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The passing of Vnuk

Rest in Peace, Vnuk. No, Vnuk is not some dark age Saxon warlord, but the passing of a point of motor insurance law which has implications for most UK motorists and whether it is welcome news or not depends on which side of the divide you stand.

Let me try not to bore you with a brief resume of the problem. If you have a hard time getting off to sleep at night and prefer not to count sheep but to get out your motor insurance policy, a magnifying glass and a cup of hot chocolate to help you drift off, you may have noticed that your motor insurance policy does not cover you for everywhere you might drive your car. The Road Traffic Act 1988 made third party motor insurance cover compulsory but only for the use of a vehicle on “a road or other public place” so as to provide compensation for those injured by negligent driving, but if you tip over your Land Rover on an off road trail and injure your passenger, or reverse it into an doddery gentleman about to tee off on the first hole at the local golf club you are not insured for that.

That may be a good or a bad thing depending on your approach and I suspect depending on whether you are the motorist forking out for car insurance or a hill-walker out for a nice day on the fells when an out of control 4×4 knocks you into next week.

So, to Vnuk, a decision of the European Court of Justice in 2014 which decided that compulsory motor insurance must cover any ordinary use of a vehicle no matter where it was being used. The facts in Vnuk concerned a farmworker knocked off a ladder by a tractor reversing a trailer on a farm. The implication of the case was that UK motor law did not comply with EU law and the motor insurers of the UK and the MIB ( not the Men in Black of UFO lore, but the far more draconian Motor Insurers Bureau, that bunch who grudgingly pick up the tab for uninsured motorists ) were up in arms about it. In my experience, what alarms motor insurers and the MIB ( or more accurately their profit margins ) is probably something to be welcomed. But, there were rumours it would add £50 to the cost of each policy and they claimed it was unnecessary because dedicated insurance was available for pursuits with a motor vehicle on private land and technically it did mean that rally sport and motor racing was implicated. It even applied to the use of a ride – on lawn mower, so your neighbour, now sporting a new Mohican courtesy of your carelessly driving that ride -on mower through his hedge and right over him as he lay there napping, would be covered. The MIB as an emanation of the state, had to compensate for the failure of UK law to keep in lock-step with EU law.

Now I know that in North Staffordshire the population is very pro-Brexit but the EU for all its many faults did have one or two points of merit and Vnuk I think was one of them. So, Vnuk was one of the first law principles to fall victim to the new found powers of the UK post Brexit. On the 25th April 2022, the Government enacted the Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance ) Act 2022 which came into effect on the 8th June 2022. Applying only to England, Wales and Scotland (but not to Northern Ireland due to the problems of the soft border with the EU there), compulsory motor insurance is once again only required for accidents on a road or public place.

Great!, you may think, my insurance will be down 50 quid and with that I can buy another mug-full of diesel. But the implications are serious – if you injure someone by using a motor vehicle on private land who do you think now will be picking up the compensation tab? Insurance cheaper by 50 quid is not much when you have to sell your home to fund the damages.

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