Can I supervise a learner driver if I have been drinking alcohol?

If you’re looking for a quick answer then it is, “no”. If you want to know why you cannot supervise a learner driver after drinking, then please read on.

You’re still here? Good.

First, I have a confession to make. I lied in the first sentence, a bit. You can supervise a learner if you have been drinking, providing you remain below the drink driving limit – but knowing when you’re over or under the drink driving limit is the hard bit, so it’s easier just not to drink if you plan on driving or supervising a learner driver.

In 1968, Mr and Mrs Jones went out for the evening during which, Mr Jones had some drinkies. At the end of the night, Mrs Jones drove herself and her husband home. For reasons I don’t fully understand, Mr Jones was travelling in the front passenger seat with another passenger between his legs – there were four people in this five-seat car so I’ll leave you to imagine why this passenger was between Mr Jones’ legs. During the journey, the Jones’s Vauxhall Viva collided with a Hillman motorcar driven by a Mr John Orman. Immediately before the crash, Mr Jones had attempted to apply the foot brake but was unable to do so, presumably because of the person between his legs. Frankly, Mr Jones was lucky that particular admission to the police didn’t end up with him facing a charge of drink driving, especially as police initially believed that Mr Jones had been driving and that Mrs Jones was claiming responsibility due to Mr Jones’ drunken state. Eventually, the police accepted that they could not found a prosecution for driving against Mr Jones so Inspector Sheldon brought a charge of being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle and the case went to trial. At the trial, various points were argued over but the relevant ones for us are that it was said a) Mr Jones could not be in charge since his wife was driving; and b) even if he were in charge he had a defence as there was no likelihood of him actually driving while he was drunk and his wife was present.

Vauxhall Viva as driven by the Jones'

A delightful Vauxhall Viva in mud brown

Much to everybody’s surprise, Mr Jones won his trial and the prosecution appealed to the High Court in a case that became known as Sheldon v Jones. The Crown argued that as a supervisor, Mr Jones could be required to step in to take control of the vehicle at any moment – as somebody put it, a supervisor cannot simply choose not to discharge his obligation to supervise the learner. On the Crown’s case, because Mr Jones might be called upon to take control at any moment, he could never prove that there was no likelihood of his driving the car while he remained over the drink driving limit.

I am not convinced that this case would be decided in the same way today, but in 1969 the High Court disagreed with the prosecution and said:

“I am unable to accept [the Crown’s position]. It seems to me that there may well be facts, and the justices held that this was such a case, where even though the wife was the holder of only a provisional licence and the husband was the supervisor, he could nevertheless satisfy the justices that there was no likelihood of his driving. Although I might well myself have come to a different conclusion in this case, I do not propose to interfere with the findings of the justices, and accordingly I would dismiss this appeal.”

So, Mr Jones was not guilty and today we have a precedent for the proposition that a supervisor is in charge of the vehicle he travels in when supervising a learner driving but that he can prove that there was no likelihood of his driving, meaning that he can be acquitted of being drunk in charge even when he is demonstrably in excess of the drink driving limit.

Contrast Mr Jones’ case with that of Mr Janman, who in 2004 was also acquitted of being drunk in charge while supervising his partner who held only a provisional driving licence. In DPP v Janman, the High Court approved the law set out in Sheldon v Jones but found that Mr Janman had not proven that there was no likelihood of his driving and they directed the magistrates to reconsider the case and convict Mr Janman.

In Janman’s case, the defence sought to argue that the prosecution could not prove that Mr Janman was qualified to supervise his partner and thus he could not be guilty. The High Court disagreed, saying that in his police interview Mr Janman had admitted to supervising his partner and once he did that the question of whether he was qualified to supervise became irrelevant as “supervision” is a question of fact not law.

Mr Janman also argued that his partner was such a good driver that she did not require supervision. This also was dismissed on the basis that she held a provisional driving licence and so required supervision, which Mr Janman had admitted to the police he was providing. As a direct result of the comments made in his police interview, Mr Janman was eventually convicted of the offence.

So, what’s the moral of the story? First, it is possible to win a drunk in charge trial where you are supervising a learner driver, but it’s not easy. Secondly, you should always have a solicitor who specialises in drink driving law at your police interview if you are accused of a drink driving offence – having no solicitor (or the wrong solicitor) frequently leads to convictions.

You can get expert legal advice from a qualified drink driving specialist solicitor by contacting Oxford Drink Driving Solicitor today on 01869 866 490

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The importance of specialist legal advice

Lord Sumption: drink driving specialist

Lord Sumption: legal specialisms are “bogus”

Lord Sumption is one of the most senior judges in the country. He is the only person ever to be appointed direct to the Supreme Court from the Bar and is generally considered a very clever lawyer. As a barrister, he prided himself on switching areas of law throughout his career – in a recent speech he described specialisation in law as “bogus” and that solicitors would do well to dip their toes in other areas of law. His point is that over specialisation causes solicitors to become insular and fail to relate case law in their specialisation to law from outside.

To an extent, Lord Sumption is correct that an appreciation for the law in general is important to all of us who choose to specialise in a particular area, but he is quite wrong to describe specialisation as “bogus”.

We were recently approached by a potential client, John, who was accused of being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. He explained that he had no intention of driving and was simply waiting for his partner to collect him – this is a complete defence in law to the allegation. Getting everything right was very important because John already had 6 penalty points on his driving licence and so faced disqualification if convicted. This meant that not only did John’s driving licence, job and home rely on his winning the case but so did his application for British citizenship.

Unfortunately, at the last minute John decided to go with a non-specialist solicitor to save a relatively small amount of money. At court, the prosecution was willing to accept that John’s partner was going to collect him – that’s half the defence done right there. But, the non-specialist solicitor advised a guilty plea and said she would tell the court that disqualifying John would cause exceptional hardship. If successful, this would mean that John would be allowed to keep his driving licence.

The court imposed 10 points, giving John a total of 16 and disqualified him from driving under the totting up provisions.

Following the hearing, John got back in touch saying he was unhappy with the advice he received from the non-specialist solicitor and the outcome of the case. He wanted advice on appealing his conviction since he clearly had a strong defence to the allegation.

Unfortunately, we had to advise him that by pleading guilty he had all but given up his right to appeal conviction. We explained that while it is possible to argue that poor legal advice should allow his guilty plea to be overturned the advice would have to be so bad that the guilty plea was no longer a true admission of guilty. In a case such as this, an appeal court would be very unlikely to find that to be the case.

Had he gone to trial with a specialist solicitor, there is a very good chance that he would have been acquitted. This would have meant that he would have kept his driving licence, kept his job and neither his home nor application for British citizenship would now be in jeopardy.

So, while it is well and good for Lord Sumption to call legal specialisms “bogus”, the reality for many is that choosing a non-specialist solicitor leads to poor outcomes that could easily be avoided by choosing the right solicitor first time.