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defective speed limit sign

Drivers not guilty of speeding on Woodside Road in Nottingham due to defective sign

Nottingham Magistrates’ Court today dismissed two speeding allegations on Woodside Road because of a missing lighting unit.

Pragma Law has today successfully defended an allegation of speeding after raising issues with a defective speed sign.   Nottingham Magistrates’ Court subsequently dismissed the speeding case of a second driver whose case relied on similar facts.  Lucy Whitaker and Maria Moore of Moore Motoring Law, a sister firm of Pragma Law, represented the motorists.

The drivers were driving their vehicles in the dark along Woodside Road in the direction of the A52 Derby Road back in January 2016. Both drivers had entered Woodside Road from the roundabout with University Boulevard. The mandatory ‘terminal’ speed signs warn drivers of a change in speed limit. These are sited on both sides of the road, shortly after the exit to the roundabout. However, one of the speed signs was unlit which made it far less noticeable in the dark.

As a result of the missing light, drivers travelling at night may not be aware of the limit changing from 40mph on University Boulevard to 30mph on Woodside Road. Both drivers had inadvertently exceeded the 30mph limit. It is a mandatory requirement for terminal speed limit signs to be lit throughout the hours of darkness.

The prosecution agreed that it was not in the public interest to proceed on this basis. The court dismissed both cases after the prosecution offered no evidence. Both drivers avoided penalty points and a fine. The court also ordered that the drivers should be able to recover some of their legal fees following the hearing.

At the time of writing, the lighting unit is still missing from the speed sign yet. However, the police appear to be continuing to enforce the limit at night. Many drivers may have lost their driving licence as a result.

If you think you may be affected by the above, please contact us as soon as possible.



New Definitive Guideline on the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea

Changes to the discount in sentence given for an early guilty plea for motoring offences – Effective June 2017

From 1 June 2017, those facing criminal allegations such as motoring offences will see changes to the sentencing guidelines.

Currently, defendants who plead guilty at the earliest opportunity usually receive a reduction in their sentence of one third. This applies to the financial penalties imposed on motorists convicted of driving offences. The discount does not usually apply to penalty points which are often set at a legal minimum for certain offences.

If the defendant driver enters a not guilty plea initially, but later changes his or her plea to one of guilty, the court usually reduces the discount applied to the sentence. If the defendant driver waits until the day of trial, the reduction can be as little as 10%. No discount applies if the court convicts the defendant after a trial.

For example, a speeding motorist caught travelling at 38mph in a 30mph limit who declines the offer of a fixed penalty may ordinarily be facing three points and a fine of up to £1000. The fine depends partly on the level of his or her income. If the motorist is on a modest income and is convicted after a trial, the fine to be imposed after a trial may be £600. However if the same motorist pleads guilty at the first opportunity, it would usually be reduced to £400.

Currently, it’s a little unclear what happens if the driver pleads guilty in between the initial hearing and the trial. He or she has not pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, but the prosecution is unlikely to have been put to much additional work between the first hearing and the second. It’s rare that it has caused any inconvenience has been caused to witnesses. However some court time will have been ‘wasted’ with a second hearing.

The new guidelines attempts to set a sliding scale for the discount the court should apply during this time. However, the court will still retain discretion. The new guidelines state the following:

  • Where a guilty plea is indicated at the first stage of proceedings a reduction of one-third should still usually be made.
  • Where the plea is indicated after the first stage of proceedings a reduction of a maximum one quarter should be made. There is then a sliding scale of reduction thereafter.
  • The reduction should be decreased from one-quarter to a maximum of one-tenth on the first day of trial.
  • The reduction should normally be decreased further, even to zero, if the guilty plea is entered during the course of the trial.

The above are only guidelines, not ‘hard and fast’ rules. Other factors can be taken into account. The new guidelines state that in certain circumstances, the full one-third discount may be given even if not entered at the earliest opportunity. For example, if the court is satisfied that there were particular circumstances which significantly reduced the defendant’s ability to understand what was alleged or otherwise made it unreasonable to expect the defendant to indicate a guilty plea sooner than was done. This may apply where the defendant needed to seek legal advice to understand the appropriate plea. This may need to be argued before the court to ensure the discount is given.

Changes to sentence following unsuccessful special reasons or Newton hearings.

In circumstances where an defendant driver’s version of events is rejected at a Newton (fact finding) hearing or special reasons hearing, the reduction would normally be halved. Where witnesses are called during such a hearing, it may be appropriate to decrease the reduction even further. Prior to these guidelines coming into effect, the defendant would often retain full credit for an early guilty plea.

Why the changes?

The guidelines state that their purpose is to encourage those who are going to plead guilty to do so as early in the court process as possible.

The benefits of an early guilty plea is that it:

a) normally reduces the impact of the crime upon victims;
b) saves victims and witnesses from having to testify; and
c) is in the public interest in that it saves public time and money on investigations and trials.

The guidelines state that “nothing in the guideline should be used to put pressure on a defendant to plead guilty”. In reality though, many defendants plead guilty to offences because they can’t ‘risk’ a larger penalty if found guilty. After all, courts don’t always get it right. That’s why we have the ability to appeal.

The new guidelines can be read here.

An Unusual Defence to Drink Driving

An Unusual Defence to Drink Driving – Drunk on Carbohydrates!

An American court has accepted a novel defence of “auto brewery syndrome” from a lady charged with drink driving. As such the drink driving charge against her was dismissed thus avoiding a driving ban or penalty of any kind.

The female driver relied on expert evidence from a doctor who determined that high carbohydrate food would ferment in her body turning to alcohol. This meant that she would show a relatively high reading of alcohol in her body even when she had not had anything to drink. It was enough to put her over the limit but on this occasion she admitted to having consumed three drinks over the course of an afternoon.

The New York case is also unusual because the driver did not feel any effects from the alcohol. I assume that if her body behaved like that on a daily basis, it is no wonder she didn’t feel drunk as she may believe the feeling to be normal. Perhaps her body had built up a certain tolerance to alcohol so that it would take more than usual for her to feel ‘tipsy’. The condition was previously undiagnosed so she had no warning that she was effectively driving over the limit.

Apparently she’s now on a low carbohydrate diet to prevent the rise of alcohol in her blood. If she was caught again, it is doubtful that she’d be allowed to use the same defence again. Drivers who are aware that they have medical conditions that are likely to hinder their ability to drive are expected not to drive whilst their symptoms persist.

Since the change in the way that court hearings are conducted, defendants are no longer allowed to ‘ambush’ the prosecution. This means that defences put forward at the last minute are either not allowed or will result in an adjournment. The technology used by the police is more accurate but human error still occurs. As a result, there are fewer successful challenges to drink drive allegations nowadays. This defence is a novel one and I wonder how long it will be before this defence will be used in a drink driving case on this side of the Atlantic.



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Notices of Intended Prosecution (NIPs) sent by ordinary post

Sending Notices of Intended Prosecution (NIPs) by ordinary first class post – a false economy?

NIPs for motoring offences are almost always sent by ordinary first class post. Motoring Solicitor Lucy Whitaker considers whether this method needs to change.

I recently represented yet another client in court in relation to an allegation that he’d failed to respond to an NIP. The notice had been sent by the Central Ticket Office following an alleged speeding offence five days before. My client’s defence was that he hadn’t responded to the NIP because he hadn’t received it. Of course if you don’t receive something, you cannot respond.

The driver in question was facing a totting up disqualification (ie min 6 months) if he couldn’t prove that he hadn’t received the notice. But how do you prove you haven’t received something?


Mobile phone offence

Recent Driving without Insurance Case

The Recent Driving Without Insurance Case Turns Burden of Proof on its Head

The 2015 case of DPP v Whittaker (no relation!) involves a driver facing an allegation of driving without insurance. Like many cases of this type, the issue was not whether there was an insurance policy in place, but whether it covered the driver and vehicle for the particular use.

Often these issues arise when employees use their own vehicles to run errands for their employers, carry passengers, or drive to a place other than their usual place of work. If the driver does not have specific cover for business purposes, their insurance policy is unlikely to be effective.


Mobile phone offence

Drink Driving Convictions | DVLA Driver Records

The DVLA’s New View My Driving Licence, & Share my Driving Licence Systems:

Drink Driving Convictions – when are they spent and when must they be removed from a driver’s licence?

Now that the driving licence counterpart has been abolished and the DVLA have confirmed that driving records will only show endorsements for a maximum of five years, what does this mean for employers who want to view the driving licence details of current or prospective new drivers?

Most employers who employ professional drivers are quite rightly concerned about whether their drivers are fit to drive for them, and one basic way of checking this has always been by looking at the driving licence counterpart. However, the old system was flawed with many drivers holding two counterparts: one clean to show to employers and hire companies etc., and one with endorsements on it. At least with this new online system there should be fewer opportunities for unscrupulous drivers to fool their employers: But, with convictions such as drink driving which could previously be visible on a licence for 11 years now only being visible for five, what impact will this have?


Mobile phone offence

How many motorists are still unaware of the changes to vehicle tax?

It’s been over six months since the changes to car tax, but how many motorists are still completely unaware of the change?

Only the other day I drove past a car on the side of the road which was up for sale. It was advertised as having six months’ tax. Clearly another car owner who was completely unaware of the change to the law.

Since October last year, car tax stopped being transferable. It now follows the owner, not the vehicle. This means that when the vehicle is sold, the new owner must obtain their own car tax, and when the previous owner notifies the DVLA of the transfer of ownership, they’ll be due a refund on any full months of tax left to run.


Mobile phone offence

New Court Charges for Drivers Convicted of Motoring Offences

If you’re facing a driving offence and have a Summons or Postal Requisition, it’s important that you’re aware of the following new law.

The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015 came into force on 13 April 2015 and apply to any offences committed on or after that date.

These new regulations mean that defendants will have to pay court charges upon conviction. This is on top of any financial penalty and any order towards prosecution costs.


Mobile phone offence

New legislation in force from 13 April 2015

A new provision has been added to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 which will become effective on 13 April.

s.35B of the Road Traffic Offenders Act sets out how the courts should treat drivers who are facing disqualification as well as custodial sentences.

The issue is that if a motorist is already facing an allegation which would result in him or her being sent to prison for say 12 weeks, then a disqualification of 12 weeks for speeding is not really going to have much bite. The defendant would not be able to drive whilst in prison in any event and when he/she comes out, the ban will be over.