We are experiencing a recent surge in the number of people learning they have been disqualified from driving without warning. As the courts try to catch up with the backlog of cases, errors are being made. These mistakes are having a huge impact on many people’s lives because they rely on their driving licence. Some are unable to work and support their families in the meantime.
The courts are under-resourced at the best of times, but the pandemic which resulted in court closures for around 3 months in March 2020 has exacerbated the situation. The number of cases waiting to be dealt with far exceeds the number of courts available to hear them. The courts are trying hard to catch up and many are now sitting on Saturdays. It’s not unusual to be sentenced for a speeding offence which occurred almost 2 years earlier!
We’re losing count of the number of clients who have only learned of their disqualification after it was imposed. Sometimes they learn of the ban while away from home in their vehicle. They then have to deal with resulting logistical difficulties such as how to get home, what to do with their car, how to pick up their children from school, how to work and pay their bills.
Driving while disqualified is a very serious offence for which you can go to prison. Nonetheless, we suggest that a great number of people are unknowingly committing this offence as a result of not being warned or told about a ban by the courts.
Why are the Courts Making Mistakes?
Some courts are coping with this increased pressure better than others. No doubt as a result of forced remote working, illness, the need to self isolate and subsequent need for inexperienced staff appear to be drafted in to assist, mistakes are soaring.
Emails requesting hearings are being misfiled by court staff, legal advisers are missing correspondence sent many months ago prior to the hearings being adjourned multiple times, changes of address are not being updated and inexperienced staff are not following or being trained in the correct procedures.
It is no one person’s fault, as most court staff we deal with try to be helpful and courteous, but they just can’t cope with the volume of cases at present.
Everyone – including the courts – will make a mistake from time to time, but it’s the slow speed at which they are rectified that is causing so many problems. Courts are offering dates for reopening or statutory declarations many months away, and in the meantime appear to expect people to accept that they cannot drive even though they may lose their livelihoods and possibly their family home in the meantime.
It would be helpful if the courts would recognise the impact to defendants in such cases and prioritise cases like these above other non-urgent matters.
What should you do if the court has disqualified you and you were not aware?
The procedure depends on why this has happened and what stage the proceedings have reached. The court should be able to advise you what to do, but we have seen plenty of cases where wrong advice has been given by well-meaning court staff.
Statutory Declarations – s.14 Magistrates Court Act 1980
If you were unaware of the proceedings and were convicted without your knowledge, you will not have had the opportunity to defend yourself or to put forward any mitigation. The way to remedy this situation is by making a statutory declaration.
A statutory declaration has the effect of voiding the previous proceedings and any related sentence eg. penalty points, disqualification and/or fines. Once the declaration has been made, the prosecution will usually begin again. In fact, you will usually be required to enter a plea at the same time as making the declaration.
s.142 Magistrates Court Act 1980
This gives the magistrates’ court the power to re-open cases to rectify mistakes. It also includes a wider power to vary or rescind a sentence or other order if it appears to be in the interests of justice to do so.
This can be used where a court hasn’t given the correct warning to a defendant or where for example, papers have been sent to the wrong address.
There are subtle but important differences between the two procedures and it is important that you use the correct one. Sometimes neither of these are suitable and the appropriate procedure is to appeal to the Crown Court.
We can advise you and help you if you are unsure so please give us a call or drop us an email.