Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.

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Thursday, 25 June 2015


When Sentencing Guidelines were presented over a decade ago my opinion then was that that was the beginning of the end for the independent magistracy.  Their introduction made a mockery of the very concept of local justice insofar as their implementation was to avoid the very notion of a so called post code lottery.  From Newcastle to Newquay sentencing was reduced to doing a crossword; two across and then three down. In its latest form there is not much  room for J.P.s to exercise original thought, logic and understanding to sentencing.  That is why "exceptional hardship" is one of the very few areas remaining where magisterial discretion and structured processing is still required..........even north of the border.  Having praised Scots law not a few times on this site I am amazed that these northern colleagues have fallen for a story of pretty polly.

Legislation regarding disqualification for totters allows magistrates not to disqualify or to reduce that period only if they are satisfied having regard to all the circumstances that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction the most common of which put forward is the potential effect of the disqualification on the offender namely that hardship would result. Section 35{4}(b) of the RTOA 1988 precludes the court from taking into account “hardship, other than exceptional hardship”. There is no strict definition of this term. Practice suggests that the loss of employment by itself is unlikely to satisfy the “exceptional” test. Some judicial guidance can be found in the Scottish case of Brennan-v-McKay (1996) 1997 S.L.T. 603. A taxi driver reached 12 penalty points on being convicted of speeding. He claimed that he would be likely to lose his job and be unable to obtain other work and this would have a substantial effect on his family. The High Court of Judiciary held that the justices were entitled to conclude that exceptional hardship had not been demonstrated. Whilst it was not an invariable rule that exceptional hardship would only be established where persons other than the accused and his immediate family would suffer it was ruled that it was necessary to demonstrate that there were other circumstances associated with loss of employment which might involve reflected hardship of a serious kind on the accused`s business, his family or his long term prospects [per Lord Hope in Brennan-v-McKay]. It is important to note that offenders may not put forward the same circumstances which have been used either for not disqualifying or for reducing the length of the totting up disqualification within three years of conviction {sec. 35(4)(c) RTOA 1988} It follows that detailed court records must be made of the exact circumstances which justified any finding of exceptional hardship.

 A House of Commons answer of 5/6/07 is useful.

Mr. Sutcliffe: When a driver faces disqualification under the totting-up procedure, the court has very little discretion other than to disqualify, unless they are satisfied that to do so would cause ‘exceptional hardship’.
Whether exceptional hardship would be caused is a matter for the court to decide in each individual case.
The Sentencing Guidelines Council is responsible for magistrates' sentencing guidelines on this issue, and the decisions of the Court of Appeal in any relevant cases will impact on any decisions made.
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice who is responsible for specifying the criteria by which magistrates are required to interpret pleas of exceptional hardship entered by drivers seeking to avoid disqualification from driving under the totting-up procedure. [139642]
Mr. Sutcliffe: The Sentencing Guidelines Council are responsible for magistrates' sentencing guidelines, along with guidance provided by Court of Appeal judgements. The Sentencing Advisory Panel recently carried out a consultation paper on magistrates sentencing guidelines and responses will be considered in determining the final guidelines.
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice whether (a) changes have been made in the last five years to the criteria by which magistrates are required to interpret pleas of exceptional hardship entered by drivers seeking to avoid disqualification from driving under the totting-up procedure and (b) any such changes are proposed in the next six months. [139643]

The case of pretty polly is IMHO a total nonsense. Even having accepted the plea a reduced discretionary period of disqualification should have been imposed.  Those responsible for  allowing him to continue driving should say a prayer that this offender does not cause a major problem whilst doiong so with his license holding 12 points. 

1 comment:

  1. It is not, of course, only magistrates who must have regard to the sentencing guidelines - judges must too!