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Magistrates decide on trial by combat

14:31 02 November 2002

JOBLESS mechanic Leon Humphreys shocked magistrates by demanding the right to trial by combat under medieval law when he appeared at a Suffolk court.

Mr Humphreys, 60, made his request after being charged with failing to notify the DVLA that his motorcycle was off the road.
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JOBLESS mechanic Leon Humphreys shocked magistrates by demanding the right to trial by combat under medieval law when he appeared at a Suffolk court.

Mr Humphreys, 60, made his request after being charged with failing to notify the DVLA that his motorcycle was off the road.

He claimed he was entitled to ask the court to establish his guilt or innocence by allowing him to fight to the death against a champion nominated by the DVLA.

Mr Humphreys, of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, said the fact that he had opted for trial by combat meant he did not have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

But JPs in the town decided to log his unusual request as a not guilty plea and adjourned his case until November 22 to fix a date for his trial.

The right to trial by combat was introduced in Britain by the Normans after the invasion of 1066. Under the law people used to fight each other to solve disputes. It was assumed the person in the right would win as God would back the victor.

The law used to allow people like priests, women and the elderly to substitute champions to fight on their behalf.

The practice was commonplace until the 1300s when the system of trial by jury began to be introduced instead.

Bachelor Leon said after the hearing: "I believe the right to trial by combat is still on the statute books. I can ask for it because the new Human Rights law gives ordinary people the right to use the law for their own purposes.

"I am willing to fight a champion put up by the DVLA if they want to accept my challenge – but they must remember it is a fight to the death.

"The victor speaks in the name of God and justice so it is a reasonable enough way of sorting the matter out.

"I know I am in the right so I do not have anything to worry about. I am reasonably fit and not afraid of taking anyone on in a fight."

Traditionally fights under the trial by combat law used to be settled by combatants wielding swords, lances or staves with iron heads.

Former seaman Mr Humphreys said he was unsure which party would have the right to decide on the weapons used if the DVLA accepted his challenge.

But he added that he was prepared to fight with Japanese samurai swords, razor sharp Ghurka knives or even heavy blacksmith hammers.

He was taken to court after failing to pay a £25 fine for not notifying the DVLA that his Suzuki 125 cc motorcycle was off the road.

But he said: "It is my property and it is my right to do what I like with it.."

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's department, which runs Britain's courts, said: "I am not aware that anyone has the right to demand trial by combat these days.

"It has been the law for hundreds of years that people can only ask for trial by jury or by magistrates if they are accused of a lesser offence.

"If this man claims he has the right to trial by combat then he will have to present the court with evidence of the legislation to show he has the right to do so.

A DVLA spokeswoman said: "We have never dealt with a request for trial by combat before. We are looking into the legal issues."

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