Mitgating Circumstances: Special Reasons Defence

The law in relation to driving offences provides for obligatory disqualification for certain offences (i.e. drink driving and dangerous driving or the situation where 12 points have been accumulated in three years), and obligatory endorsement in others (i.e. driving whilst using a mobile, driving without insurance, drunk in charge)

Nevertheless it is possible to argue that special reasons apply for not disqualifying in such cases, shortening the period of disqualification, for imposing a reduced number of penalty points or for not imposing penalty points at all.

‘Special reasons’ can be defined as mitigating circumstances relating to the offence itself (rather than the consequences of disqualification- see ‘exceptional hardship’) which do not amount to a defence to the charge but which may justify the court in departing from imposing the normal sentence that would be imposed for an offence.

It is important to note that the courts have been fairly strict in defining what amounts to ‘special reasons’. For example, it has been decided by the courts in the past that the fact that an offence is of a relatively minor nature (i.e. the level of alcohol in an accused person system was only marginally over the limit) does not amount to special reasons.

Nevertheless the courts have indicated that special reasons may exist in the following circumstances:

Special Reasons Defence in Scotland. It is difficult but possible if a genuine medical emergency existed to plead Special Reasons due to mitigating Circumstances.Medical Emergency
Where a driver is forced to drive by an unforeseen medical emergency special reasons may exist. However, failure to use another reasonably available method of undertaking the journey will exclude the application of special reasons.

This point is illustrated by the case of Watson v Hamilton 1998 SCCR 13. Here the accused was awakened from his sleep after consuming a sizeable quantity of alcohol by a pregnant guest who was hemorrhaging and feared a miscarriage. The accused made several unsuccessful attempts to find a phone and get help before driving the lady to hospital. He was stopped en-route and prosecuted for drink driving. The Appeal court held that there were special reasons for non-disqualification due to the medical emergency

Other Emergencies
Riddell v MacNeill 1983 SCCR 26
The accused was a passenger in a car when the driver was involved in an accident as a result of which the vehicle was embedded in a snow drift in such a way as to obstruct other vehicles. The driver was unable to move the vehicle and the accused took over the driving, reversing the car 200 yards to the nearest parking spot. He was arrested for drink driving. The Appeal court held that special reasons existed not to disqualify.

Laced Drinks
Where a driver consumes alcohol unwittingly because his drink has been interfered with by a third party who has introduced alcohol to it then it may be possible to argue special reasons
Nevertheless, in one reported case it was held that special reasons could only be found in these circumstances if the accused establishes, on the balance of probabilities, that his drink was in fact laced, that he did not know or have reasonable cause to suspect that this was going to happen, and that but for the lacing of his drink the level of alcohol in his system would not have exceeded the legal limit. Again, this is a complex defence to present and evidence would very likely require to be led in support of the defence from a forensic toxicologist.

Other circumstances
Marshall v McLeod 1998 SCCR 317
If the owner of a car gives an affirmative answer to the question of whether a given driver is covered by insurance to drive their car and that driver has no reason to disbelieve him there is no reason why it should be said that the driver has failed to take the necessary steps. Special reasons for non-endorsation were established

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