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Laser pen offences have been on the increase since the first offence was reported in 2004. It is suggested that nearly 1,500 offences take place in the UK each year.
The current offences
The current law (the Air Navigation Order 2016) states that when a person shines a laser towards an aircraft, they potentially commit a few offences. Under section 225 of the Air Navigation Order 2016, it is an offence to 'dazzle or distract' the pilot of an aircraft, and under section 240 it is an offence to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft.
The first of those offences carries a maximum sentence of a £2500 fine in the Magistrates' Court, and the second carries a maximum sentence of a fine in the Magistrates' Court, or five years in prison and/or a fine in the Crown Court.
It is commonly known that laser pens can have serious effects on eyes, and can cause severe damage and in some case temporary blindness. Previous cases have shown that misuse of lasers involving helicopters and aircraft can lead to them being diverted, or even grounded. This can often hamper the emergency services' ability to respond to incidents.
The proposed Laser Misuse Bill
The Government's response to this issue has been the publication of 'The Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill 2017- 2019' last year.
Under the offence at Section 1 of the Bill, unlike with the section 240 offence described above, it would not have to be shown that any endangerment took place: simply that a laser was shined at a vehicle on a journey, and that a person with control of that vehicle was dazzled or distracted, or that the laser beam was likely to dazzle or distract that person.
Furthermore, the offence will not just apply to aircraft, but will also cover trains, automobiles and other forms of vehicle such as submarines and bicycles.
The current penalties listed in the Bill are a sentence of 6 months' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine in the Magistrates' Court, and a sentence of 5 years' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court.
Whilst these changes have been welcomed by various transport governing bodies, including the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), it will be interesting to see whether the offence changes significantly during the Bill's path through Parliament.
Certainly, what can be said is that the discussion the Bill has created regarding the use, and misuse, of lasers will result in these sorts of offences being taken more seriously from now onwards.