Special reasons in drink driving cases
Special Reasons are important as they are a way of avoiding an otherwise mandatory ban.
Drink driving is one of the offences that carries a mandatory driving ban upon conviction, unless special reasons exist. Special reasons do not automatically enable a driver to escape disqualification or endorsement. Where special reasons are found it means that the court has a discretion to disqualify the driver for a lesser period or not at all. However in appropriate cases, drivers who would otherwise be facing a lengthy driving ban may avoid a ban completely.
A special reason is not the same as a defence. For this reason if you were intending to put forward special reasons, you would normally be accepting that the offence was committed. You would therefore be required to enter a guilty plea but inform the court of your intention to put forward special reasons. There are exceptions to this where for example you intend to put forward an argument which could constitute both a defence or a special reason such as emergency (necessity or duress of circumstance) but these are less common.
A Summary of Special Reasons
The courts have approved the following concept of a special reason:
“A ‘special reason’ within the exception is one which is special to the facts of the particular case, that is special to the facts which constitute the offence. It is, in other words, a mitigating or extenuating circumstance, not amounting in law to a defence to the charge, yet directly connected with the commission of the offence and one which the court ought properly to take into consideration when imposing punishment. A circumstance peculiar to the offender as distinguished from the offence is not a ‘special reason’ within the exception.”
The courts have also applied the following criteria:
The best way to understand special reasons is to consider the decisions of the courts in previous cases.
It is important to remember that special reasons must relate to the commission of the offence itself and not the individual's own circumstances. This means that financial hardship or previous good character cannot be used as a special reason.
With drink driving cases involving special reasons, the most common arguments involve an explanation of either:
- how the driver came to be over the drink drive limit, or
- those which explain why he drove whilst over the limit.
Spiked or Laced Drinks
There have been numerous cases where the driver has been unaware of the alcohol in his drink. This may be because his drink had been spiked without his knowledge, or it may be that he had been given a different drink from what he believed he was consuming. Of importance is the level of alcohol in the person's system and any symptoms present which should alert the driver to the possibility that he would have alcohol in his system. This could lead the court to conclude that the driver ought to have been aware that he was at risk of being over the drink drive limit.
Where a person is alleging that their drink was spiked, they must also establish that the spiked drink was the cause of him being over the drink drive limit. It will often be necessary to provide medical evidence from an expert in support of this assertion. It will also be necessary to prove that the drink had been spiked and that the driver was genuinely unaware of this.
An emergency can be both a special reason and also a complete defence depending on the severity of the emergency. To rely on emergency as a defence, the driver must show that there was a risk of serious injury and that the decision to drive was proportionate to that risk.
The High Court has emphasised that before an emergency can constitute a special reason, the driver must first show that there was no alternative other than for him to drive and that he had considered this fully before driving.
It is also important to consider if the driver has only driven as far as necessary. For example, it will usually be extremely difficult to establish special reasons for driving home from a hospital after an emergency has been dealt with.
Shortness of distance driven
This can be a special reason where the shortness of the distance driven is such that the driver is unlikely to be brought into contact with other road users, and therefore the risk of danger is minimal.
The courts have accepted that special reasons exist where a driver has moved his car a matter of feet at the request of a third party.
Of the above factors, 6. is considered to be the most important.
As well as the examples above, there are many other circumstances which can amount to special reasons. Each case will turn on its own facts and it is advisable to seek advice before putting forward special reasons in drink-driving cases.
How do I put forward Special Reasons?
You will need to put the court on notice that you intend to argue special reasons. The court will usually want to know the basis of your special reasons argument. It is also important to consider whether you will need any prosecution or defence witnesses to give evidence in support of your case. Usually, the court will require you to state which facts are and are not in dispute. This is often done at a Case Management hearing and the matter will then be listed for a full hearing some weeks thereafter.