Special reasons

Special reasons, if found, enable a Court not to impose penalty points for an endorseable offence or, in the case of an offence requiring obligatory disqualification (such as driving with excess alcohol) enable a Court not to disqualify. A Court cannot find special reasons for imposing a lesser number of points than the number that should be imposed it must either endorse the appropriate number of penalty points or decide that because of special reasons not to endorse (or disqualify) at all.

Special reasons are often confused with mitigating circumstances or exceptional hardship. This is a confusion which is often shared by lawyers too. The difference, essentially, is that mitigating circumstances or exceptional hardship relate to the offender and places before the Court reasons to enable the Court to exercise their discretion not to disqualify because of exceptional hardship that would be caused to the defendant. Special reasons however relate to the offence and relate not to the circumstances of the offender but rather to the circumstances of the offence itself. Special reasons are much harder to argue and are much narrower than reasons of exceptional hardship.

To amount to a special reason the matter must:-

a) be a mitigating or extenuating circumstance;

b) not amount in law to a defence;

c) be directly connected with the offence; and

d) be one which the Court ought properly to take into consideration.

Driving for a very short distance and in circumstances where the driver was unlikely to be brought into contact with other road users has been found to be a special reason as is the fact the driver was mislead, without negligence, into committing the offence. The fact that the defendant committed the offence whilst coping with a true emergency has also been found to be a special reason.

The above is not an exhaustive list of special reasons but simply an example of circumstances where the Courts have held there to be special reasons not to endorse or disqualify.

The fact that the defendant is of good character or has a good driving record is not a special reason neither is the fact that the defendant might be employed in some capacity which is of benefit to the public. Indeed no reasons which relate to the offender rather than to the offence can amount to a special reason.

One of the most common forms of special reasons is the so called ‘spiked drinks defence’. The spiked drinks defence is not, as its name implies, a defence to the charge but rather a special reason not to disqualify in cases where the defendant is charged with driving with excess alcohol. To succeed in a spiked drinks case the defendant must show that his drink was laced or ‘spiked’ with alcohol without his knowledge which lead directly to his driving in excess of the prescribed limited. Almost invariably some form of medical evidence will be required in order to succeed and those interested in this particular aspect of the law should see my separate article devoted to this topic.

As well as being used for cases of driving with excess alcohol special reasons is also used in relation to offences of no insurance, dangerous and careless driving, failing to conform to a red light and also excess speed. Indeed theoretically almost any motoring offence could be subject to an argument of special reasons dependent upon the circumstances concerned.

The onus of proof of establishing special reasons is on the defendant but the standard of proof is not beyond reasonable doubt (as it would be for the prosecution) but rather on the balance of probabilities. Special reasons should be supported by evidence and not simply by mere assertion and in the case of, for example special reasons arising from spiked drinks, evidence will almost certainly include expert medical evidence.

Jeremy Sirrell