Special reasons: a case study
The following is a case study based upon news reports, the subject of this story was NOT represented by Oxford Drink Driving Solicitor
According to news reports this week, Alan Otterburn appeared at court in Norwich accused of drink driving. He told the court he had received an urgent call to get to the hospital quickly as his mother had just hours to live. He rushed to see her, but was stopped by the police for speeding and they quickly realised he had been drinking.
He was arrested and at the police station was found to have 82 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, which is well over double the drink driving limit of 35µg per 100ml.
At court he pleaded guilty and asked the court to take the circumstances into account as a special reason. If the court agreed this was a special reason it would mean that the judge would no longer be required to disqualify Mr Otterburn from driving.
So, what is a special reason? Lord Goddard was asked to decide this question in 1946 and, presumably having better things to do with his time, decided to adopt a definition from Northern Ireland, which is: “… a mitigating or extenuating circumstance, not amounting in law to a defence to the charge, yet directly connected with the commission of the offence.”
We can see that Mr Otterburn’s explanation for drink driving is a mitigating or extenuating circumstance. It is not a defence in law to drink driving and it is directly connected with the commission of the offence – had he not received the call he would not have been driving. So, on the face of it Mr Otterburn has a special reason to avoid disqualification. However, District Judge Peter Veits ruled against Mr Otterburn finding that there was no special reason and thus that he was obliged to disqualify him from driving.
Given that Mr Otterburn’s explanation fulfils the requirements for a special reason why then did the district judge find against him? The answer to that lies in the evidence given by Mr Otterburn and the case of R v George John Baines, which was decided in 1970.
In Baines case, he argued that he should not be disqualified as he had only driven to help his wife’s elderly mother who had run out of petrol after midnight and a long way from home. Mr Baines came unstuck because he failed to consider whether there might be another way he could help his mother-in-law that did not involve him drink driving. The court will only grant a special reason where driving is the only option, Mr Baines lost his case.
46 years after Mr Baines lost his case through his failure to think through his options, Mr Otterburn gave evidence telling District Judge Veits that, “I didn’t think about getting a taxi.” The news report goes on to say that he did not think he could use public transport nor get a lift from a neighbour, the suggestion being that no effort was made to discover whether he could have travelled to the hospital by another means.
The moment the court heard that there had been no real exploration of other options Mr Otterburn’s case was doomed to fail in the very same way Mr Baines case had done nearly half a century before.
I am sure that Mr Otterburn’s solicitor advised him about the likelihood of his winning the special reasons hearing based on his instructions, but this case shows why it is so vital that solicitors have a strong grasp of the law when they appear in drink driving cases.