A criminal lawyer is often dealt a difficult hand; grumpy judges, a government that rates them somewhere below scabies and sometimes difficult clients with implausible stories that they want to put forward.
Talking of implausible stories, Carlos Tevez was banned from driving for six months on 16th January after “failing to respond to police letters about speeding.” Apparently, he did “not recognise letters about the offences were from police as he did not recognise the word “constabulary” which seems less than believable. Anyway, he pleaded guilty and, as well as the disqualification, was ordered to pay £1,540 in fines and costs (not likely to cause him many problems as he is, in his lawyer’s words ‘relatively well paid‘). What’s this offence all about? Why was he disqualified?
The offence is under s172 Road Traffic Act 1988. It applies to most driving offences (the full list is in the link in the previous sentence) and allows the police, if they believe that a driving offence has been committed, to demand the registered owner of the car tell them who was driving the car at the relevant time. In Mr Tevez’s case, his car was clocked speeding on two different occasions, which triggered two separate letters and, when they were not replied to, two separate offences.
It is a criminal offence to not comply with this (whilst you cannot go to prison, there is a fine of up to £1,000 with 6 penalty points if you are not disqualified from driving). There is a ‘due diligence’ defence – if the defendant can show “that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained who the driver of the vehicle was”.
As with many driving cases, there have been many, many cases in the High Court concerning this defence. This is because there are a lot of people with a lot of money who are keen on doing anything that they can to keep their license. The Courts tend to look at defences raised with a healthy degree of scepticism (a good overview is here) and Mr Tevez’s account would not have cut the mustard.
As this was a Magistrates Court there are no sentencing remarks for us to look at, just some slightly confusing news reports. Normally, people would not be disqualified as a matter of course for this offence – why was Mr Tevez?
Firstly, it seems that he had ‘previous’ for driving offences (speeding in 2011). Also, he did not have a valid UK licence (although presumably this was a question of not transferring his valid foreign licence). Here, there were two speeding offences (from different police forces) that were the subject of seperate letters (that were ignored). There are Magistrates Courts Sentencing Guidelines (p135), but these don’t necessarily take matters much further.
Putting those together, given Mr Tevez’s means (which would be taken into account in determining the level of fine) he would have expected to have received a fine near the maximum, so there is no surprises at the total that he had to pay. Was it right to disqualify him?
It is not clearly how, if he has a foreign licence, the court in 2011 was able to put points on his licence, but it seems that the court would have had the option to give further points. Presumably the factors mentioned above, combined with a high level of disregard for the law (even if he didn’t understand ‘constabulary’, presumably he had access to people who could have told him…), lead the Magistrates’ Court to feel that the only appropriate punishment was a disqualification and it cannot really be said that they were wrong.