use, not what the vehicle was being used for on the day. The District Judge found that the core activity of these vehicles was the transport of medically trained personnel to emergency scenes and not the conveying of injured persons. In the light of the decision in Lord-Castle, as correctly understood and applied, it was impossible to uphold his decision. This did not mean that the outcome of the appeal was desirable. The world had moved on since the 1980s and a strong case had been made out for widening the exemptions. The facts of this case highlighted the need for reform. This however was a task for the Secretary of State and for Parliament and not for the court.

Appeal allowed; matter remitted to Bury Magistrates Court with a direction to convict.

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