Since specialising in the defence of motorists facing prosecution for road traffic offences the question I am asked most frequently is, ‘will the court disqualify me?’
Earlier this year I had a very ‘unlucky’ client; she had reached a total of 12 penalty points on her driving license by being caught speeding 4 times within 30mph speed zones. On each occasion she was only a little over the limit. The first 3 times she was given the option of fixed penalty tickets. On the 4th occasion she was required to attend court to be sentenced. When I told her that she faced a minimum 6 month ban she was incredulous and burst into tears. Another client emailed me after I had agreed to take her case saying that if she were to be convicted she would lose her job, that if she lost her job she would be unable to pay her mortgage and would lose her home, and, that if she lost her home she would lose her adoption case currently before the courts. The consequences of loss of a driving license can be dramatic. It pays to know when and how a ban can be avoided.
Those committing offences resulting in the endorsement of 12 or more points on their driving licenses for offences committed within 3 years of each other are liable to be disqualified for a minimum of 6 months. However, this is by no means inevitable. There is a discretion within the court to disqualify for a shorter period or not at all if it finds that ‘exceptional hardship’ would be caused by a disqualification.
A body of case law has built up over the years which provides the courts with guidance as to the types of circumstances which can be considered to cause ‘exceptional hardship’. For example, loss of a job, although causing hardship, does not necessarily amount to ‘exceptional hardship’. This is because many people are at risk of losing their jobs if they lose their licenses. In other words, loss of job is no longer regarded as causing ‘exceptional’ hardship as many would suffer in such a way if they were to lose their licenses. That is not to say that loss of job is not capable of being regarded as a relevant and important factor. Whether or not the court sees it as such is a matter of fact and degree. It is well established that the courts do pay more regard to hardship that would be suffered by innocent victims. So, for example, if an elderly mother were dependent on her Defendant son’s income to house her, but that income would be lost if her son were to be disqualified, then that might be regarded as a persuasive factor. Similarly, if a Defendant employed others who would lose their jobs if he were disqualified then this, too, could be considered a weighty factor. Case law illustrates that the type of factors that can be taken into account range widely.
If, after consideration of the relevant case law, as applied to an individual’s circumstances, there is a case for submitting that ‘exceptional hardship’ would result from a disqualification then it is up to the defence to prepare its case as effectively as possible. This often involves obtaining documentary evidence in support of the defence contentions. The Defendant must understand that, even in a case where the defence evidence is supported by documentation, he or she will usually have to give evidence on oath and, potentially, face cross-examination by the court clerk and / or prosecutor.
So, if you or someone you know is a ‘totter’ what should be done? First of all consider all the facts and background circumstances of the Defendant and those dependent upon him to establish if the case law suggests that to disqualify would cause ‘exceptional hardship’. Thoroughly prepare the evidence and marshall one’s submissions to best effect to ensure they are put across in court in the most persuasive manner possible. If one takes these steps this would tend to maximise one’s chances of a successful outcome without which the prospect of a 6 month ban becomes highly probable.
Sunil Rupasinha is a barrister specialising in defending motorists facing prosecution for road traffic offences – contact us today for assistance, at whatever stage it is required.