Apart from parking and speeding offences, magistrates generally decide on the type of punishment that is appropriate for a motoring offence. They will have a certain amount of scope within what has been prescribed by parliament and may exercise their discretion within limits. It is possible to avoid involving magistrates because the law allows motorists to accept a penalty which is offered by the police as an alternative to court action.
Disqualification can be due to a number of reasons:
In cases where a sentence including disqualification is a possibility, the magistrates may impose an 'interim disqualification' if they have to wait for a report from the DVLA or DVA or the social services before passing sentence.
Once the period of disqualification has ended, drivers must have applied to the DVLA or DVA for the return of their licence before driving otherwise they would be committing an offence. It is also an offence to obtain a licence during the period of disqualification.
If you have been disqualified from driving, you may apply to the court to have it removed before the time set in the sentence. The court will consider your conduct since the disqualification as well as your character. It will also consider the nature of the original offence and any other circumstances that might be relevant before removing the disqualification. It is less likely to remove a disqualification which was obligatory. It will consider the fact that someone has been offered a job that requires driving or if someone has developed a disability which makes it difficult to use public transport.
However, no removal can be granted in the following circumstances:
Fines account for about 80% of all sentences imposed by magistrates. The maximum fine for particular offences is fixed by statute and cannot be exceeded by the magistrates. The so-called 'prescribed sum' for an offence is set at a particular level as set out in the following table.
If the offender is under 14 the maximum fine is set at £250.
If the offender is between 14 and 18 the maximum fine is set at £1000.
Parents of offenders who are below the age of 16 will be ordered to pay the fine if the court considers that it is reasonable to order them to do so. In addition the parent of offenders who are 16 or 17 years old may be ordered to pay the fine if the court is satisfied that it is reasonable for them to do so.
When setting a fine the magistrates must not only consider the gravity of the offence but also take into account any mitigation that has been put forward and the financial circumstances of the accused. The court is entitled to ask offenders to give details of their financial circumstances. Failure to do so may result in higher fines. It is therefore possible for two offenders who have been convicted of the same offence to be asked to pay different fines. Although a fine should technically be paid immediately, the court may allow a defendant time to pay. Usually the court will set a date by which the total amount has to be paid.
The fine should be distinguished from the costs which are the legal costs which the Crown Prosecution Service has incurred in bringing about the prosecution. The magistrates may decide that the offender must pay these costs. In principle, public funds should not bear the costs of criminal actions if the offender has the means to pay or to pay a contribution. Usually the costs and the fine are collected in the same way. If the fine is not paid and the offender has not contacted the court to explain why this has happened, the offender may be arrested and brought before the court. In extreme cases of non-payment the court may impose a prison sentence.
The purpose of the Fixed Penalty Notice or FPN system is to avoid court hearings while ensuring that those who commit traffic offences are punished and their licences endorsed if necessary. A large number of offences can be dealt with by means of a fixed penalty. They include a number of parking offences, speeding offences and offences associated with the construction of the vehicle as well as offences in relation to traffic signals. Normally the FPN penalty will be a conditional offer of 3 penalty points and a £60 fine but for some more serious offences, such as driving without insurance, which would carry a higher number of penalty points, many police forces offer a fixed penalty of 6 penalty points and a £200 fine.
The benefit to the police is that it disposes of matters promptly and avoids a Court appearance which is attractive to many offenders. However, it should be appreciated that when accepting a Fixed Penalty, a motorist cannot negotiate or try to obtain a more lenient punishment. Further, acceptance is final so if you are in any doubt about how to proceed, use the 28-day acceptance period in order to consider your options.
Fixed penalty notices may be affixed to motor vehicles that appear to be parked in contravention of a road traffic regulation. A motorist can also be served with a fixed penalty notice by a police officer or receive a 'conditional offer' from the police in the post. During a period of at least 21 days after a fixed penalty has been served on a motorist, the police are not allowed to issue a prosecution. This period is known as the 'suspended enforcement period'.
The system presumes that the keeper of the vehicle at the time is the owner. However, if by the end of the 'suspended enforcement period' there has been no reply, the police may serve a 'notice to owner' indicating the particulars of the alleged offence and of the fixed penalty. It will also state the period allowed to for a reply to the notice.
If you receive such a notice you should reply giving details about the ownership of the vehicle. If you do not reply, the matter will be registered as a fine. The fine may be up to one and a half times the amount of the fixed penalty. Your local magistrates' court will take steps to enforce the fine. The court will advise you of the registration of the fine before enforcing it. You will have an opportunity of request a court hearing to oppose the charge.
If the offence carries licence penalty points, you will be asked to produce your driving licence, so that it can be checked to see whether you will be liable for disqualification if your licence is endorsed with the points for the present offence. If your aggregate number of points is 12, the matter will be referred to a court to decide whether or not you should be disqualified. Otherwise, your licence will be returned to you with the relevant number of points added.
This penalty was created in order to allow for detection of offences by traffic cameras and in circumstances where it is not possible to hand the driver a fixed penalty notice or to affix one to the car. If you have been caught on camera you could well receive such a notice. The notice will tell you the time and the type of offence and inform you that proceedings will not be commenced for 28 days.
You will be offered an opportunity to pay the relevant fine and asked to send your driving licence. The offence carries an obligatory endorsement. If you do not respond within 28 days, the police will issue a summons for you to attend to court. If you want to contest the conditional offer notice, you should request a court hearing before the 28 days have elapsed.
If you have pleaded guilty to an offence, it is possible to ask the court not to impose the full penalty available or not to disqualify you when such a sentence is the automatic result of the offence. This submission is known as a plea in mitigation and also as 'special reasons'.
It is important that such a plea does not amount to a defence claiming that you did not commit the offence. Special reasons are a very specialised type of mitigation which is rarely available to motorists. Nevertheless, most motorists can put forward other mitigating factors for the magistrates in order to convince them that they should use their discretion and impose a lighter sentence. If you have been convicted of a motoring offence and you are preparing a plea in mitigation, you should proceed as follows:
If the offence carries licence penalty points, indicate the effect of penalty points or disqualification on your employment. Some people like doctors and midwives may have a special need for a car. Losing the use of a car might deprive a salesperson of their livelihood. You should say that you regret what happened and are determined not to offend again.
Penalty points are essentially 'black marks' on a driver's licence. They are put there together with details of the offence and if a driver has been convicted of a serious so-called 'endorsable' offence. The magistrates determine the number of points awarded.
The law sets the maximum and minimum number of points for each offence. If you have accepted the offer of a fixed penalty for an endorsable offence, the police will ask you to send in your licence and it will be returned to you with the number of points awarded fixed to it. If you are convicted of an endorsable offence, you must bring your licence to the court. The court will tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) or Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland that you have been convicted and ask them to record the endorsement.
Penalty points are often imposed together with other penalties such as fines or disqualifications. An offender will always have their licence endorsed unless they are able to prove that there are 'special reasons' for not doing so.
If a motorist is convicted of more than one endorsable offence on the same occasion, the general rule is that only the offence that attracts the higher number of points will result in endorsement. However, the court is able to endorse for each offence if it wishes.
If you acquire more than twelve points on your licence within a three year period, you are likely to be disqualified for at least six months. The period of three years runs back from the date the present offence was committed to the date of any previous offences. This means that a point can only exist on your licence for three years. Any penalty point that is older than three years is disregarded.
A specific type of mitigation is a 'special reason'. This is a term used to refer to the plea that may succeed in preventing a disqualification or endorsement. The special reasons must relate to the offence not to the offender. Thus the fact that the offender is a professional driver or that disqualification will cause serious hardship will not be considered a 'special reason'.
The matters the court may accept as a special reason are the following:
In a drink driving matter
In a speeding matter
In a careless or dangerous driving matter