People don't like cyclists - says impartial Magistrate!

City of London Magistrates Court: Picture flckr;cc Wally Gobetz
Why bother with facts when you can rely on prejudice and teach that behaviour to others?

This week's lesson from a London Magistrate is that people don't like cyclists, you are held in low esteem, and you really must do something to repair your reputation. Good to hear there's no bicycle bias on the Bench!

A rich banker - and a cyclist to boot!

On Wednesday, Tanguy Marie De Carne appeared before the City of London Magistrates' Court charged with dangerous cycling and failing to stop for the police. It was perhaps unsurprising that the case attracted some unfavourable coverage. He is a wealthy investment banker and we are often told nobody likes bankers, but to compound this he's a cyclist, and as Magistrate and Chair of the Bench Catherine Hobey-Hamsher announced, "people don't  like cyclists".

Before all the anti-cyclist keyboard warriors leap to twitter to decry me for questioning the Magistrate's comments and accuse me of defending De Carne's behaviour, please read the rest of this blog before venting. I am not justifying what De Carne did. He was cycling without regard for other road users, jumped red lights, failed to stop for a police car with flashing blue lights, and tried to evade the police officer whilst cycling through busy streets and along the pavement.  

Just in case I have not made this clear enough for some, he behaved like an idiot and deserved to be prosecuted. He only has himself to blame for ending up before the court, but once he got there he was entitled to expect to be dealt with by a Magistrate concentrating on his behaviour, not one displaying prejudice to a particular road user group.

Cyclists' low esteem

By the time De Carne attended court he had already undertaken a cycling training course. He pleaded guilty to dangerous cycling and made what appears to have been a fulsome apology. I am sure that someone will send me details of a dangerous driving case where there was no collision and no injury, but I can tell you they are rare, and trying to persuade most police forces to prosecute for dangerous driving without a victim is an uphill task.

De Carne didn't injure anyone or prevaricate. He put his hands up and pleaded guilty, but to listen to Hobey-Hamsher's comments you could be excused for thinking he was one of the worst traffic offenders she had come across.

A recent Active People survey revealed that 9% of people in England cycle at least once per week, and 15% at least once per month (about 6.6 million people). Hobey-Hamsher was, however content to refer to them all as one homogenous group, cyclists, not only saying that people don't like them, but that De Carne's actions diminished "the rather low esteem cyclists already have", and that De Carne's actions did "nothing to enhance their reputation."

​And, above all, it diminishes the really rather low esteem cyclists already have. People do not like cyclists, and you are doing nothing to enhance their reputation.

Chair of the Bench, Catherine Hobey-Hamsher

Prejudice is the child of ignorance

If you are one of Cycling UK's 65,000 members you might be a tad concerned that somebody appointed to dispense justice in road traffic cases, which could involve cyclists, has pronounced that people don't like you, that you're held in low esteem and your reputation needs enhancing. If you were charged with a cycling-related traffic offence, the cycling victim of and a witness in a road rage prosecution involving a motorist, or a witness in a close pass prosecution, you might just ask yourself how impartial the arbiter of the case might be, if it was listed before Hobey-Hamsher.

Imagine the furore if the Chair had instead said that people don't like mancunians, motorists, Muslims or miners, who were all groups held in low esteem in some quarters. Many might question whether public articulation of those views raised concerns about any ability to dispassionately consider cases concerning people clustered in such generic groups. 

Somehow, criticising at least six million people because they sometimes ride a bike, expressing a view about others' collective negative opinion of them, which sounds very much like your own, that's apparently fair game for the Chair of the Bench.

In their training, Magistrates are constantly instructed that they must disqualify themselves from dealing with any cases where there may be an appearance of bias. The fact that they are not biassed is irrelevant, it is the appearance that matters and Hobey-Hamsher and the Court should know this.

That is why Cycling UK has written to the Court outlining our concerns regarding her comments, explaining why many people who cycle might question Hobey-Hamsher's impartiality in cycling-related cases, and asking them to confirm that she will now withdraw from sitting on any cases involving cyclists.

A guilty arrogant MAMIL

Our intention to write to the Court was mentioned yesterday in an article in the Times, leading to a tweet in response today referring to cycling reaching "a new height of arrogance". If it is arrogant to suggest that millions of people who ride cycles, seldom or often, deserve better than to be collectively derided as they were by a person appointed to judge them, then I'm happy to be the arrogant MAMIL at the front of queue pleading guilty.

I have little doubt that this blog will not be to everyone's taste, but if Cycling UK is truly to fulfil its role as "the cyclists' champion", then sometimes that means being controversial and outspoken in our criticism.

If you are interested to hear more about what we are doing to champion the rights of cycling and cyclists, please check out our Campaign News and consider signing up to receive Cherry Allan's Campaign News monthly email updates.