Ramsey Barreto was prosecuted for filming while driving but his case could be overturned after his lawyers pointed out an apparent loophole in the law
Hundreds of convictions for using phones at the wheel could be overturned, legal experts say, after a loophole cleared a rubbernecking driver who filmed a crash's aftermath.
Ramsey Barreto, 51, was stopped by police after he was seen gathering footage as he passed the scene of a serious accident in Ruislip, west London, in August 2017.
The builder was charged with breaches of rules relating to mobile phone use while driving and convicted by magistrates in July the following year.
But his conviction was overturned in a landmark case at Isleworth Crown Court in October 2018, when a judge said the regulations do not ban use of a phone to shoot video while driving.
Mr Barreto's case went to the High Court and today two of the country's top judges upheld the crown court decision, clearing him of the offence today.
His solicitor, Emma Patterson, says this opens up the possibility that defendants who feel they were misrepresented could have their convictions overturned. There have been 8,300 convictions in England and Wales since 2017 - opening the possibility for hundreds to be overturned.
Ms Patterson said: 'We might be able to persuade the courts to reopen cases where people have been convicted on a misapplication of the law, especially when they were unrepresented at the time they pleaded guilty or were found guilty.
'Also anybody that pleaded guilty thinking that what they were doing did amount to an offence - the police will give people ‘legal advice’ at the roadside which people seem to accept at face value - may be able to argue that their original guilty plea was equivocal.
'Again another ground for reopening the conviction despite a guilty plea and the first instance.'
Mr Barreto was stopped by police who said he filmed the aftermath of a crash on this street
Delivering the verdict today - - and confirming the loophole - Lady Justice Thirlwall, who heard the case with Mr Justice Goss, said: 'The legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving.
'It prohibits driving while using a mobile phone or other device for calls and other interactive communication - and holding it at some stage during that process.'
Mr Barreto had been charged under road safety regulations dating back to 1986, which were revised in December 2003 to take account of the mobile phone hazard.
The 2003 rules bar drivers from using hand-held phones, but Mr Barreto's lawyers successfully claimed the restriction is aimed only at 'performing an interactive communication function'.
That would prevent all talking, texting and internet usage on the handset while driving - but not using a phone as a camera.
Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal. Laws were first enacted in December 2003.
Since 2017, the penalty has been six points on your licence and a £200 fine.
Driver are allowed to use a phone if it is fully hands-free, but not allowed to pick it up.
The law still applies when your vehicle is stopped at lights or in a traffic queue.
The current case centred on whether using a phone to film, rather than communicate with someone, should be treated as driving without due care and attention rather than driving while using a hand-held phone.
And judges agreed there is a loophole related to filming with a phone's camera.
Mr Barreto's lawyer Emma Patterson, who successfully argued the case, said today: 'We have been arguing for many years that the legislation in relation to the offence of using a handheld mobile phone whilst driving a motor vehicle has failed to keep pace with the evolution of smart phones.
'The increasing multi-functionality of smart phones was, in fact, making a mockery of the law.
Mrs Patterson says that as the law stands it'll fall to prosecutors to prove a driver was engaged in 'interactive telecommunication' before an offence has been committed.
She adds: 'In May this year David Beckham was banned from driving for six months for using his mobile phone while behind the wheel.
'In this case, the offence was brought to light because a member of the public photographed Mr Beckham holding a phone as he drove in slowly moving traffic.
'But was Mr Beckham engaged in 'interactive telecommunication'? We don't know because the prosecuting lawyers did not present evidence to prove that