Recent case: no insurance
We were instructed to represent JJ who had been accused of permitting the use of his lorries by uninsured drivers.
The prosecution case was that JJ was operating a haulage business without an Operator’s Licence. Evidence from the insurance company said they would not have insured him if they knew he had no Operator’s Licence. They therefore voided the policy from the date it was created, effectively saying that it had never existed. Thus, if the policy had never existed, then JJ’s drivers were uninsured at the time they drove.
At court, the prosecutor raised an additional point, saying that the policy would not cover the drivers in any event because the lack of an Operator’s Licence meant that the policy would not cover the drivers.
The law on driving without insurance is very simple, but surprisingly poorly understood by lawyers, police, and insurers.
First, section 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 1988) requires anybody using a vehicle on the road to have insurance. This section creates two offences of using a vehicle without insurance and of allowing somebody else to use it without insurance. If convicted, you can be disqualified from driving and fined.
With a normal insurance policy, an insurer can void it if they feel they have been misled about an important fact. However, motor insurance is different. The purpose of your home insurance is to prevent you losing money. The purpose of motor insurance is to protect others from harm caused by you. There is therefore a public policy element to motor insurance that does not exist in things like home insurance. For that reason, sections 151 and 152 of the RTA 1998 work together to stop insurers avoiding liability for incidents that happen before the void the policy.
In the 1978 case of Adams v Dunne, Mr Dunne had obtained insurance despite being disqualified from driving. He did this by lying to his insurer. The insurer attempted to void the policy saying they would not have covered any claims due to the misrepresentation. The police prosecuted for driving with no insurance. At both trial and a subsequent appeal by the prosecutor, the courts held that an insure cannot avoid liability for events that happen before the police is voided. Therefore, Mr Dunne was insured despite his misrepresentation to the insurer.
More recently, in 2020, the High Court dealt with the case of Regina (Linse) v Chief Constable of North Wales Police. Mrs Linse was a German national who approached a British police officer asking for directions, which began a chain of events in which Mrs Linse was treated extremely poorly by North Wales Police. That police officer responded by demanding Mrs Linse’s papers, which she produced. Nonetheless her car was seized. The police then refused to accept a German insurance policy. When the vehicle was added to an existing British policy the police decided to contact the new insurer and persuade them to say that the policy was invalid due to driving convictions that Mrs Linse disputed were hers. The police continued refusing to release the vehicle to Mrs Linse who understandably was fed up with this so went to court. However, despite knowing that the matter was before the High Court, the police decided to sell Mrs Linse’s car anyway! At the final court hearing, the judge made clear to the police that Mrs Linse’s insurance had been valid until the insurer voided the policy and that it was not for police officers to decide to ignore valid insurance documents. The judge was also very critical of the police for selling the car knowing that the court was dealing with the case. The police were ordered to pay damages to Mrs Linse.
JJ’s position was that he was acting under the Operator’s Licence belonging to the company from whom he sub-contracted work and had been advised he could do so by their transport manager. He had properly informed his insurance company of this fact and had no reason to believe he should not have been granted insurance.
Given the clarity of the law, it is quite clear that since the insurance company issued an insurance policy covering the use of the vehicles by the people found driving them, that there was valid insurance in place and so JJ could not be guilty. The insurers attempt to avoid liability back to the inception of the policy has no effect because sections 151 and 152 prevent them doing that.
It is worth saying that the law on this point goes back to at least the Road Traffic Act of 1930 and this position has been stated in case after case for at least the past 70 years. It is remarkable that insurance companies still attempt to avoid liability in full knowledge that they cannot lawfully do so. It is also surprising that police officers and prosecutors remain unaware of the law after so many years.
If you find yourself accused of driving, or allowing somebody else to drive, without insurance then call us on 020 8242 4440 and get a firm of real experts on the case. Alternatively, visit our contact page to send us an email.