Driving while disqualified
Driving while disqualified is a criminal offence in England and Wales that is defined by section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The Act makes it illegal for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place when they have been disqualified from driving by a court of law.
Why might you be disqualified?
A disqualification from driving is a penalty that is imposed by a court when a person is convicted of a driving offence, such as drink driving or when you tot up to 12 or more penalty points. The length of the disqualification period depends on the nature and severity of the offence, but it can range from a few months to several years. During the disqualification period, the individual is prohibited from driving any type of motor vehicle on a road or public place.
Revocation versus disqualification
You may know that a new driver within the first two years of passing their test will lose their licence if they accumulate 6 or more penalty points. But, a revocation is not the same as a disqualification. This means that if you drove after a revocation you would not be guilty of driving while disqualified. However, you would be guilty of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence. Driving without a licence is much less serious than disqualified driving.
Defending a driving while disqualified charge
Before we can defence an allegation, we need to understand what the prosecutor must prove to secure a conviction.
What does the prosecution need to prove?
In order to prove that a person is guilty of driving while disqualified, the prosecution must show that the person was driving a motor vehicle on a road or public place during the period of disqualification.
The prosecutor must prove that the accused was actually disqualified from driving but there is no need for them to prove that the defendant knew of the disqualification. In the case of Taylor v Kenyon  2 All E.R. 726, the defendant denied any knowledge of the driving ban; however, he was convicted and the appeal court held that a disqualification is an “absolute prohibition on driving that is effective from the moment the sentence is pronounced in open court”.
Undermining the prosecution case
Now we know what the prosecutor must prove to secure a driving while disqualified conviction, we know what areas of their case we can probe for weakness.
First, were you driving? If you were merely seen sitting in the driving seat of a car that will not be sufficient. Secondly, where were you at the time? The prosecution needs to prove either that you were in a public place – you will see references to “a road” but the definition of a road includes that it is open to the public! If the place you were seen driving is not open to the public then you cannot commit a driving offence upon it. By the public, we mean the public at large not merely a subset of the public. We have successfully argued in several cases that places such as private car parks or camp sites are open only to a subset of the public and thus are not public places. Where you are alleged to have driving while disqualified on a road you can look at additional factors, such as whether there are defined edges to the place, traffic signs, road markings, and whether the place goes from one place to another. If it lacks some or all of these features it is unlikely to be a road and so you cannot be guilty of driving while disqualified.
While you need not know about the disqualification, the prosecution must prove that you are the person who was disqualified. If you are unaware of the driving ban then you may wish to argue that you were never disqualified from driving to begin with. In the case of R v Derwentside Magistrates' Court ex parte Heaviside (1995) 160 JP 317, Mr Heaviside had denied being disqualified from driving. The prosecution produced the court record showing that a person with the same name, date of birth, living at Mr Heaviside’s address had been disqualified from driving. The magistrates convicted Mr Heaviside; however, on appeal the Divisional Court held that the court register was not sufficient evidence. They listed three types of evidence that were sufficient: 1. An admission by the defendant; 2. Fingerprint evidence; or 3. Identification by a person who was present when the defendant was disqualified from driving. It is important to take legal advice on points like this because in R v Burns (Robert Andrew) (2006) Times, 7 March (CA), the Court of Appeal held that what is sufficient evidence of past convictions must be judged on a case by case basis.
Other defences to driving while disqualified
In very extreme cases, you will have a defence to driving while disqualified if you can show that your actions were necessary. This is called duress.
Duress requires a threat to life or a risk of serious injury. Therefore, it is not a defence that will be available very often. Even where duress is operative, the court will expect you to stop driving as soon as the threat has passed.
Unlike most defences, you do not have to prove duress. All the defendant must do is raise the issue with some evidence that they drove while disqualified because of duress. Once the issue is properly raised it is for the prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was no duress!
Sentencing driving while disqualified
Driving while disqualified is a serious offence and carries substantial penalties. If a person is caught driving while disqualified, they can be arrested and taken to a police station for questioning. They will then be charged with the offence, and if found guilty, they could face a substantial fine, imprisonment, or both.
The sentence for driving while disqualified will depend on the circumstances of each individual case, but a court will take into consideration the length of the disqualification period and the number of times the person has been caught driving while disqualified. If the person has been disqualified multiple times, they are likely to face a longer prison sentence.
In some cases, the defence may argue that the person was not aware of their disqualification or that there were exceptional circumstances that prevented them from complying with the disqualification.
Special reasons in driving while disqualified cases
A special reason is an argument that there is a good reason for you to have acted as you did. The two most common special reasons in driving while disqualified cases are: you were not aware of the disqualification; and there was an emergency.
If you did not know about the driving ban, although that is not a defence it may be a special reason that allows you to avoid the lengthening of the disqualification.
Where there is an emergency that isn’t serious enough to be a defence it may nonetheless be a special reason. A good example, is a case we tried some years ago. Our client was accused of drink driving – the law on special reasons is the same regardless of the offence. She argued that she drove because she saw her sister who had mental health problems and who had been violent to her in the past. We were able to verify that the sister had been prosecuted for past attacks on our client. The judge found that the threat was not serious enough to be a defence but was sufficient to mean our client avoided punishment for her offence.
In conclusion, driving while disqualified is a serious criminal offence in England and Wales and carries substantial penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or both. If you have been disqualified from driving and are caught driving, there is much a motoring law solicitor can do to help you.
Call us now on 020 8242 4440 – or send us a message via our contact page – and speak to one of our expert motoring law solicitors.