Last week saw Steve Kean, the Manager of Blackburn Rovers Football Club, appear at Macclesfield Magistrates Court after being found to be over the drink driving limit. Kean, who was stopped whilst driving at 90 miles per hour, claimed that his drink had been spiked, hence being found to be 30 mg above the legal alcohol limit of 35 mg. Albeit the Blackburn Rovers’ manager may well have been disqualified from driving following the hearing, with the judge concluding that there was no evidence of lacing of drinks, it may be useful to consider the basis of the argument advanced when he endeavoured to avoid disqualification.
Certain driving offences such as drink driving carry obligatory disqualification from driving. Other offences, for example driving without insurance, carry obligatory endorsements. There are however certain circumstances whereby courts can be persuaded to refrain from imposition of disqualification or endorsement, that is where so called ‘special reasons’ exist.
One has got to be careful to distinguish ‘special reasons’ from ‘mitigating circumstances’. The latter would be, for example, when the courts are invited not to disqualify somebody who has accumulated 12 penalty points on the basis that to do so would cause exceptional hardship. Special reasons relate to the offence; mitigating circumstances to the offender.
As to what constitutes special reasons is not defined by statute, but the accepted criteria are:
- It must be a mitigating or extenuating circumstance;
- It must not in law amount to a defence;
- It must be connected with the commission of the offence; and
- It must be one which the court ought to properly take into consideration when imposing sentence.
Rather than get bogged down in the legality of the matter, it might be more illuminating to give examples of what may constitute special reasons.
The one advanced before the magistrates at Macclesfield was that drinks had been laced. Putting vodka in someone’s orange juice to cheer them up and the introduction of that alcohol rendering them unfit to drive, whereas otherwise they would have been under the limit, would amount to a special reason. The person still commits the offence, because of course that person drives with excess alcohol in his blood/breath, but disqualification may be avoided if they can prove to the magistrates that alcohol had been added to the drink, that they did not suspect it and that it was that which was responsible for putting them over the limit.
Laced drinks is not the only example of special reasons. Shortness of distance travelled is also one. Moving your car a short distance from the road onto the driveway due to the fact that thieves were paying particular interest to it may be accepted to avoid disqualification.
As indicated at the outset, drink driving is not the only offence to which the argument may be applied. It is a common argument with regard to use of vehicle without insurance that someone ought not to have their licence endorsed where in fact they have been actively misled. An example recently encountered was where the insurance company concerned had written to the motorist indicating that the insurance would be automatically renewed on the same terms and that direct debit would be taken from the account. When that insurance was then not subsequently renewed, the court accepted that all the information and indeed the deductions from the bank account told the driver he was insured rather than the contrary. The usual 6 to 8 penalty points were not endorsed on the driver’s licence.
What should not be considered to be the case is that special reasons are readily available and are the norm rather than the exception. Courts examine all the facts and circumstances to determine whether special reasons exist and of course the onus is on the motorist to prove special reasons. As can be seen from Kean’s case, not every plea is by any means successful.
If you need legal advice on motoring matters of any kind, including speeding fines and offences, mobile phone offences or dangerous / careless driving charges, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.