Scales of Justice

Obligatory disqualification

Some offences carry obligatory disqualification for a minimum of 12 months. The minimum period is automatically increased where there have been certain previous convictions and disqualifications.

  1. An offender must be disqualified for at least 2 years if he or she has been disqualified two or more times for a period of at least 56 days in the 3 years preceding the commission of the offence.
  2. An offender must be disqualified for at least 3 years if he or she is convicted of one of the following offences and has within the 10 years preceding the commission of the offence been convicted of any of these offences:
    • Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs
    • Driving or attempting to drive while unfit
    • Driving or attempting to drive with excess alcohol
    • Failing to provide a specimen (drive/attempting to drive)

The period of disqualification may be reduced or avoided if there are special reasons. These must relate to the offence; circumstances peculiar to the offender cannot constitute special reasons. The Court of Appeal has established that, to constitute a special reason, a matter must:

  • be a mitigating or extenuating circumstance
  • not amount in law to a defence to the charge
  • be directly connected with the commission of the offence
  • be one which the court ought properly to take into consideration when imposing sentence

'Totting up' disqualification

Disqualification for a minimum of 6  months must be ordered if an offender incurs 12 penalty points or more within a 3 year period. The minimum period may be automatically increased if the offender has been disqualified within the preceding 3  years. Totting up disqualifications, unlike other disqualifications, erase all penalty points.

The period of a totting up disqualification can be reduced or avoided for exceptional hardship or other mitigating circumstances. No account is to be taken of hardship that is not exceptional hardship or circumstances alleged to make the offence not serious. Any circumstances taken into account in the preceding 3 years to reduce or avoid a totting disqualification must be disregarded.

Discretionary disqualification

Whenever an offender is convicted of an endorsable offence or of taking a vehicle without consent, the court has a discretionary power to disqualify instead of imposing penalty points.

Where a disqualification is for less than 56 days, there are some differences in effect compared with disqualification for a longer period; in particular, the licence will automatically come back into effect at the end of the disqualification period (instead of requiring application by the driver) and the disqualification is not taken into account for the purpose of increasing subsequent obligatory periods of disqualification.

In some cases in which the court is considering discretionary disqualification, the offender may already have sufficient penalty points on his or her licence that he or she would be liable to a 'totting up' disqualification if further points were imposed. In these circumstances, the court should impose penalty points rather than discretionary disqualification so that the minimum totting up disqualification period applies.

Disqualification until a test is passed

Where an offender is convicted of dangerous driving, the court must order disqualification until an extended driving test is passed.

The court has discretion to disqualify until a test is passed where an offender is convicted of any endorsable offence.Where disqualification is obligatory, the extended test applies. In other cases, it will be the ordinary test.

An offender disqualified as a 'totter' under the penalty points provisions may also be ordered to retake a driving test; in this case, the extended test applies.

The discretion to order a re-test is likely to be exercised where there is evidence of inexperience, incompetence or infirmity, or the disqualification period is lengthy (that is, the offender is going to be 'off the road' for a considerable time).

Reduced period of disqualification for completion of rehabilitation course

Where an offender is disqualified for 12 months or more in respect of an alcohol-related driving offence, the court may order that the period of disqualification will be reduced if the offender satisfactorily completes an approved rehabilitation course.

Before offering an offender the opportunity to attend a course, the court must be satisfied that an approved course is available and must inform the offender of the effect of the order, the fees that the offender is required to pay, and when he or she must pay them.

The court should also explain that the offender may be required to satisfy the Secretary of State that he or she does not have a drink problem and is fit to drive before the offender's licence will be returned at the end of the disqualification period.

In general, a court should consider offering the opportunity to attend a course to all offenders convicted of a relevant offence for the first time. The court should be willing to consider offering an offender the opportunity to attend a second course where it considers there are good reasons. It will not usually be appropriate to give an offender the opportunity to attend a third course.

The reduction must be at least 3  months but cannot be more than one quarter of the total period of disqualification:

  • a period of 12 months disqualification must be reduced to 9 months
  • in other cases, a reduction of one week should be made for every month of the disqualification so that, for example, a disqualification of 24 months will be reduced by 24 weeks

Disqualification in the offender's absence

A court is able to disqualify an offender in absence provided that he or she has been given adequate notice of the hearing and that disqualification is to be considered.

It is recommended, however, that the court should avoid exercising this power wherever possible unless it is sure that the offender is aware of the hearing and the likely imposition of disqualification. This is because an offender who is disqualified in absence commits an offence by driving from the time the order is made, even if he or she has not yet received notification of it, and, as a result of the disqualification, is likely to be uninsured in relation to any injury or damage caused.

New drivers

Drivers who incur 6 points or more during the 2 year probationary period after passing the driving test will have their licence revoked automatically by the Secretary of State; they will be able to drive only after application for a provisional licence pending the passing of a further test.

An offender liable for an endorsement which will cause the licence to be revoked under the new drivers' provisions may ask the court to disqualify rather than impose points. This will avoid the requirement to take a further test. Generally, this would be inappropriate since it would circumvent the clear intention of Parliament.

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