A legal expert who holds an independent position in the local judiciary does not believe that Member of Parliament for South Leeward, Nigel “Nature” Stephenson should resign for driving between 2010 and 2014 a vehicle he knew to be unlicensed.
Stephenson, an opposition lawmaker who was elected to Parliament in 2010, told to I-Witness News on Friday that he obtained the vehicle from a used car dealer in 2009 and has been paying for it over time.
He said that when he tried to renew the licence in 2010, he was unable to do so because the dealer didn’t want to turn over the documents to him.
“Many years ago, I remember that [a then Member of Parliament] used to be driving an unlicensed vehicle in the 80s or early 1990s. … My thing is that I wouldn’t kill a man over it. It is wrong, in principle, but then people break the law and there are sanctions and the law has a sanction for dealing with it,” said the expert whose name I-Witness News has agreed not to disclose because of their current portfolio.
The issue came to the fore in December, when Minister of Transport, Sen. Julian Francis, said in Parliament that there is an MP who has not licensed his vehicle since 2009.
There have been calls since Stephenson admitted to I-Witness News on Friday that he is the offending lawmaker, that he should resign.
But the legal expert said that those who knew of Stephenson’s violation and did nothing also failed to carry out their legal and moral duty.
“Clearly, whoever knew Nature’s vehicle was unlicensed and uninsured, why didn’t they ever challenge him on it?
“If a policeman, for example, sees somebody driving the wrong way along a one-way street, what should he do? Should be not do anything because the [offender] is a doctor or a lawyer or a journalist or a politician then go and complain to somebody else? Or should he go and confront the man?” the expert said, adding that the people who knew of the situation with Stephenson “had a legal responsibility to deal with it”.
The expert said the call for Stephenson’s head is “a cheap shot”.
“Resign over what? That he breached the law? They have big lawyers who ain’t paying Inland Revenue (income tax), who year after year not one of them will come and work in the government service because the pay is too small, but not one of them pay more taxes than the government workers.
“What do they do? Do they stop taking clients? Do we call on them to resign from the Bar Association or anything like that?
“There are lots of people who are transgressing. The thing is, let the people deal with those who transgress. I don’t think this is something to say ‘Resign! Resign! Resign!’
“We always want to call on people to resign. I am not in that mode. If his constituents are so incensed, let them deal with that,” the expert said.
The legal expert told I-Witness News that there are two principal offences that Stephenson may have breached: driving an unlicensed vehicle and driving an uninsured vehicle.
“The second offence is usually treated by the court a bit more seriously, because the consequences to other road users, if you damage them, are more severe,” the expert said, adding that they doubt that any charges will be brought against the lawmaker.
The expert noted the potential fallout from an accident in which an unlicensed vehicle is involved.
“Suppose you knock down somebody with an uninsured vehicle, there is no insurance that can cover the damage that the persons suffered. So, basically, it is up to your own resources that they will be depending on.”
But the expert noted that the court will need more than an admission to the media to convict Stephenson.
“In his case, you need to sort of ground it. Yes, he may have admitted outside of a court situation that he did these things.
“My thing is that if he is charged, you will then have to prove it, which will mean developing the paper trail proving that there is no documentation at Inland Revenue, and getting somebody who has seen him at a specific time or during that time to produce that kind of evidence.”
Stephenson has said that the unlicensed vehicle had been off the road before the revelation.
The expert said that the prudent thing to do in this case is to take off the number plates and carry them to Licensing Department.
The situation with Stephenson, the legal expert suggests, is not a very straightforward one, in light of the ownership issue.
The expert said that a licensed vehicle sold to another person remains “licensed” until the licensing period expires. Insurance, on the other hand, is not transferable.
However, to insure the vehicle, the new owner will need the paperwork to establish himself or herself as the owner.
Stephenson, has told I-Witness News that he has paid some EC$20,000 on the vehicle, but doesn’t own it outright as yet.
“An insurance company will not allow you to insure somebody else’s vehicle. If even though you are driving it, unless you have the paperwork to show you are the owner, they will say you have no insurer interest in that particular vehicle,” the expert said.
Stephenson, in light of the purchase arrangement as he described them, has an “equitable interest”, rather than a legal interest in the vehicle, the expert told I-Witness News.
“But the thing is, he can’t take that equitable interest to the insurance company. It has to be the insurance of the legal interest — the persons who owns it. So, [the car dealer] would have put a spoke in the wheel if he didn’t give him the documents.
“If the [dealer] is running a lease to own, it’s a different thing.
But it’s a difficult situation,” in light of the ownership issue,” the expert told I-Witness News.
The expert said that the dealer could have issued Stephenson a document to take to the relevant authorities, saying that the dealer retains certain interests in the vehicle.
“In other words, Nature gets the papers, goes to the insurance company and the insurance company assigns the benefit to the [dealer],” the expert told I-Witness News.