The Sentencing Council, a panel of judges and legal experts which reports to the Ministry of Justice, has revised guidelines to end to a loophole that allowed drivers with more than 12 points to escape a ban.
Most drivers know that when they reach 12 penalty points, they are liable for a minimum six-month driving ban. However, some drivers have avoided disqualification if they demonstrated that exceptional hardship would result from a disqualification.
The concept of “exceptional hardship” was not exhaustively defined by the law. It had to be more than an inconvenience caused as a natural result of a driving ban. Issues taken into consideration under exceptional hardship included:
- Loss of a job resulting in loss of accommodation.
- Inability to get to work due to geographical and public transport restrictions.
- Loss of employment of third parties due to a business having to close.
- Evidence that the impact of losing a job would be detrimental to the driver’s family and risk losing their accommodation.
In March, the Daily Mail revealed there were at least 10,589 drivers still on the roads with a dozen points or more – including at least one with a staggering 66.
According to the Mail, a beautician caught speeding 20 times on the same stretch of motorway was allowed to continue driving – despite amassing 66 points – as she would not have been able to work.
Last year, Alan Partridge actor Steve Coogan avoided a six-month ban after being caught driving his Porsche at 36mph in a 30mph zone – with nine points already on his licence.
Other celebrities who have successfully used the defence include Jeremy Clarkson, Paddy McGuiness, TV chef Tom Kerridge, former England cricket captain Andrew Flintoff, and pop star Gareth Gates.
Speeding in a 30 zone is the most common offence committed.
The new sentencing guidelines, which came into force in October, say magistrates must be careful about how they define 'exceptional hardship' for anyone facing a ban. Celebrities facing bans will have to prove they can't take public transport if they claim exceptional hardship.
The guidelines acknowledge that everyone who is disqualified, and their immediate families suffer hardship, but tell magistrates that this is the “deterrent objective.”
The public consultation and new rules followed claims that the controversial defence has been exploited by celebrities and other wealthy motorists with the money to hire expensive lawyers.
It was reported that a property millionaire facing a driving ban said that having to hire chauffeurs would be an ‘exceptional hardship’ and claimed that during a previous ban he went through “five or six” drivers who refused to work anti-social hours.
Joshua Harris, of road safety charity Brake, said: ‘Driving is a privilege not a right and those who break the law and endanger others should have their licences taken away.’