Special reasons not to disqualify from driving or endorse driving licences with penalty points.
What are 'Special Reasons' ?
A ‘Special Reason’ is an expression which has a particular legal meaning, but if established in court can have a very significant impact on penalty. The majority of motorists can easily put forward reasons why an offence was committed, but the law distinguishes between reasons which are routine and ordinary (for example: I was late for work, I was not concentrating, it was not deliberate, I did not see the signs and so on) and those which are so closely connected with the commission of the offence that they attract the title ‘special’ and open the way to not being disqualified or having a license endorsed with penalty points.
A conviction for most road traffic offences brings with it penalty points, a licence endorsement or a disqualification from driving. Motorists are convicted when they either plead guilty to a summons or charge, or are found guilty after a hearing.
Sometimes, for example with drink driving or dangerous driving, the disqualification is mandatory and the only issue is its length. In other cases, such as speeding or careless driving, a disqualification is discretionary. If there is no discretionary disqualification, the court will order licences to be endorsed with penalty points, and in many cases there is a range available. For example speeding carries between 3 and 6, and careless driving between 3 and 9. Some offences are fixed and for example driving without insurance carries 6 penalty points as does failing to provide details of the driver.
It’s the imposition of a disqualification or penalty points that causes the real difficulty, and they might be avoidable even where the offence itself has been committed.
Some offences, such as driving without insurance, are known as strict liability offences, or absolute offences. It means that if a motorist does not have insurance he commits an offence even if he does not know it and believes he is insured. The same applies for driving without a licence or driving whilst disqualified. Lack of knowledge is no defence, but it might be a special reason.
The concept of Special Reasons exists to allow the court in appropriate circumstances to reduce or completely cancel the normal consequences of a conviction. They can be very useful tools indeed but they need to be understood and then properly deployed. When they are established in court, a convicted motorist might for example completely avoid a disqualification for drink driving or penalty points for driving without insurance, for speeding or a range of other offences.
Special reasons can apply to most road traffic offences, but the most common are as follows:
- dangerous or careless driving;
- driving whilst using a mobile telephone;
- drink-driving, failing to provide a laboratory specimen (breath, urine or blood) and drunk in charge;
- driving without insurance;
- permitting someone to drive without insurance;
- Driving without a licence or whilst disqualified
Most road traffic offences are open to the use of special reasons and I have used them successfully on many occasions. It’s one of the first things to consider right at the outset.
Special Reasons Vs Mitigating Circumstances
Special reasons are different from mitigating circumstances and examples make it easier to explain this. If a motorist is guilty of drink driving because he drove his vehicle in a public place with excess alcohol in his body, mitigating circumstances such as the low level of alcohol or the fact it was a very quiet road can only help persuade the court to keep the disqualification to the minimum of 12 months. A special reason on the other hand, such as drinks being laced or driving in an emergency or over a very short distance, can amount to a special reason and if so result in no disqualification at all.
Special reasons are not defined by statute but the basic definition used by the Courts is taken from a case decided in 1946 and remains good law. To be a special reason it must:
- be a mitigating or extenuating circumstance;
- not amount in law to a defence to the charge;
- be directly connected with the commission of the offence; and
- be one which the court ought properly to take into consideration when imposing sentence.
If all these are satisfied in relation to a reason put forward for the commission of an offence, it allows the court to exercise a discretion not to endorse a licence with penalty points, or not to disqualify or to disqualify for a much shorter period than might otherwise apply.
Avoiding penalty points can be very valuable to a motorist facing a “totting” disqualification for 6 months.
There is no exhaustive list of what can amount to a special reason and they always apply to the varying and unique ways motorists commit offences. The following are examples of reasons that are capable of amounting to special reasons:
Examples of Special Reasons
The fact that a motorist drove for a short distance and in circumstances where he was unlikely to be brought into contact with other road users. I have successfully argued this in drink-driving cases where the court decided not to disqualify it all;
The fact that a motorists’ drinks were laced and he did not know he was consuming alcohol. I have successfully argued such cases;
The fact that a motorist was given drinks stronger than he asked for and didn’t know;
The presence of mouth alcohol as a factor affecting the reliability of the breath specimen. This can cause an elevated reading unrelated to the amount of alcohol actually consumed.
The fact that a motorist unintentionally committed the offence of driving without insurance because he was misled by his insurance company or someone else telling him that he was insured. I have presented such cases many times for example where a wife or husband has been innocently misled by their spouse;
The fact that the motorist committed the offence when coping with a genuine emergency. This for example can apply to drink driving, careless driving, and speeding. I have argued it successfully in speeding cases where drivers were escaping unwanted attention from other drivers;
Driving whilst disqualified when the motorist did not know he was disqualified and had good reason not to know.
The law places the onus on the motorist to prove a special reason, but only on a balance of probabilities. Nevertheless a motorist must produce evidence of the reasons either from himself, from other witnesses, or from experts. For example a laced drinks special reason would require support from an expert witness to confirm that it was the amount of alcohol in the laced drinks that put the motorist over the drink drive limit. It may also require evidence from someone who added the extra alcohol or saw it being done.
The law on special reasons is not straightforward and requires careful analysis of individual facts and presentation in court to succeed. There are a number of different ways to introduce evidence of special reasons:
- Sworn evidence from a witness.
- Witness statements put into proper format and served on the prosecution.
- Agreed evidence.
- Legal submissions.
Your solicitor’s, skill and expertise will firstly identify whether or not a special reason might exist, and will then present the relevant evidence to the court, together with legal argument. All of these taken together are crucial to your chances of successfully arguing them. It is therefore essential that you choose your solicitor very carefully.
Mitigating your sentence
The absence of a ‘special reason’ is not the end of the matter because well presented explanations and mitigation will still influence the court’s sentence. The importance of this is often underestimated and real benefit can come from firmly presented mitigation aimed at persuading the court to sentence you more leniently.
In serious cases it can mean the difference between a custodial sentence or something lower such as unpaid community work or even a fine. Its not just the length of the disqualification or the number of points that is at stake.
I work very hard to obtain the best possible results for my clients and understand the value of obtaining good quality supporting testimonials from family, friends and work colleagues who know how the outcome will affect you.
Just get in touch with me and I will explain how I can help.