A loophole allowing motorists with more than 12 points to avoid disqualification by arguing exceptional hardship has created a two-tier justice system and must be urgently overhauled, the newly elected chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has said.
Almost 9,000 people in England and Wales have totted up 12 points or more after being convicted of numerous motoring offences with one driver recording a staggering 68 endorsements.
But thousands of drivers with more than 12 points successfully avoid a driving ban each year by pleading with magistrates that they would suffer “exceptional hardship” if they were to lose their licence.
In 2020, a total of 4,364 motorists were allowed to stay on the roads despite totting up enough points to warrant a ban.
Marc Jones, the PCC for Lincolnshire, said it was extremely worrying that so many drivers were able to exploit this loophole in the system and he suggested an urgent overhaul was long overdue.
He said: “I think it has created a two-tier justice system. For those of us who would lose our licence at 12 points it is an outrage that someone else has got almost 70 points on their licence and is still driving.
“If you are in a circumstance where you will lose your job if you lose your licence, don’t lose your licence then. It is a fairly simple system we operate. The system is set for a time we no longer live in.”
He added: “We need to look at this again, we need to reduce the number of deaths on our roads and have a fair and equitable system and that is something I will be pushing to see changed.”
The exceptional hardship defence was introduced to provide people who would face very real difficulty if they were to be banned from driving with a lifeline.
While the loss of employment is not seen as a valid reason, looking after a seriously ill relative who needed transportation might be enough to persuade a magistrate.
But Nick Freeman, the lawyer nicknamed Mr Loophole, after getting a string of high-profile celebrities off motoring charges, said the system was being exploited.
Celebrity motorists who escaped driving bans
He said: “The spirit of the law was to allow people who had committed a relatively trivial offence one more chance if they have exceptional circumstances.
“But what is happening with these drivers with more than 60 points, is that they are committing multiple offences all over the country and then are bundling them together and going before one magistrate where they are successfully arguing exceptional hardship.
“It is a loophole that is borne out of poorly drafted legislation. It was never the intention of parliament and it is being exploited by lawyers. I have been arguing for years that this is something that ought to be addressed.”
A spokesperson from the Sentencing Council said the courts were allowed to use their discretion when hearing arguments about hardship but it was made clear the situation had to be exceptional.
The spokesperson said: “The law and our guidance makes it clear that if someone is seeking to persuade the court that there are grounds for not disqualifying when 12 or more penalty points have been amassed the only type of hardship that can be taken into account is exceptional hardship.
“There is no list of examples of exceptional hardship – by its very nature something that is exceptional is hard to define.
“The guidance sets out how such cases are to be approached. It includes a number of matters that the court must have regard to when considering such applications and also some matters that the court must not take into account.”