Changes to sentencing guidelines for driving offences disqualifications proposed

The Sentencing Council has launched a public consultation on proposed revisions to sentencing guidelines for driving offences disqualifications, breach of community orders and clarifications to some explanatory materials.

The proposals, which follow requests for more guidance from magistrates in England and Wales, relate chiefly to sentencing in magistrates’ courts but may also affect sentencing in the Crown Court for breach of a community order.

The proposed new guidance covers ‘totting up’ disqualifications, which are imposed when an offender incurs 12 or more points on their licence. Drivers can avoid disqualification if they successfully claim that not being able to drive would lead to “exceptional hardship”. 

The new guidance sets out clearly what the courts should have regard to when considering whether there are grounds to reduce or avoid a disqualification due to exceptional hardship:

  • The test is not inconvenience or hardship, but exceptional hardship for which the court must have evidence – which may include the offender’s sworn evidence.
  • Some hardship is likely to occur in many if not most orders of disqualification.
  • 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.
  • Loss of employment will not in itself necessarily amount to exceptional hardship; whether or not it does will depend on the circumstances of the offender and the consequences of that loss of employment on the offender and/or others.
  • The more severe the hardship suffered by the offender and/or others as a result of the disqualification, the more likely it is to be exceptional.

Sentencing Council Chairman Lord Justice Holroyde said:

“Sentencing guidelines are used in magistrates’ courts throughout England and Wales many times a day and it is important that they provide clear guidance to court users. 

“This consultation is in response to requests from magistrates for changes to provide more information and bring more 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.”

The consultation also includes proposals to:

  • Clarify the guideline for driving while disqualified to make it clear that an existing disqualification period should be added to any new disqualification period imposed by the court so that both are served in full.  
  • Amend the guideline for sentencing offenders who have breached a community order, to make it clear that the order can be extended to allow time for completion of extra requirements (such as unpaid work) but not as a standalone punishment.
  • Clarify the procedure to be followed when an offender who was given a community order by the Crown Court is convicted by a magistrates’ court of a new offence.
  • Clarify the order of priority where an offender is unable to pay all the court ordered financial penalties.
  • Amend the guidance for fining high-income offenders so that the fine would represent the same proportion of income as when fining any other offender.

The consultation runs for 12 weeks from 22 January to 15 April 2020.