Sentencing for motoring offences – what is a Special Reasons argument and how do you apply it?

Jemma Patterson, Paralegal from our motoring offence department, sums up what the argument is and how to use it correctly.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the strict liability world of road traffic law is entirely black and white. And to some extent you would be right; there is no “mens rea” (intention) required for motoring offences. If you are found guilty of an endorseable offence the Court will award penalty points or impose a disqualification regardless of whether or not you intended to commit the offence.

Thankfully, we have a helpful sentencing tool, in the form of a special reasons argument, to add some colour and creativity to the case. A special reasons argument is one of my favourite arguments to advance. It requires lateral thinking, some ingenuity and can significantly alter the outcome.

A few scenarios where special reasons can be successfully argued include shortness of distance driven (drink driving), laced drinks, genuine emergency and being misled into believing insurance was in place.

The provision of special reasons to avoid disqualification is contained within S34 Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. To argue special reasons you must plead guilty, or have been convicted (if you are unsure on plea you should always seek legal advice). A special reasons argument is the opportunity to explain to the Court the circumstances in which the offence was committed. If the Court find that special reasons exist they have the power to exercise their discretion and reduce the ban period, or not disqualify at all. If you are facing penalty points, the Court must either impose the correct number of points or find special reasons and not impose any. There is no discretion to reduce the number of points.

There is a vast amount of special reasons case law dealing with specific offences, with an over-arching broad case of R v Wickens (1958), which establishes 4 criteria. This case states that to amount to a “Special Reason” a matter must:

  1. Be a mitigating or extenuating circumstance;
  2. Not amount in law to a defence;
  3. Be directly connected with the commission of the offence; and
  4. Be one which the court ought to properly take into consideration when imposing sentence.

The case of Wickens allows plenty of room for interpretation and, in front of the right bench on the right day, one could theoretically stretch the circumstances of most cases to fit. A word of caution here; the threshold is quite high, and the Court is very used to seeing defendants advancing groundless arguments. The Magistrates or Judge will not be happy after sitting through a 1 hour spurious attempt at a special reasons argument in place of a 15-minute sentencing exercise if the argument does not have “legs”. It is imperative that your argument is well considered, thoroughly prepared and compelling. Relevant case law should be applied as a means to bolster your argument.

Whilst special reasons offers the chance to show some creativity, avoid anything too abstract. The argument must be measured and supported with witness statements from any parties involved, together with corroborating evidence. This could, for example, involve obtaining supporting medical evidence or information from your insurance company. You should forewarn the Court and Crown Prosecution Service that you intend to advance a special reasons argument, outline the basis of the argument and advise how many witnesses you intend to bring with you to assist in presenting your case.

Final note; this isn’t a “get out of jail free” card that can be used time and time again. The Court won’t take kindly to hearing for the 10th time that you had been told you were insured to drive, or that you were rushing your pregnant wife to hospital again! Your evidence must be honest, and credibility is key. If not, your argument will fail and you run the risk of a custodial sentence for perverting the course of justice.

The team at AH Solicitors have helped hundreds of clients successfully argue special reasons for an array of offences, including (but not limited to) speeding, driving without insurance, drink driving, careless and dangerous driving and contravening traffic lights. Contact a member of our motoring offence department if you would like advice regarding any road traffic matter and we will be happy to assist.