Update : The Premiership footballer Ricardo Fuller was in court today with what looks like a similar misunderstanding about Residence and the 12-month rule. He didn't get the same outcome as in the case below so presumably the details of the offence and the offender were different.
Klaatu (not his real name) came from a place far, far away but he spoke excellent English with a heavy accent. Good enough English anyway to allow him to conduct his own defence in a Magistrates' Court where he stood accused of driving without a licence.
Klaatu had come to this country to work a few years ago. He had stayed consistently and legally for over five years and every year he would take holiday to make the long journey home to spend some time with his family.
It's quite well known that you can use a foreign driving licence in this country for twelve months before you have to apply for a provisional licence and pass the British test. However, Klaatu explained to us that it was "common knowledge" among people from his country that if you left the UK and then came back then the clock started all over again.
Now, you are going to think "Common knowledge ain't so common. Surely he should have checked the legal position".
Well, Klaatu had. Several times. He even had it in writing after visiting one of the DVLA local offices. They told him that it was 12 months "from the time he last entered the country".
Our legal advisor wanted to make sure of the position so she phoned DVLA Swansea and spoke to someone "with an accent like Max Boyce" who assured her that it was "twelve months since first becoming resident, boyo". You would hope that she made up the "boyo" part.
I've been an accountant so I know what fun can be had from defining whether someone is "resident" for tax purposes - were we really expected to rule on whether he was resident for the purposes of the DVLA?
Well, that's exactly what we did. We found that Klaatu had technically broken some laws but he had a good papertrail showing that he had made an honest attempt to try to determine the legal position and had been incorrectly advised by people who should have known better.
We therefore found him guilty, but gave him an Absolute Discharge (no penalty). The chair then advised him that from that moment on he must not drive until he had passed the UK test. Klaatu smiled the biggest smile I've seen this year, bowed to us and promised to pass the word about the twelve month rule among his people.
I think justice was done here. It doesn't seem right that a visitor can get out of having to do the UK driving test by (say) taking the boat to Dublin, eating a pizza and taking the boat straight back once a year.
But equally it would have been hard on Klaatu to have punished him when he had tried his best, been poorly advised and it seems that even some legal advisors and some DVLA staff aren't totally certain of the applicable law.
Twelve months from the date you first became resident : tell your friends.