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Laws apply to everyone

Whitestrand 2020: photo by Malcolm Mackley

High summer sees the Harbour at its busiest, but there are always parts of it that are quiet, relaxed and beautiful. This is in large measure because the ria is quite heavily regulated by byelaws for the Harbour, byelaws for the nature reserve, regulations because it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, regulations in respect of fishing, and requirements under the Port Marine Safety Code.

It is no surprise, then, that as the new website is being developed, the Harbour Board is reviewing the enforcement policy for Harbour byelaws. Criminologists know well enough that the public loves strict enforcement, when it applies to everyone else – but considers it petty and unfair when enforcement is used against them personally. This is a difficult circle to square.

19th century legislation grants Harbour Masters sweeping powers against vessels – to impound them, tow them outside the Harbour and so forth, but these are powers that would not necessarily be proportionate for breach of a byelaw. Of course, there is always prosecution, and many people do not realise that, if convicted, a fine for speeding in the Harbour is typically around £500 plus a few thousand pounds in costs.

But what should be done when prosecution isn’t appropriate? The answer probably lies in denial of Harbour facilities. Compliance with byelaws is a condition of a mooring licence so someone speeding can readily have their mooring taken away or revoked, and offenders can also be denied use of any of the Harbour services, like slipways or pontoons.

All this looks likely to be set out in more detail than hitherto in the revised enforcement policy to be published later this year. It is not pleasant to talk about these matters in relation to a predominantly leisure harbour; but proper, open, enforcement is what keeps any harbour safe, and people need to be conscious of the potential penalties. If you lose a mooring it could take a little time to work your way back to the top of the waiting list. In particular, parents need to din this into the heads of their young when they are lending them their boats, as it is still mainly the vessel which cops it.

And we may need to be inventive to make it clear that the law applies equally to everyone. Earlier this year, for reasons I can only guess at, the Camping and Caravanning Club’s brass band, which has to play virtually at the moment, posted a splendid rendering of that favourite march Barnard Castle.

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