Monday, 16 July 2018

DVLA treated me like a criminal

A WOMAN whose driving licence was revoked because of a disability that didn’t exist has won it back after taking

A WOMAN whose driving licence was revoked because of a disability that didn’t exist has won it back after taking her case to court.

Georgina Hitchen, 78, says she was “treated worse than a criminal” during her 14-month fight for justice.

The former Nato functionary from Binfield Heath said: “It was very lovely to get that result because it has been absolutely awful.”

Her ordeal began after she was involved in a collision with another car in March 2012.

Ms Hitchen was on her way to Waitrose in Henley in her Mercedes C180 when the crash happened at the junction of St Mark’s Road and Vicarage Road.

Eight months later, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency revoked her licence even though she had been examined by two doctors who found no medical reasons for taking her off the road.

The DVLA said its action was due to either the “possible impact” of her lung disease or an undiagnosed medical condition.

Ms Hitchen appealed but this was rejected by Oxford Magistrates’ Court in August.

She then took her case to judicial review at the High Court where on Monday she won her licence back.

Quashing the magistrates’ decision, Justice Ms Ingrid Simler said: “The only rational conclusion is that the claimant has no disability.”

Ms Hitchen, who has relied on taxis and buses since losing her licence, said she was happy at the decision but had been left angry by her experience.

“I was treated worse than a criminal,” she said.

She considered leaving the country and returning to Brussels, where she worked for 29 years.

Ms Hitchen said: “This is supposed to be my country and they are doing this to me. It is about as low as you can get.

“I thought ‘do I live here and fight or go back to Belgium, where you don’t have to go through this rubbish?’

“If it had taken much longer, or if they hadn’t given me back my licence, I would have gone right back to Brussels.

“It would have been a big upheaval but I thought ‘I’m not going to stay in a country that does that to old people, or any people’. I will never feel at home here again.”

She added: “The most important thing is that I don’t want this to happen to other people.

“Other people won’t be able to afford to do what I did. I will get the costs back but nothing is worth this.”

The High Court heard that the collision happened when Ms Hitchen failed to notice the other car emerging from the junction.

When the cars collided, her foot jammed on the accelerator, causing her to crash into two parked vehicles.

She accepted responsibility, saying the crash occurred due to her lapse of concentration but it had been her first accident since 1985.

Ms Hitchen was required to take a fitness-to-drive test and filled out a form with her relevant medical information, including that she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In September 2012, she completed a driving competency test where she was given an overall grade of “C” which indicated unsatisfactory driving. In her evidence to the magistrates, she said her grade was the result of having taken her driving test decades ago and being unprepared for the busy roads in Reading which she was unfamiliar with.

The DVLA’s medical advisor stated there were deficiencies in her test and as a result there was a road safety issue.

Ms Hitchen was told she would be able to obtain a provisional licence and retake her driving test after lessons from a driving instructor.

She refused and appealed on the basis that the DVLA had failed to identify a recognised medical disability.

On March 12, she obtained a medical report from her doctor John Collins saying that COPD was not a condition that “impaired consciousness or would otherwise justify the withdrawal of a licence”.

She was also examined by a specialist in geriatrics and dementia, who concluded she was “a fit, active, elderly woman with normal mental faculties and no evidence of age-related cognitive decline”.

The DVLA said Ms Hitchen may have been suffering from “defects in cognition” which might not be evident in her everyday life but were during the “complex” task of driving.

Rejecting her appeal, Oxford magistrates concluded that Ms Hitchen had not proved, on the balance of probabilities, that the DVLA’s decision was incorrect.

Hugh Tomblinson QC, representing Ms Hitchen, told the High Court: “This case involves a very important issue concerning the way in which the DVLA treats older drivers.

“If the claimant had been 25 years old then she would not have been disqualified on the same facts.

“There was no basis, on the evidence, for a finding that the claimant had any relevant disability and her licence should never have been revoked.

“On the approach taken by the defendant, any older driver whose driving was poor could have his or her licence revoked on the basis of ‘age-related cognitive impairment’ without any medical evidence at all.”

The judge found that the correct test had been applied by the magistrates’ court but that its approach was flawed, saying: “The reason for the bad driving could have been bad habits or anxiety.”

A DVLA spokeswoman said: “We are considering the judgement and next steps carefully. Our priority continues to be road safety.”

Ms Hitchen has lived in Binfield Heath since 1995, when she retired. She was born in Africa and moved to London with her family during the Second World War.

She worked in London and New York for eight years before working for Nato in Paris for one year and then Brussels.

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