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Special Reasons: How a Solicitor Can Help Reduce Your Motoring Offence Sentence

Special Reasons

Mitigating circumstances and special reasons are factors that may lead to a reduced sentence or penalty for a motoring offence. These circumstances do not excuse the offence but may be considered by the Court when determining the appropriate punishment.

Special reasons are specific circumstances that if accepted by the court can result in a reduced or avoided penalty, such as avoiding disqualification from driving. One example could be if the driver was faced with a genuine emergency such as rushing someone to the hospital, it may be considered a special reason.

Submitting mitigating circumstances or special reasons does not guarantee a reduced sentence as every case will be considered individually by the court.

Get Legal Support When Submitting Special Reasons

If you are guilty, or believe that you are guilty of an offence, but believe that there are “mitigating circumstances” that might persuade the Court to not impose a penalty or if you believe that the penalty that you face is unfair, then please get in contact with our office for a free consultation.

At Caddick Davies Solicitors, we have a team of specialist motor defence lawyers who specialise in “special reasons” arguments.

We will talk you through the offence you have been charged with and we will advise on your prospects of success at court. You can contact our office for a free consultation on 0151 944 4967.

What Is The Definition of a “Special Reason”?

Whilst the legal basis for a “special reasons” argument is derived from statute, a clear definition of “special reasons” was established in the case of R v Wickens (1958) which states that four requirements must be present in order for “special reasons” to exist:

  1. It must be a mitigating or extenuating circumstance and;
  2. It must not amount to a defence in law and;
  3. It must be directly connected with the commission of the offence and;
  4. The matter must be one which the Court ought properly to take into consideration when imposing punishment.

In order for the Court to even consider whether a “special reason” exists, and therefore for them to consider whether they should exercise discretion to not impose a penalty on a person’s licence, all four of the above factors must be present.

1: Mitigating or Extenuating Circumstances

Mitigating or extenuating circumstances are details that may be important for fully understanding the events that led up to or caused the commission of the offence. Such circumstances may indicate to the Court that the offending behaviour was less serious, and therefore deserves a lesser or no punishment.

An application for ‘special reasons’ is usually most appropriate in circumstances where an offence may have been committed on a technical basis, but there may be significant mitigation to be considered in connection with a lack of knowledge/intent, little or no harm caused, or less moral culpability associated with the offence.

“Special reasons” arguments are about asking the Court about moral culpability and whether it is fair in the circumstances to endorse an individual’s licence.

2: Must Not Amount To A Defence In Law

“Special reasons” can only apply in circumstances where someone is guilty of an offence. Therefore, if you are “not guilty” or have a valid defence available to you, then “special reasons” cannot exist.

3: Must Be Directly Connected To The Commission Of The Offence

The mitigating circumstances that took place must have caused the offence to have been committed – there must be a causal link. In most cases this will be obvious, for example, speeding to take someone to hospital in a genuine emergency – the genuine emergency (the mitigating circumstances) caused the speeding (the offence).

4: The Matter Must Be One Which The Court Ought Properly To Take Into Consideration When Imposing Punishment.

This last factor is vague, and effectively means that the mitigating circumstances are so significant, so unusual or are deserving of sympathy, that the Court should, at the very least, consider them before issuing a penalty.

Read on for further insight into the Court’s power to exercise discretion under “special reasons” and some examples of when “special reasons to avoid driving disqualification” may exist.

Where Does The Court’s Power Come From?

Where an offence carries the mandatory endorsement of penalty points on a person’s driving licence or a mandatory disqualification from driving then the Court can exercise discretion to not impose such if there are “special reasons” for not doing so pursuant to Section 34 and Section 44 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

What Is The Outcome of Special Reasons?

The powers under Section 34 and 44 enable the Court to either reduce the penalty or impose no penalty at all. Where penalty points are mandatory, the Court can either impose no penalty points or the minimum number of penalty points available for that offence.

Where a disqualification is mandatory the Court can either impose no disqualification or a lesser disqualification, and if they deem fit, penalty points instead.

If the Court find “special reasons”, and they do wish to exercise discretion to not impose penalty points and/or a disqualification, then they have two options upon sentencing:

  1. Absolute Discharge An absolute discharge is given by a court when they believe that the mitigation circumstances are so strong, that no punishment is appropriate. In this case, the Court will also not impose a financial penalty, including prosecution costs and victim surcharge.
  2. Conditional Discharge A conditional discharge is usually granted where the Court finds “special reasons” but still chooses to impose some penalty and or a condition to their generosity. For example, The Court may still impose a financial penalty even though they have decided not to impose points or a disqualification. The Court may also set the discharge for a specific period of time for example ‘provided that the offender does not commit any further offences within a set period of time (usually 12- 24 months) then a penalty will not be implemented’.

The Court does not have to impose no penalty – even if they believe that “special reasons” exist. The Court’s power under Sections 34 and 44 is discretionary, and therefore, even if the Court does believe that “special reasons” exist the Court does not have to do anything and can still choose to impose a penalty. Whilst this is rare, it is perfectly acceptable.

Examples of “Special Reasons”

There are some mitigating circumstances, that are generally accepted to be a “special reason” for most motoring offences:

  1. A person who only drove a short distance.
  2. A person who was misled into committing an offence.
  3. A person who committed an offence by way of a genuine emergency.

What Can’t Count As “Special Reasons”?

The following situations cannot be considered a ‘special reason’:

  • Mitigating circumstances relating to the motorist cannot be a “special reason” not to impose a penalty as per road traffic offence guidelines. Whittal v Kirby [1946]. For example, a person losing their job as a result of a disqualification cannot be considered and the fact that a person is of good character cannot be considered.
  • The fact that the offence was “minor” in nature cannot be a “special reason” to disqualify the imposition of a penalty under road traffic offence law. For example, a low breath reading in a drink drive case or a low speeding offence as per the cases of Delaroy-Hall v adman [1969] and Marks v West Midlands Police [1981].
  • A person’s ignorance that what they were doing is a criminal/motoring offence cannot be a “special reason”. For example, a person’s ignorance in not realising that driving an electric scooter whilst over the legal limit is regarded as “drink driving” was held not to be a “special reason” in the case of DPP V Muray [2001].
  • A person with a job that benefits the public (e.g. doctor) or with a job that requires a driving licence cannot be a “special reason” as per Gordon v Smith [1971].

What Offences Can Special Reasons Be Used For?

“Special reasons” can be used in any situation and for any offence, but there are some specific examples that are usually accepted as “special reasons” for certain offences.

Using Special Reasons For Driving Without Insurance 

There are some common situations where the Court will usually find “special reasons” for driving without insurance including;

Genuine and Honest Belief

The important case for “special reasons” for driving without insurance is Rennison v Knowler [1947]. It says that the Court can find “special reasons” if:

  1. The person truly believed they were insured to drive the vehicle, and
  2. That belief was reasonable in the situation.

So, just believing you were insured isn’t enough. Your belief must be “reasonable” in the situation.

Some examples are:

  • Someone whose policy was cancelled without them knowing or being told by the insurance company.
  • Someone whose policy used to renew automatically but didn’t this time.
  • Someone who was told by the vehicle’s owner that they were insured (Marshall v McLeod [1998]).

Just not reading your policy probably won’t be enough. The Court thinks it’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure they’re insured or have the right cover. But it depends on the specific situation in each case.

Drove A Short Distance

A genuine, honest, and reasonable belief isn’t the only “special reason” for driving without insurance. Driving a short distance can also be a “special reason” (Reay v Young [1949]).

But it depends on the specific situation in each case, like how “short” the distance was, how dangerous it was, how much traffic there was, and why the person drove in the first place.

For example, in Gott v Chisholm (1950), the Court didn’t find “special reasons” when an unskilled, unsupervised driver drove “only a short distance” but had an accident.

What Can’t Be Used As A Special Reason For Not Having Insurance

There are some situations that simply can’t be “special reasons” for driving without insurance:

  1. Not knowing the law (for example, not knowing that driving without insurance is an offence) according to Swell v McKechnie [1956].
  2. A person who wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the law or who had tried to find an insurance policy but couldn’t, according to Surtees v Benewith [1954].

Employers Defence

If you’re driving for work and you get stopped for driving without insurance, it’s important to know that you can’t use “special reasons”. Instead, you have a defence to the charge if you can prove all of the following:

  1. You were driving for your job, and
  2. The vehicle doesn’t belong to you and isn’t being leased to you, and
  3. You didn’t know or have any reason to think that you weren’t insured.

Using Special Reasons For Speeding Offences 

There are a number of common circumstances that the Court will generally find “special reasons” for a offence of speeding, namely:

Emergency Situations 

The most common example of “special reasons” for an offence of speeding is where a person has driven in a genuine “emergency” as per Whittal v Kirby [1946].

This can be difficult to establish as the Court will want to be satisfied that it is a genuine emergency and will therefore enquire whether other alternatives were available e.g. calling an ambulance.

Inadvertently Exceeding the Speed Limit

In some cases, if the mitigating circumstances are so strong and if the offence was minor in nature, a person inadvertently exceeding the speed limit can be a “special reason”.

For example, in the case of Marks v West Midlands Police [1981] the Court concluded that the lack of an intention to commit an offence had to be weighed against the problem faced by the Defendant. In this case, the Defendant exceeded a motorway speed limit of 70mph by 10mph.

He was worried by his blind, incontinent, 80-year-old passenger becoming ill and was thereby not aware of exceeding the speed limit, being anxious to reach the nearest motorway service area. The Court held that the Defendant inadvertently exceeding the speed limit in this case was a special reason within the context of road traffic offences.

As with all applications for “special reasons”, each case will be judged on its own merit and the circumstances of the particular case.

Find out more: Driving points accumulation and what you can do about it. 

Special Reasons For Using A Mobile Phone Whilst Driving

There are no recorded court cases that support “special reasons” for using a mobile phone while driving. This is because most of these cases are handled in the Magistrates’ Court, and their results aren’t recorded. Cases need to be taken to a higher court to be considered and recorded.

Here are a few examples of situations that might be successful in the Magistrates’ Court:

  • Using your mobile phone briefly while in a standstill or queuing traffic. But this depends on various factors, like how long the queue was, how long you were in the queue, why you used your phone, and how long you used it for.
  • Picking up your phone because it became a hazard, like if it fell out of your pocket or a holder and into the footwell.

It’s important to remember that if you used your phone to call emergency services, this would be a defence, not a “special reason”.

Special Reasons For Driving While Unfit Due to Drink and/or Drugs

There are several historical situations where the Court has been willing to find “special reasons” for the offence of driving while unfit due to drink and drugs. These offences usually happen when a person is under the legal limit but their driving isn’t acceptable, so they are considered “unfit”.

Examples include:

  • A person who takes a legal drug (prescribed or not) without knowing that it would make them more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, according to Chapman v O’Hagan [1949]. This only applies to driving while unfit, not drink/drug driving.
  • A person who didn’t know they were diabetic and therefore didn’t realise that drinking alcohol would affect their driving, according to R V Wickens [1958].
  • A person who wasn’t warned by their doctor about the effects their medicine would have when combined with alcohol, according to R v Holt [1962].

However, not eating enough food is not a “special reason” for being unfit to drive, according to the case of Archer v Woodward [1959].

Special Reasons And Drink Driving 

There are several common situations where the Court will usually find “special reasons” for a drink driving offence:

Regurgitated Alcohol

If it can be proven, through expert, scientific, or factual evidence, that the breath test result showing a person is over the legal limit was due to “mouth alcohol” from regurgitation (vomiting). So, if you brought up alcohol from your stomach during the breath test and it affected the reading, this can be considered a “special reason”. This can be difficult to prove and would require an expert witness and evidence to show that regurgitation happened.

Spiked Drinks

A person can establish “special reasons” for drink driving offences if their drinks were spiked. According to the case of Pugsley v Hunter [1973], this can be determined if the offender can prove that:

  • Their drink was “laced”, and They didn’t know or suspect that their drink was “laced”, and
  • If the drink hadn’t been “laced”, the alcohol level in their blood would not have been over the legal limit.

This can apply to situations like:

  • A person who didn’t intend to or know they were drinking alcohol, but their drinks were spiked with alcohol.
  • A person who intended to drink alcohol but not as much as they did, because their drinks were spiked with more alcohol or their non-alcoholic drinks were spiked with alcohol.

This can also be difficult to prove and may require:

  • An expert witness to calculate what your breath reading would have been if your drink hadn’t been “spiked”.
  • Evidence that your drink was “spiked”, like testimony from the person who spiked it or a witness, or CCTV footage.

It’s usually hard for someone to prove they didn’t know they had consumed alcohol, especially if they start feeling the effects. But it depends on the specific situation.

This does not apply to:

  • A person who drinks alcohol but doesn’t realise how much they’ve had and that they’re over the legal limit, according to Robinson v DPP [2003].
  • A person who drives the morning after a night of drinking and doesn’t realise they’re still over the legal limit, according to DPP v O’Meara [1989].

Shortness of Distance Driven

The Court can find “special reasons” for drink or drug driving if the person has only driven a short distance. However, this depends on the specific facts of each case.

The case of Chatters v Burke [1986] set out several factors the Court must consider in motoring law cases:

  • How far the vehicle was driven
  • How it was driven
  • The condition of the vehicle
  • Whether the driver intended to drive further
  • Road and traffic conditions
  • Whether there was any danger
  • The reason for driving the vehicle is a crucial aspect in assessing road traffic offences.

There’s no set definition of a “short distance”, so this will be judged on a case-by-case basis, along with all other circumstances.

Emergency

Driving in a “sudden medical emergency” can be considered a “special reason” for drink driving, according to Brown v Dyerson [1969]. However, this is the most difficult situation to establish and depends on the urgency of the emergency or the need to drive in each case.

In the past, Courts have made conflicting decisions in similar situations. This shows how “special reasons” are discretionary and how no two cases are exactly the same.

Using Special Reasons 

It is important to note that “special reasons” applications are not restricted to the offences/circumstances outlined in this post, nor do the circumstances have to be supported by a previous case to be submitted.

Provided that all four of the criteria laid down in R v Wickens (1958) has been met, the Court does not have to be presented with other case law to support your argument in road traffic offence matters.

It is entirely normal and conceivable that mitigating circumstances have resulted in an offence taking place, and the Court has not had to deal with such circumstances before.

Frequently Asked Questions About Special Reasons

Do “Special Reasons” Still Result In A Conviction?

Yes. If you successfully use a “special reasons” argument, you will still be convicted because you are guilty of the offence. For serious offences like dangerous driving, drink/drug driving, failure to provide a specimen, and failing to stop/report an accident, the conviction will go on your criminal record.

For less serious offences like speeding, driving without insurance, using a mobile phone while driving, and careless driving, which are all road traffic offences, the conviction won’t appear on your criminal record. However, it may still show up on enhanced DBS checks.

Do “Special Reasons” Still Result In An Entry On My Driving Record?

Yes. Even if you successfully use a “special reasons” argument, the offence will still appear on your driving record. However, there usually won’t be any penalty points or disqualification attached to it.

Get Help With Special Reasons

At Caddick Davies Solicitors, we have a team of specialist motor defence lawyers who are experts in preparing and presenting “special reasons” arguments in court. We understand the complexities of these cases and have a proven track record of successfully assisting clients in avoiding penalties such as disqualification or points on their licence.

From the most straightforward to the most intricate cases, we are dedicated to providing personalised support and guidance. We begin every enquiry with an informal discussion to gain a thorough understanding of your unique circumstances and to address any questions you may have in complete confidence.

If you believe that there are mitigating circumstances or “special reasons” that should be considered in your case, please don’t hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation on 0151 944 4967.

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