Charles Watts, 24, was arrested moments after leaving court.
The Daily Mail (we know, sorry) reported that he appeared in court because he was driving at 67mph in a 40mph zone. He, with 16 others, had been caught as part of a police ‘crack down’ on road racers near the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex. Those drivers were road racing, drifting and speeding at up to 80mph on a 40mph stretch of the dual carriageway.
Road racing is a particular problem in the Lakeside area of Essex.
It is not clear what offence Watts was convicted of, although it is likely to be driving without due care and attention. It could be simple speeding, but we are simply not sure.
It was reported that Watts was given 6 penalty points for driving at 67mph. He already had 6 points on his licence for previous offences of speeding and using a mobile phone whilst driving (presumably 3 points each) and so fell to be disqualified as a ‘totter’ as he had 12 points on his licence.
We are concerned here with the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 s 35, colloquially known as ‘totting up’ because it involves adding – or ‘totting’ – up the number of penalty points on a licence.
(a) a person is convicted of an offence to which this subsection applies, and
(b) the penalty points to be taken into account on that occasion number twelve or more,
the court must order him to be disqualified for not less than the minimum period unless the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction and thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified.
The following steps are the questions the court would have had to ask itself.
1) Does obligatory disqualification apply? If so, ‘totting up’ does not apply.
Some offences receive automatic disqualification, such as causing death by careless driving.
2) Are there ‘special reasons’ for not endorsing the licence (awarding penalty points)?
Where special reasons are present, the court can choose not to add penalty points to a licence. These cases are rare. Examples may be driving in an emergency (though it is not advisable) or where someone’s drink has been ‘spiked’ and they are convicted of driving with excess alcohol.
3) Are there 12 points or more?
12 points is the point at which a person falls to be disqualified as a totter.
4) Would disqualification cause unnecessary hardship?
It will be necessary to demonstrate that the driver would not only lose his/her employment but also that there were consequences flowing from that loss of employment, e.g. the driver’s family members are affected if they may lose their home etc.
5) Has the driver been disqualified previously?
If yes, one period of 56 days+ , the disqualification will be for a minimum of 12 months. If two periods of 56 days+ the disqualification will be for at least 2 years.
Nb. Disqualification as a ‘totter’ erases all penalty points so that there is no double punishment. Other disqualifications do not.
Back to Charlie
Watts was disqualified for 9 months and fined £183. Watts reportedly claimed he was unable to pay the fine as he only had £1 on his person. Of course, fines are not payable at the court and certainly not to the judge/magistrates that impose them!
It is reported that Watts, who had (perhaps foolishly) driven to court, didn’t fancy getting the bus home and so hopped into his car.
Chief Insp Ben Hodder, who led the crackdown, tweeted: ‘Someone who was disqualified from driving at court today #OpWagtail decided to ignore the court and try and drive anyway! #arrested.’
Watts was charged with driving whilst disqualified and driving without insurance.
He will return to Basildon Magistrates’ Court on 17 October when he is due to enter a plea.
If convicted, the following will apply.
For driving whilst disqualified, the maximum sentence is 6 months or a £5,000 fine. The court can also impose 6 penalty points and disqualify someone from driving.
Interestingly there is a power to deprive the defendant of the vehicle used to commit the offence, however this is likely to be considered to be disproportionate. For a recently imposed ban, the Guidelines suggest a starting point of 12 weeks custody [page 139 of the PDF, numbered page 122].
On the sparse facts we have, there appears to be an absence of aggravating factors listed in the guideline, and the presence of a mitigating factor, namely the distance driven. However, the effect of this mitigation is limited (to my mind it is worth nothing) as the distance driven is presumably short only because Watts was caught by the police! This perhaps demonstrates the usefulness (or otherwise) of the guidelines.
In reality, the aggravating factors are the flagrant disregard for an order of the court, the short period of time between the imposition of the ban and the driving and his previous convictions for driving matters.
Because this matter is yet to be sentenced we will refrain from giving any further opinion.