The ULEZ scheme was expanded to cover all of Greater London on Tuesday 29th August 2023. Ulez charges (fines) older, more polluting vehicles £12.50 a day and is currently the largest clean air zone in the world.
The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, except Christmas Day (25th December). The zone operates across all London boroughs, and does not include the M25.
At least a quarter of the cameras in London’s newly expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone have been damaged by vandals, new data reveals.
Campaigners this week have stepped up efforts to deface the cameras installed in wake of mayor Sadiq Khan’s controversial extension of the scheme, which is now clobbering thousands more drivers with £12.50 a day charges.ULEZ vandals damage ‘a quarter of all new cameras in expansion zone’ amid backlash over Sadiq Khan’s ultra-low emissions scheme – Daily Mail 1st September 2023
Is putting a bag over a ULEZ camera criminal damage or harmless civil disobedience ?
What is Criminal Damage ?
The Criminal Damage Act 1971 (CDA 1971) is the primary source of offences involving damage to property.
Section 1(1) CDA 1971 – A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another, intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged, shall be guilty of an offence.
What is the Meaning of Property ?
The CDA 1971 requires proof that tangible property has been damaged, not necessarily that the damage itself should be tangible. Property does not however include intangibles or things in action.
What is Damage ?
Damage is not defined by the Criminal Damage Act 1971 (CDA 1971).
It should be widely interpreted to include not only permanent or temporary physical harm, but also permanent or temporary impairment of value or usefulness – Morphitis v. Salmon  Crim.L.R. 48.
Any alteration to the physical nature of the property concerned may amount to damage within the meaning of the section.
The courts have construed the term liberally and included damage that is not permanent such as smearing mud on the walls of a police cell.
Where the interference amounts to an impairment of the value or usefulness of the property to the owner, then the necessary damage is established – R v Whiteley  93 Crim. App. R. 25.
Mens Rea refers to criminal intent. The literal translation from Latin is “guilty mind.” The plural of mens rea is mentes reae. Mens rea is the state of mind statutorily required in order to convict a particular defendant of a particular crime. Establishing the mens rea of an offender, in addition to the actus reus (physical elements of the crime) is usually necessary to prove guilt in a criminal trial.Cornell Law School
Without Lawful Excuse
Section 5 of the CDA 1971 sets out a defence to criminal damage charges, though not to aggravated criminal damage under s.1(2) – see s.5(1) CDA 1971. A person has a lawful excuse if
- they believed at the time that those whom they believed to be entitled to consent to the destruction of or damage to the property in question had so consented, or would have so consented to it if they had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances; or
- at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence they believed:
- that the property, right or interest was in immediate need of protection; and
- that the means of protection adopted or proposed to be adopted were or would be reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.
The provisions of s. 22 and Schedule 2 Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (MCA) deal with the determination of mode of trial for those offences, referred to as “scheduled offences” that are mentioned in the first column of Schedule 2 MCA 1980.
Where a person is charged with an offence contrary to s.1(1) CDA 1971 or with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring such an offence, or with attempting to commit, or inciting such an offence, and the value involved is less than £5,000, they must be tried summarily.
Tried summarily is an offence that can be tried only in a magistrates’ court.
It is important to note that there are two exceptions set out in Schedule 2 where the offence will be triable either way even if the value of the destroyed property or damage amounts to less than £5000. These are:
- if the damage was caused by fire (the offence will be arson – see below); and
- if the damage was done to a memorial on or after 28 June 2022.
Civil Disobedience on Conscientious Grounds
The common law has always been sensitive to the position of protesters when it comes to both prosecution and sentencing.
“My Lords, civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history in this country.
People who break the law to affirm their belief in the injustice of a law or government action are sometimes vindicated by history.
The suffragettes are an example which comes immediately to mind. It is the mark of a civilised community that it can accommodate protests and demonstrations of this kind.
But there are conventions which are generally accepted by the law-breakers on one side and the law-enforcers on the other.
The protesters behave with a sense of proportion and do not cause excessive damage or inconvenience. And they vouch the sincerity of their beliefs by accepting the penalties imposed by the law.
The police and prosecutors, on the other hand, behave with restraint and the magistrates impose sentences which take the conscientious motives of the protesters into account.
The conditional discharges ordered by the magistrates in the cases which came before them exemplifies their sensitivity to these conventions.”Lord Hoffmann – R v Jones (Margaret)  1 AC 161 at :
Is putting a bag over a ULEZ camera criminal damage ?
I am not a lawyer and this is purely my opinion of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. This is not legal advice ! I am not condoning or encouraging any form of criminal behaviour or civil disobedience.
- Putting a bag over a ULEZ camera would be a temporary impairment of usefulness – Morphitis v. Salmon  Crim.L.R. 48 and would therefore be classed as damage. This would be the Actus Reus (physical elements of the crime)
- The Mens Rea would be to render the camera unable to carry out it’s function.
- The damage would be less than £5000 so if prosecuted, it would be tried summarily in a magistrates’ court.
- Civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history in this country. The police and prosecutors should behave with restraint and the magistrates impose sentences which take the conscientious motives of the protesters into account.
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