QC gets on his bike over road safety issues
14 November 2011 | Updated: 14 November 2011 10:16 am | By Joanne Harris
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As regular readers of the Back Page will doubtless have noticed, there are lots of lawyers out there who like nothing better than dressing up in Lycra and hitting the roads on two wheels.
In that respect, Martin Porter QC is not unusual. The personal injury specialist commutes to work most days by bike, and in his rooms at 2 Temple Gardens has both a commuter hybrid and a folding Brompton on display. At home, Porter confides, there are more bikes in the garage awaiting his weekend rides with the Thames Velo cycling club.
But what sets Porter apart from his fellow legal cyclists is his increasing passion for using the law to make the roads safer.
On his blog The Cycling Lawyer, Porter dissects recent cases and charts the progress of the cases he is attempting to bring against dangerous and aggressive motorists.
Porter says the turning point for him was when he represented the family of a victim of a road accident at an inquest.
“The quality of the investigation was appalling, the way the family had been treated was appalling, nobody had been brought to account,” he says. “I just got cross, frankly, and disillusioned by what I saw. It does require something like that to bring it home to you.”
The blog shows Porter’s shift from writing about his leisure rides to an increasing number of posts about the law and its enforcement - or, more usually, the lack of enforcement.
“I saw that no one was really interested in me cycling about the place, but they were interested in what I had to say about law,” he explains.
Porter regularly blogs about cases concerning the use of helmets and whether injured cyclists should be penalised for contributory negligence. The most recent of these cases, Reynolds v Strutt & Parker (2011), is the first example of a cyclist having damages reduced for not wearing a helmet.
Porter says such cases make his “blood boil”.
“I got into the habit of wearing a helmet long before I looked into the literature and realised how very undemonstrated it is that they do any good at all,” he says.
He admits to wearing a helmet on his daily commute, but tends not to bother if he is using his folding bike on a train or going to a meeting by bike.
But the main reason why helmet cases irritate Porter is that he believes strongly that improving the standard of driving on the roads is the best way of protecting cyclists. In the past few months he has recorded several incidents of aggressive and dangerous driving on the video camera he wears on his helmet. Two of those cases are being prosecuted after Porter badgered the CPS and the police into taking action.
He believes there is a strong public interest in the CPS pressing for such prosecutions.
“You’re not going to get many people out on the road cycling and sticking at it if before very long you’ve got motorists screaming abuse at them and driving unsafely,” Porter notes. “Something has to be done to fix this if you’re going to get cycling to become a reasonable mode of transport.”
He says he has tried and failed to get police on the roads interested in motorists flaunting the rules on advance stop lines, using mobile phones when driving and so on. Porter is also critical of bad cycling, but points out that this tends to endanger mostly the cyclist and not other road users.
Using the law and seeking enforcement of criminal acts, Porter says, is a good way of trying to remedy the issues, as well as lobbying for more stringent penalties for those who break the law while driving.
But he would also like to see more senior judiciary and lawyers on bikes. He acknowledges that Supreme Court president Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers is a cyclist, but says this is not enough.
“I’m fairly sure I’m the only QC who races a bicycle,” he says. ”Ideally we need in positions of the high judiciary people who ride their bikes at a fairly serious level and ride fast in traffic.”
This, Porter believes, would be a good way of helping to move the balance towards cyclists in the courts, with cycle-friendly judges better understanding the issues.
“There are improvements in the law that I’d like to see,” he adds, “but the law, such as it is, needs to be enforced.”