The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Special Reasons and the Demon Drink

Now and again we see a defendant who has pleaded guilty to a driving offence, but who wants to persuade us that there are Special Reasons not to endorse his licence or to disqualify him. This is quite different from the Exceptional Hardship argument that I have written about earlier - Special Reasons must relate to the offence and not to the offender. They must not be capable of amounting to a defence to the charge.

Although they can apply to any endorsable offence, nearly all SR arguments are about drink-driving. The consequences of such a conviction can be far-reaching, and some defendants will make every effort to avoid a ban.

The classic one is laced drinks. If a driver can satisfy the court that his drink was interfered with, and that it was only the extra alcohol that pushed him over the limit, then he may be spared a ban. On the other hand, if someone admits to slipping him a double Scotch in his pint, but his reading when arrested is double the limit, then his argument will fail, because he would have been over the top anyway, even without the extra shot of spirits. He will certainly need an expert witness and a lawyer to represent him, because there is a great deal of case law involved, so it will not be cheap. One difficulty is finding anyone who will admit to spiking your drink, because doing so is an offence, leaving the perpetrator liable to prosecution.

Other Special Reasons may be based on the short distance driven (I was just moving the car to a safer place before I walked home) a medical emergency (what was wrong with calling an ambulance? Once you had taken the person to hospital did you drive back again, when the emergency had passed?)

It is for the defendant to prove on the civil standard of the Balance of Probabilities that Special Reasons exist, which reverses the normal burden of proof. In my experience Benches tend to be pretty sceptical in these cases, and cross-examination often reveals that the defendant's case is paper thin.

It is also an offence to be Drunk in Charge of a vehicle. Sleeping off a skinful in your car is not a good idea, but there is a defence available, of having no intention to drive. You will need to come up with some convincing proof though, such as leaving your keys with the barman. It is not unusual for someone to be arrested after being found asleep in their car, halfway between pub and home, with the lights on and the engine running. There's not much point in fighting that one.

An acquaintance of mine approached me in the pub and told me that he had been charged with DIC. He had been drinking with friends and he told them that he was just going to get his briefcase out of his car and then walk the mile or so home. He got into the car to get his case and take some things out of the glove box, and a passing police patrol breath tested him and he was arrested. I asked him if his friends would be prepared to give evidence - he thought they would. Did anyone else hear him say that he was going to get his case? Yes, the barmaid. So I sent him off to a reliable solicitor, and he pleaded not guilty. A couple of months later he turned up grinning from ear to ear and gave me a bottle of champagne, having been acquitted, and with his £900 legal costs refunded to him. It's nice to see a happy ending sometimes.