Road traffic laws in Northern Ireland have expanded over the years to cover all aspects of everyday driving, so many motorists may, at one time or another in their lives, find themselves in the position where they need advice from an experienced criminal law solicitor. Mc Atamney Solicitors are well versed in such matters; they offer comprehensive advice as well as representation in court for anyone subject to investigation or prosecution for a driving offence.
The majority of road traffic law stems from three pieces of legislation; the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 , the Road Traffic ( Northern Ireland ) Order 1995 and finally the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland ) Order 1996.
DRINK DRIVING OFFENCES
Drink driving offences are regarded with the utmost seriousness by the courts and if you are convicted of such an offence you can expect to lose your driving licence. The rules surrounding these offences are technical in nature and expert advice should always be sought at the earliest opportunity. The present legal alcohol limit for driving in Northern Ireland is
- 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
- 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
- 107 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
If you are detected driving over this limit you will be prosecuted and your case brought to court. If convicted of this offence the penalties are as follows:
- A minimum period of disqualification from driving for a period of twelve months but if your reading is higher the Judge may order a lengthier period of disqualification
- If this is a second conviction for drink driving in a ten year period there will be a mandatory period of disqualification from driving of at least three years
- A fine will also be levied , up to a maximum of £5000
Under Article 15 of the Road Traffic (NI) Order 1995 it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive a motor vehicle when unfit to drive through the consumption of drink or drugs and a minimum period of disqualification from driving for twelve months shall be imposed unless the court thinks for special reasons it should not disqualify or disqualify for a lesser period but it is extremely rare for the courts to take such an approach.
If you fail to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine, without reasonable excuse, to a police officer investigating whether an offence under Section 15, of driving or attempting to drive whilst under the influence of drink or drugs has occurred, then by virtue of Article 96 of the 1995 Road Traffic (NI) Order an identical penalty of twelve months disqualification from driving shall be imposed by the court.
If you are convicted of causing death or grievous bodily injury by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs the minimum period of disqualification from driving shall be for two years.
It is possible to ask the court sentencing you for a drink driving offence to certify you as suitable for a drink driving rehabilitation course. The effect of such an Order is that if you successfully complete the course this shall reduce the period of your disqualification by twenty five per cent. You should ask your solicitor for advice on how to apply for this course.
A drink driving disqualification imposed in Northern Ireland will apply throughout the United Kingdom. Up until 2016 a drink driving disqualification imposed in Northern Ireland was recognised and applied in the Republic of Ireland but as a result of the UK pulling out of the EU Directive on cross-border disqualifications the ban shall not operate in the Republic of Ireland until such times as both parliaments introduce new legislation to remedy this gap in the law. Please speak to one of our solicitors for detailed advice on this matter.
HIGH RISK OFFENDERS
If you are disqualified from drink driving you shall be required to resit your driving test.
If, however, you are deemed to be a high risk offender then an extra burden falls upon you before you can reapply. A High Risk Offender is classified as someone who has convicted of two drink driving or drunk in charges offences inside a ten year period or someone who refused to provide a specimen for analysis or someone with a high alcohol reading which is defined as a level of over 200mg in 100 millilitres of blood, or 87.5 mg in 100 millilitres of breath or 276.5 mg in 100 millilitres of urine.
In such circumstances you are likely to be required to undergo a medical examination as well as pay a higher fee for a provisional licence.
If you were disqualified until tested then you must apply for a provisional driving licence and undertake a driving examination, both theory and practical. You cannot simply apply for a new licence at the end of your period of disqualification or you will be committing a new offence.
DRUNK IN CHARGE OF A MOTOR VEHICLE
This offence is committed when a person, who when in charge of a motor vehicle which is on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs. The person is not driving or even attempting to drive the car but may for example be sitting in a stationary car with the car keys on their person when detected by police. This is a technical offence that can give rise to many issues, which need to be considered before any court appearance. It is an offence that carries what is known as a discretionary disqualification from driving. In other words, a Judge may so disqualify a person convicted of this offence but they also have it within their discretion not to impose a disqualification but rather place ten penalty points on their licence and allow the person to continue driving. Much will depend on the particular circumstances of the case and it is important to take detailed legal advice if you face such a charge.
This is a legal term which means that even if you are guilty of an offence , such as drink driving, which carries a mandatory period of disqualification , special reasons may apply as a result of which a lesser disqualification or even no disqualification is ordered by the court. The responsibility of establishing that special reasons exists falls upon the Defendant and it is a twofold test. Firstly, they must persuade the court that special reasons do apply and secondly the court must then decide whether, in the circumstances, to exercise their discretion in favour of the Defendant by imposing a lesser punishment.
It should be noted that special reasons can only relate to the offence and not the offender. It does not matter if you have been driving for fifty years without blemish or you will lose your employment if convicted, they are not special reasons and are only mitigating circumstances in how the court deals with your case.
Examples of special reasons are someone spiked your drinks or you had to drive in an emergency situation but stopped as soon as it was safe to do so. For the court to find special reasons apply it is usually the case that the Defendant has to give evidence about the situation in which the drink driving arose and persuade them on the balance of probabilities as to the facts leading up to the commission of the offence.
Special reasons are not a legal defence but, if established, they are directly relevant to the commission of the offence and can result in a lesser penalty. In the vast majority of road traffic offences they will not apply but it is always important to speak to one of our solicitors for more comprehensive legal advice if you believe that such circumstances may exist in your cases.
PENALTY POINTS ON DRIVING LICENCES
The Road Traffic Order (NI) 1996 led to the introduction of penalty points for most road traffic offences. A range of penalty points was created and can be found in Schedule One of the 1996 Order. In some instances , the Prosecuting authorities or court may take the view that the imposition of penalty points is an insufficient punishment , perhaps by way of example , because the driver has prior convictions for similar offences or the in the case of excess speed it is significantly above the speed limit. In such cases the court retains the discretion to impose a disqualification rather than penalty points but one of our solicitors will be able to advise on these matters.
Some of the common offences for which penalty points can be imposed, upon either conviction or the issue of a fixed penalty notice by Police, are given below together with the number of points for each offence along with examples of those cases where the court has the option not to impose points but rather apply a disqualification :
- Excess Speed - 3-6 points or discretionary disqualification
- Driving without insurance - 6 to 8 points or discretionary disqualification
- Permitting no insurance -6 to 8 points or discretionary disqualification
- Careless Driving - 3 to 9 points or discretionary disqualification
- Not wearing a seat belt - Level Two fine
- Failing to comply with traffic signs - 3 points
- Using vehicle without MOT - Level 3 or 4 Fine
- Driving without a licence - 3-6 points or discretionary disqualification
- Failing to comply with restriction on R driver - 3 to 6 points or discretionary disqualification
- Failing to produce licence -Level 3 fine
- Failure of driver to remain at accident - 5 to 10 points or discretionary disqualification
- Defective tyres or brakes - 3 points or discretionary disqualification
TOTTING UP PENALTY POINTS
If you collect 12 or more penalty points within a three year period you are likely to be disqualified for a period of six months under what is known as the Totting up system.
Different rules apply to newly qualified drivers under the New Drivers (NI) Order. If they build up six or more points within two years of passing their driving test their licence to drive is revoked. This totting up also includes any penalty points they had received prior to passing their test, which are counted for this purpose. They will then have to apply for a new provisional licence as well as resit their driving test, both theory and practical. New drivers should also be aware that the penalty points remain in place on their licence even after they have passed their test once more.
Provisional drivers can also receive penalty points on their licence before they pass their test but if they receive six points before they pass their test they can still keep their provisional licence although these points stay on their licence for three years so similarly if they are convicted of any new driving offences, after their test, that carry penalty points they too will lose their licence in the same manner as a new driver.
If you are disqualified for six months under the totting up system you do not need to resit the driving test but you must apply to the Driver Vehicle Agency for a new driving licence before you resume driving as your previous driving licence will have been revoked by the court. You should liaise directly with the DVA once you have made your new application as to when you can resume driving.
If you are convicted for a second time under the totting up system within a three year period then the court will impose a minimum twelve month disqualification.
If you have been disqualified for less than fifty six days then your licence will be endorsed as to the disqualification by the DVA and given back to you but you do not need to apply for a new licence.
Penalty points imposed in Northern Ireland are recognised throughout the United Kingdom but they are not applicable in the Republic of Ireland as there is no mutual recognition of penalty points between the two jurisdictions so a UK court cannot add on Irish penalty points for totting up purposes and similarly an Irish court cannot add on UK points although it is something a court can take into account.
Under Article 40 of the Road Traffic Offenders (NI) Order 1996, if a motorist has accumulated twelve points or more the court must order him to be disqualified for a minimum period of six months , unless the court thinks there are grounds for imposing a lesser period of disqualification or no disqualification at all, on the ground of exceptional hardship.
There is no legal definition of what is exceptional hardship and it frequently depends on the facts of the individual driver and their personal and family circumstances. The exceptional hardship relates to the offender not the offender and the duty rests upon the motorist to persuade the judge that exceptional hardship does exist as a result of which the court should exercise its discretion and not impose the six month period of disqualification.
Mere hardship or inconvenience will not suffice and it will be necessary to provide evidence to the court that exceptional hardship will occur if the court does not exercise its discretion. This is a high hurdle to clear but the court will consider a properly advanced legal submission in deciding whether or not to spare the motorist a six month driving ban.
Mc Atamney Solicitors can review your individual circumstances, are experienced in presenting such applications in court and advising you on the correct approach to take in such circumstances.
CARELESS DRIVING CAUSING GRIEVOUS BODILY INJURY OR DEATH
The 2008 Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2008 created the new offence of careless driving causing GBI or death. Whereas before 2008, a driver convicted of careless driving could usually expect to receive penalty points on their licence the law changed significantly as a result of the legislation. Even if the standard of driving was still low level careless but someone else suffered a more serious injury, known as a grievous bodily injury, ie a really serious bodily injury, then the penalties escalated. If a driver is convicted of this new offence he shall be disqualified from driving for a mandatory period of at least twelve months and it is also now potentially an imprisonable offence.
Therefore, it is essential to speak to an experienced criminal law solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity if police indicate to you that this is the offence they are investigating as there are a number of complex legal issues around this offence and the consequences of such a conviction are plainly considerable. We regularly represent clients facing such charges at the police station and at court, bringing to bear our extensive knowledge of this area of law.
DANGEROUS DRIVING CAUSING GRIEVOUS BODILY INJURY OR DEATH
This is a very serious charge that carries a real risk of imprisonment as well as an automatic disqualification from driving, if convicted.
The distinction between careless driving and dangerous driving is the standard of driving. Careless driving is defined as driving falling below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver whilst dangerous driving is driving falling far below the standard of a competent and careful driver.
The difference in penalties is considerable as an offence of dangerous driving causing GBI or death shall be prosecuted in the Crown Court and the maximum sentence for such a conviction currently stands at fourteen years imprisonment.
If you find yourself under investigation for such an offence you should consult an experienced solicitor in this field as soon as possible for legal advice.
Mc Atamney Solicitors have many years experience of handling motoring offences on behalf of our clients at all levels of the criminal courts in Northern Ireland and built up a considerable body of knowledge in this area of law so please contact one of our solicitors today for advice on your case and to see how we can assist you.