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United Kingdom: Bill to Increase Penalties for Targeting Transport Operators with Lasers

(Jan. 4, 2018) A new bill before the Parliament of the United Kingdom is set to increase the penalties that can be imposed on individuals who target transport operators with laser devices. The bill encompasses operators of not just planes, but a variety of vehicles, including trains, motor vehicles, pedal cycles, boats, hovercraft, and submarines. (Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill (2017-18), HL Bill 75, cl 1(6), PARLIAMENT.UK.)

While there are laws in place that prohibit shining or directing a light at an aircraft with the intent of dazzling or distracting the pilot, the government has considered the laws to be ineffective, due to both the insufficiency of the penalty of a fine capped at £2,500 (approximately US$3,350) and the difficulty posed by the requirement that police must prove the individual intended to endanger the vehicle. (The Air Navigation Order 2016, SI 2016/765, art. 225, LEGISLATION.GOV.UK.)

If enacted, the bill will enable the courts to impose an unlimited fine, along with a sentence of up to five years of imprisonment, on perpetrators of the offense. The new legislation would also change the offense to one of strict liability, removing the requirement of proof that the individual intended to endanger the vehicle.  (Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [HL], Explanatory Notes (Dec. 19, 2017), PARLIAMENT.UK.) Under the proposed provisions, prosecutors will only need to prove that the individual shone or directed a laser beam at a vehicle in in motion in a manner that either distracted or dazzled the person driving, piloting, or navigating the vehicle. (Department for Transport, Tough New Penalties for Misuse of Lasers, GOV.UK (Dec. 20, 2017).)

The bill provides for two defenses to the offense, that the individual “had a reasonable excuse for shining the laser beam towards a vehicle, or that they did not intend to shine a laser at a vehicle and exercised all due diligence to avoid doing so.” (Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill (2017-18), HL Bill 75, cl 1(2);  House of Lords, Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill [HL]HL Bill 75 of 2017–19, at 1, LIBRARY BRIEFING, PARLIAMENT.UK.) The defense will be successful if “sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it, and … the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.” (Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill (2017-18), HL Bill 75, cl. 1(3).)

This is not the first time the government has attempted to legislate to increase the penalties for misusing laser pointers. Early 2017 saw similar proposals introduced in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017, but due to the calling of a General Election and subsequent dissolution of Parliament, the bill was dropped. (Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017, Explanatory Notes, Bill No. 143 Part 1 (Feb. 22, 2017), PARLIAMENT.UK; Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2016-17, Parliament.uK (last visited Dec. 27, 2017).)