A court in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has fined a van driver who pleaded guilty to four traffic offences, including playing music in his vehicle in a public place without the permission of the Commissioner of Police.
Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett fined Gaston Browne — a namesake of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda — EC$500, which he paid forthwith, as ordered, Caribbean Independent Broadcasting Services – CIBS reported in a Facebook post.
In paying the fine, Browne averted a two-week prison stay.
The penalty was handed down at the Kingstown Magistrate’s court on Wednesday — when traffic matters are heard — but Browne had pleaded guilty to the charges the previous Friday, Aug. 24.
The landmark legal outcome is noted s as police go on the offensive against motorists who flout the nation’s traffic laws, including the once-contentious one that bans the playing of “musical instruments” in vehicles.
In presenting the Crown’s case, Inspector Henry Providence of the Traffic Department told the court that playing music in vehicles, especially in passenger vans, has become a very topical issue for the public.
He said the presence in court of journalists from the three newspapers showed the level of interest that the case was generating.
The prosecutor said there had been debates over the meaning of the law, with some persons asking, “What is a musical instrument?”
Musical instruments are wide and varied and include things as such tambourine and scrapers, Providence said.
He, however, told the court that while the Road Traffic Act does not clearly define what a musical instrument is, the police and the court cannot simply throw their hands in the air.
The court, he said, has to look at Parliament’s intention when it passed the law.
“Were they trying to prevent the playing of tambourines in your vehicle, or a scraper? They were not trying to prevent that. They were specifically trying to deal with the issue of music coming from the radio receivers and the amplified music. That is what they were trying to prevent,” Providence reasoned.
He said the issue of music in vehicles has been widely debated and there have been constant complaints because older people and young children are being affected.
If the matter is not tackled effectively, now, perhaps three or four years later, the society will have a lot of deaf people, Providence said.
He told the court the Traffic Department had consulted the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which gave the green light for the enforcement of the law.
Providence said that his department had also consulted Queen’s Counsel Parnel “PR” Campbell, a former attorney general, who assured them that they are on the right track.
The senior traffic cop said that his department will vigorously enforce the law because the entire country has been complaining and they cannot allow the few who are bent on ignoring the law to continually disrupt and interrupt the peace and tranquility of the majority who are law-abiding citizens.
Providence said that if persons pay attention, they would notice that Kingstown is very quiet these days in terms of the music coming from motor vehicles.
He said he wants the court to send a strong, clear message that loud music coming from vehicles in the public will not be tolerated.
Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett said that he would not say much at that time, noting that such matters have to come before him.
Responding to Browne’s claim that he was playing music but “not too loud”, Burnett said he, too, plays music in his vehicle but no police officer has ever approached him, because he plays the music for himself.
The magistrate said that under Regulation 31, the minimum fine for the offence is EC$250 and the maximum is EC$2,000.
He also noted that the Regulation provides for a term of imprisonment.
Burnett said that he has been following the debates on social media and he expects that in the next few weeks there will be much more debate.
Repeating a question asked on social media, the Senior Magistrate asked the police inspector if it really means that to play music in a motor vehicle in a public place permission must be sought and obtained from the Commissioner of Police.
“That’s what the act requires,” Providence replied.
Regarding the sentence in the case, Burnett said, “it is early days yet” and he would, therefore, impose a fine that was twice the minimum, but added that “things will change” as the days progress.