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Speeding.  How to avoid Disqualification from Driving

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Introduction

Speeding is the most common of motoring offences.  With the roll out of speed cameras across the country it has become, perhaps, the easiest of offences for the police to detect and prosecute.   If the police have not pulled you over at the roadside they will usually send the registered keeper a S172 Notice requiring him or her to identify the driver.  The penalty for failing to complete such a Notice properly is itself 6 penalty points and a fine and so, usually, the police don’t have any difficulty in identifying the person at the wheel (with the help of the registered keeper).  Once identified, unless the motorist has a valid and substantive defence (which is probably uncommon) the police will have little difficulty in securing a conviction (often with the motorist pleading ‘Guilty’).  Given that loss of licence can mean loss of job, or even of a business, for many motorists it is absolutely essential that they are not disqualified from driving.  So, what can be done to mitigate sentence, in particular, to try to avoid an immediate disqualification?

The Methods of Sentencing

The powers of sentencing range from an immediate disqualification from driving or between 3 – 6 penalty points.  If the offence is one of exceeding the limit by a relatively small margin the police will often offer the driver the option of taking a speed awareness course (in which case there is no conviction and no penalty points are endorsed) or a fixed penalty (in which case there is a fine plus the endorsement of 3 points).  However, if neither of these options is offered, either due to the driver’s past record or to the extent by which the speed limit was exceeded, then the matter will proceed with the sending of a Single Justice Procedure Notice to the motorist.

Single Justice Procedure Notices

These notices are sent in the post.  The motorist then has 21 days to respond to the Notice online or by post. S/he can plead ‘Not Guilty’ in which case the motorist will receive notification in due course of when the case will be listed for a trial in open court. Or, a ‘Guilty’ plea can be entered with either opting to attend court for sentencing or asking to be sentenced without the need to attend court.  Most motorists who admit the offence opt to be sentenced in absence.  They write out their mitigation (explanation and excuses) and send in the Notice expecting to hear back with the details of the sentence.  However, the motorist should bear in mind that the Single Justice has Sentencing Guidelines which s/he is obliged to follow.  For example, if the motorist has exceeded the limit by an excessive amount (such as 101 mph in a 70 mph limit – which also means s/he will be in the highest sentencing bracket) then the magistrate has the power to disqualify or, if s/he wishes to deal with the case as leniently as possible, to endorse 6 penalty points.  So, how should the motorist seek to minimise the severity of the penalty?

The Magistrate’s Discretion

If admitting the offence the motorist has the initial option of pleading ‘Guilty’ by post and seeking to be sentenced without attendance at court, or, to seek sentencing in open court on a later date.  If the motorist is sure there is no real chance of avoiding being required to attend court, as the speed was such that s/he considers the Single Justice will definitely consider a ban, then s/he may as well indicate on the Notice that s/he prefers to attend court.  However, if the motorist believes there is a real chance that the Single Justice will consider simply ordering the endorsement of points then s/he will be tempted to write out his or her mitigation and send it off with the Notice.  There is absolutely no reason not to do this save that the motorist should be careful not to state anything on the Notice that will make his or her case worse in the eyes of the Single Justice.  Do bear in mind that unless the motorist fully understands all of the relevant sentencing criteria that s/he could easily ‘put a foot in it’ by writing something that aggravates rather than mitigates the offence.  Remember, too, that if the mitigation is considered and the Single Justice does require attendance at court the written mitigation cannot then be withdrawn.  The alternative approach of simply pleading ‘Guilty’ and indicating a wish to be sentenced in open court means that there would be no good reason to set out one’s mitigation upon the Notice (as it will be stated in open court anyway on a subsequent occasion).

(In the case of a penalty points disqualification, when a motorist has 12 or more points endorsed for offences committed within 3 years of each other, different considerations can apply.  Please see the link for further guidance.)

Sentencing in Court

This will be reserved for those case in which the Single Justice has decided that a ban should be considered or in which the motorist has chosen to attend court.  Usually, of course, the motorist will only do this if s/he considers that either it is inevitable that s/he will be required to attend, given the speed, and that his or her chance of avoiding a ban rests upon persuasively conveying his or her mitigation at court.  There are usually steps that can be taken in advance of attending court in order to minimise the risk of an immediate ban, or, at least, to reduce its length.  Of course, this varies from case to case and is the purpose for which, in the case of clients, we arrange a meeting well in advance of attendance at court. (See, for example, this case study of a client who avoided a ban). 

Conclusion

The fact that one can be disqualified from driving, even for a first offence, is a shock to many people who have never been in trouble with the police before.  It should be bourne in mind that for those considered to be speeding at ‘grossly in excess’ of the limit that bans can, and usually are, in excess of 56 days in length.  The consequences of loss of licence can be catastrophic.  The motorist can suddenly find him or herself bewildered by the paperwork that is sent and the choices that appear to be available.  Most motorists are neither used to the prosecution paperwork nor to appearing in court.  If you find yourself in this position and would like some expert guidance, without charge, you are free to call to speak to our specialist motoring offence barrister who will happily explain the options open to you.

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