May 18 2020

Special reasons

Special reasons are a concept that applies in cases where a defendant is facing an obligatory driving disqualification – that is to say a ban that the court must impose rather than a discretionary ban where the court has an option to ban the defendant or not.

The first thing to say about special reasons is that they are generally about the offence and can never be about the consequences of the sentence on the defendant. Thus, telling the court that you will suffer exceptional hardship, such as losing your job and consequently your home can never amount to a special reason for the court not imposing an obligatory driving ban.

In 1958, the High Court, in a case called R v Wickens, defined a special reason as being one that is a mitigating or extenuating circumstance but one that does not amount to a defence to the allegation. It must be directly connected with the commission of the offence and must be something that the court should properly considered when imposing sentence.

While you could reasonably read the Wickens description as including situations where a defendant is only just over the limit, the courts put that one to rest in 1969 in the case of Delaroy-Hall v Tadman when Lord Parker declined to find special reasons where the analysis of a defendant’s blood alcohol level showed that he was only just above the prescribed limit.

Examples of special reasons

Short distance – where a defendant drives such a short distance that he is unlikely to come into contact with other members of the public and thus put them at risk he may be able to escape disqualification. We acted in a case where two young men, John and Barry (obviously not their real names), were seen driving a car on a public road. A witness saw John get into the driving seat and move the car into the road. He then saw Barry take the driving seat, turn the car around and repark it facing the opposite direction. We represented Barry and argued that the distance driven was so short that there was no danger to other road users. The court heard the evidence and imposed ten-penalty points but no disqualification. John was unrepresented. He pleaded guilty and was disqualified from driving for 18 months.

Laced drinks – where a defendant has committed the offence inadvertently because somebody has added alcohol to his drink without his knowledge then he will have a special reason for avoiding the ban. It is important for the defence to show that the defendant’s intentional alcohol consumption would not have put him over the drink driving limit – unless it is very obvious, medical evidence will be required – the defence must also show that the drink was actually spiked and that the defendant did not know his drink had been spiked. While having the spiker come to court is helpful it is not essential. We represented a young man accused of drink driving after a night in a club with friends. We argued that he should not be disqualified as he drove only a short distance and his drink was spiked. His friends refused to come to court to support him, so we applied to admit the friend’s confession as a hearsay statement, which was allowed by the trial judge. The judge found that the distance driven was too far for short distance to succeed but he did accept that our client’s drink had been spiked and our client kept his driving licence – in that case, the judge declined to impose any punishment whatsoever so our client did not even get penalty points on his licence.

Emergency – where you are escaping a threat or rushing to give assistance to somebody in need you will be able to argue that you should not be banned as there was an emergency. It is important to show the court that you had no choice but to drive – thus it’s important to show that you explored other options – and that you do not drive further than is necessary. We represented a lady who was attacked as she left a bar one evening. She had driven to the bar intending to walk the short distance home. Because of the attack, she got into her car, which was parked right outside the bat and drove off. She drove away from her home as the attacker was blocking her path home so she could not rely on the short distance argument. The court found that because she did not drive further than was necessary and there was a genuine threat to her safety, she had established a special reason and our client avoided a driving ban.

Arguments that can never amount to special reasons

We’ve already mentioned some points that cannot amount to a special reason but here are a few more. It’s worth saying that all of these might be relevant where you are facing a discretionary ban, i.e. one where the court can choose whether to ban or not, or if you are facing a totting up ban because you have accumulated twelve or more penalty points but they cannot help you with an obligatory ban:

Good character – previous good character is a mitigating factor that the court should take into account when passing sentence, but it is not something that can help you avoid a driving ban.

Consequences of a driving ban – no matter how severe the consequences might be to you or others, courts are simply not allowed to decide not to impose an obligatory driving ban because of the consequences, Whittal v Kirby.

Trivial offence – Parliament has set a level where if you drive above that level you commit a criminal offence. A court cannot choose not to impose an obligatory driving ban because you are only just over that limit Nicholson v Brown, Delaroy-Hall v Tadman and Marks v West Midlands Police

Harm to the community – you may remember the football manager who successfully argued that if he lost his licence it would harm his local community. He was fighting a totting up ban where exceptional hardship can save your licence. Where you are facing an obligatory ban the court cannot take account of harm to the community to the point of deciding not to impose the ban Holroyd v Berry.

In summary, we can see that it is possible to avoid the drink driving ban even after conviction but that it is essential your case is argued effectively by a solicitor who understands the tests to be applied by the court. If you need expert legal help then feel free to contact us.