Sentencing Council proposes tougher guidelines to prevent motorists claiming “exceptional hardship” to get out of driving bans
Motorists should not escape driving bans because they would lose their job, a legal advisory panel has said.
The Sentencing Council of England and Wales – a non-departmental public body made up of judges and non-judicial legal experts reporting to the Ministry of Justice – has drawn up proposals to provide stricter guidelines to courts issuing driving bans.
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The body says motorists facing a driving ban should not be able to get out of it by claiming “exceptional hardship” purely because the ban would mean them losing their job. It argues that “loss of employment will not in itself necessarily amount to exceptional hardship” and that “some hardship is likely to occur in many, if not most, orders of disqualification”.
The proposed changes – which would mainly apply to magistrates’ courts, but may also affect some Crown Court sentencing – relates to “totting up” disqualifications, where a driver who commits multiple offences incurs 12 or more penalty points and is handed a ban. Drivers can escape such bans if they successfully argue in court that it would cause them “exceptional hardship”, often with the help of a lawyer specialising in motoring offences.
The Sentencing Council believes “courts should be cautious before accepting assertions of exceptional hardship without evidence that alternatives (including alternative means of transport) for avoiding exceptional hardship are not viable”. It adds that “the test is not inconvenience or hardship, but exceptional hardship for which the court must have evidence”.
Also included in the proposed changes is a clarification of the guidelines stating that any existing disqualification period should be added to any newly imposed disqualification period.
Lord Justice Holroyde, chairman of the Sentencing Council, said: “Sentencing guidelines are used in magistrates’ courts throughout England and Wales on a daily basis and it is important that they provide clear guidance to court users.
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“This consultation is in response to requests from magistrates for changes to provide more information and bring greater clarity to these guidelines. We are keen to hear views on the proposals from magistrates, others working in the criminal justice system and anyone else with an interest in sentencing.”
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