FREDERICTON — Authorities who revoked a criminal lawyer’s controversial “DUI DR” vanity plates were unreasonable, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal has ruled.
Wendell Maxwell has practised criminal law — with emphasis on impaired driving cases — for 48 years, and freely acknowledged “DUI” is a reference to “driving under the influence.”
He first got the plates in 2008, but in 2014 the Registrar of Motor Vehicles told Maxwell they had been “erroneously issued,” and told him to return them. It had received several complaints about the plates, including from the national and Fredericton chapters of MADD, the acronym for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
He took the registrar to court, and in a ruling dated Aug. 4, three appeal judges upheld a lower court decision that Maxwell was denied due process and ordered he get his plates back.
“Despite the fact this may appear to be an inconsequential privilege, privileges such as these are connected to fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter under freedom of expression, and no matter how trivial this expression may seem to a third party, it appears to have substantial personal value to Mr. Maxwell,” said Justice Kathleen Quigg, writing for the court.
The appeal court zeroed in on how the Department of Motor Vehicles made its decision.
Despite the fact this may appear to be an inconsequential privilege, privileges such as these are connected to fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter
The DMV had initially expressed concern when Maxwell first applied — the province restricts vanity-plate messages, although “DUI” wasn’t banned in 2008 — but issued the plates after he threatened legal action.
They were renewed annually, but then Maxwell got notice to return them in November, 2014. The letter did not explain why, or mention the complaints received days earlier from MADD, the appeal court said.
Quigg said the motor vehicle registrar gave Maxwell no chance to respond before the plates were revoked, and acted if there was no right of appeal. Maxwell was denied even “the most minimal requirement of procedural fairness,” the court said.
“Fuelling any legal doctrine are the foundational principles of natural justice and equal treatment under the law. These principles are not diminished because the subject matter of a case may be objectionable in the community,” said Quigg.
The appeal court ordered the registrar to pay $3,000 in costs.