Q. I understand that the courts don’t have complete discretion over what penalties to mete out for speeding offences, subject only to the maximum allowed, but that there are some guidelines they follow. I’ve heard, for example, that a court wouldn’t usually consider ordering a disqualification from driving unless the speed was 30mph or more over the limit. Are there guidelines and is the 30mph benchmark correct?
A. There are guidelines, called the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines, published by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which the courts are legally obliged to follow. This does not mean they have to apply them slavishly, but if they depart from the range suggested, they have to give reasons and departure could form the basis of an appeal. The starting point assumes the person before the court is a first-time offender convicted after a contested trial. Those who plead guilty, particularly at the first opportunity, receive a discount that can in some cases take them below the suggested range. But if there are previous convictions or aggravating factors, the penalty can go above the suggested range. The guidelines deal with fines as well as endorsement of penalty points and disqualification, but I will confine this answer to points and disqualification. The table (right) gives the guideline penalties for speed ranges in relation to particular speed limits:
The old threshold of 30mph over the limit before disqualification would be considered has been replaced by one that kicks in earlier, but with the emphasis towards points at the lower threshold.
Aggravating factors that could increase the sentence include poor road or weather conditions; the vehicle being an LGV, HGV, PSV and so on; towing a trailer or caravan; passengers being carried for hire or reward; evidence of an unacceptable standard of driving over and above speed; sensitive locations (for example schools) and a high level of traffic or pedestrians nearby. Establishing there was a genuine emergency could lead to a lower sentence. The court will also consider mitigating circumstances about the offence itself or the impact of any sentence on the offender.
Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.