Pryor v Greater Manchester Police – Third party car insurance with the owner’s consent: a “Sorry tale”

Pryor v The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, 30 June 2011

English Appeal Court case described by Lord Justice Ward as a “sorry tale” and concerning the police seizure of a vehicle believed to have been driven without a valid insurance certificate.

Mr Pryor purchased a car (a Honda) which he lent to his friend Mr Burton whilst he was abroad. He gave Mr Burton a signed letter confirming that he was the registered owner of the vehicle and stating that Mr Burton had his full permission to drive the vehicle.

Mr Burton was stopped by Greater Manchester Police for using a mobile phone whilst driving. The police asked Mr Burton to produce his licence, MOT and an insurance certificate.  Mr Burton produced the paperwork including the letter from Mr Pryor and a Saga Insurance certificate for his own car (a Ford) which states that:

“The policy holder may also drive with the consent of the owner a motor car not owned by and not hired under a hire purchase or self-drive agreement to the policyholder”

However, this did not satisfy the police who phoned Saga and were informed by them (wrongly as it turned out) that Mr Burton was only insured to drive other cars under his policy if the other vehicle had its own insurance cover.  According to the police computer the Honda had no cover.  The police then seized the Honda under s165A of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

In terms of s165, the police can require a person driving a motor vehicle to produce various documents including a “relevant certificate of insurance”.  In terms of s165A, if the person fails to produce the documents requested and the constable has reason to believe the vehicle is being driven without the documentation in place; the police can seize the vehicle.

Mr Pryor brought a claim against the police for wrongful interference with property.  The claim was dismissed by the District Court on the basis that the issue was whether the police officer had reasonable grounds for believing that Mr Burton was driving without insurance.  Notwithstanding the fact that Mr Burton was driving with permission and with insurance,  what was important whether the police had reasonable grounds for believing that the vehicle was being driven without insurance and the (albeit misleading) information from Saga had provided those reasonable grounds.

However, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal finding that (in the words of Lord Justice Ward) it was “plain as a pikestaff” that the police had failed to establish grounds for seizure of the Honda and had wrongly interfered with Mr Pryor’s goods.

In order to justify seizure of a vehicle three facts must be present:

  1. a constable in uniform must require that a driver produces a relevant certificate of insurance,
  2. the driver must fail to produce the relevant certificate, and
  3. the constable must have reasonable grounds for believing that the vehicle was being driven without insurance.

The Judgement in the District Court rested on the third element of the test.  However, the Court of Appeal made it clear that that this element of the test only applies if the driver fails to produce the relevant certificate.

The police attempted to argue in court that the “relevant certificate” was the certificate for the Honda not the Ford, however, Lord Justice Ward said that was “simply wrong”. The purpose of the Road Traffic Act is to ensure that users of motor vehicles are insured against third party risks.  Mr Pryor was covered because his policy (for the Ford) extended to his driving, with the consent of the owner, a car not owned by him.  The certificate he produced said exactly that.  Since the certificate he produced demonstrated that he was not guilty of driving without insurance it was plainly a relevant certificate.

As Mr Pryor had not failed to produce the relevant certificate (in terms of the second part of the test), the police constable’s belief, that the certificate did not mean what it said, was neither here nor there.

A noteworthy aside is that the insurance company clearly believed that the cover was only extended if the car being driven was itself insured by its owner.  It will be interesting to see whether this case leads to a rewording of some insurance policies.




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