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Government Publish The New Drug Driving Limits

Posted on 01/04/2014

This autumn, new legislation will introduce a drug driving offence that requires only proof of a certain drug over a prescribed limit in a driver’s blood.

It will work on a similar principle as drink driving offences i.e. if a driver is over a specified level of a certain drug in their blood then they will be charged and taken to court. The offence will carry a mandatory ban on conviction and a maximum of six months imprisonment.

Just Motor Law has previously reported concerns that the roadside equipment issued to the police to detect drug driving is inadequate, in that it will only be able to detect cannabis.

The new law raises many more complexities than the detection of drink drivers. Different drugs break down in the blood at different speeds and some prescription drugs can remain in the body for a lengthy period. Consequently, on 27 March 2014, the government announced that following public consultation, permissible limits for the specific drugs in a driver’s blood have been approved and new regulations will have to be made by parliament so that the offence can be implemented in August. The limit for amphetamine has not yet been approved as medical professionals have raised concerns that ADHD sufferers could be prejudiced by the new law.

The fact that different drugs are broken down at different speeds is said to be reflected in the disparities between the limits:

Illicit drugs

  • Benzoylecgonine, 50 µg/L
  • Cocaine, 10 µg/L
  • Delta–9–Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis and Cannabinol), 2 µg/L
  • Ketamine, 20 µg/L
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 1 µg/L
  • Methylamphetamine - 10 µg/L
  • Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – Ecstasy), 10 µg/L
  • 6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – Heroin and Morphine), 5 µg/L

Generally Prescription Drugs

  • Clonazepam, 50 µg/L
  • Diazepam, 550 µg/L
  • Flunitrazepam, 300 µg/L
  • Lorazepam, 100 µg/L
  • Methadone, 500 µg/L
  • Morphine, 80 µg/L
  • Oxazepam, 300 µg/L
  • Temazepam, 1000 µg/L

An independent forensic expert commented: “There certainly needs to be safety margins in the limits set, given that there is a far greater analytical variation of drugs in blood than there is with alcohol.

“Further to this, the limits will hopefully also not affect those at low levels, where drugs detected in the blood wouldn’t have any effect on the driver.”

The experts at Just Motor Law believe that given the analytical variations, there are likely to be more challenges by drivers against drug driving prosecutions than in drink driving cases, particularly in cases where the level alleged is close to the limit.

Clearly, these cases will have to be looked at carefully when they start being taken to court after the new law comes into force in August 2014. 

 

 

Do The Crown Prosecution Service Cuts Impact On Justice?

Posted on 14/02/2014

In 2010, The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)  told the Attorney General's office that its 25% budget cut would "damage frontline services" and "delay and possibly deny justice". By 2013, the cuts meant that the CPS had lost 23% of its barristers (202), 22% of its solicitors (518) and 27% of its higher court advocates (296). As a court advocate I see the impact of these cuts on a daily basis.
 
The CPS frequently do not comply with the strict disclosure of evidence timetable imposed by the Criminal Procedure Rules. In many cases the CPS will not even consider important correspondence from the defence until a week or two before the trial date and these failings have a number of consequences. 

The CPS are obliged to serve their full case that they intend to rely on, including any material that may assist the defence or undermine the prosecution case, in good time and certainly more than 14 days before a trial. The defence then have the opportunity to consider if they require any further evidence from the CPS and if necessary request that evidence or ask that the court orders its disclosure. This allows the defendant to know exactly what evidence he faces, obtain any evidence that the CPS have that will help his defence and give him the opportunity to properly prepare for his trial. This should ensure that trials are fair and that the Court has all the information that it needs to determine a just verdict.
 
I cannot count the number of times the CPS send their evidence in a day or two before the trial, serve it on the day of trial or indeed never complete their requirements for disclosure. We all appreciate that the cuts mean that hard working CPS front line staff are struggling to keep up with their backlog of cases but that should not be allowed to damage what is the fundamental element of our criminal justice system - the right to a fair trial. The defence cannot force the CPS to comply with their duties but the Court should ensure that no defendant is prejudiced by their inadequacies.
 
A prime example is this week I dealt with an appeal of conviction on a speeding case at the Crown Court where the defendant had previously been unrepresented in the lower court. After trial the Magistrates Court convicted my 6ft 6 male client of speeding, even though the CPS had not completed disclosure of the evidence. Further evidence was served several months after the trial and prior to the appeal date. Was this evidence important? Would it have assisted the Magistrates? The evidence was a photograph from the speed camera showing a woman driving the vehicle at the relevant time!  I had to provide the barrister representing the CPS with these photographs and good sense prevailed and the appeal was not resisted and the conviction was overturned. As an aside, the court granted a Defence Costs Order and our privately paying client will be able to apply for the return of his legal fees. However, due to the rules that came in in October 2012, he will only be able to recover his fees at legal aid hourly rates. The consequence of this is that he will still end up out of pocket despite being exonerated by the court and despite the fact that full disclosure prior to the Magistrates’ Court trial would have almost certainly avoided the need for legal representation in the Crown Court.
 
Given the above example, who am I to disagree with the CPS view in 2010 that the cuts will "delay and possibly deny justice"?

Facing Up To 'Morning After' Drink-Driving Risks

Posted on 11/12/2013

Employers are nowadays mindful of staff being tempted to drive home from the office Christmas night out after a few drinks.

Some responsibly lay on transport or at least encourage staff to either share taxis or pre-arrange lifts from non-drinkers.

But are employers or fleet managers taking a step back in terms of responsibility of the ‘morning after’ risks?

Road safety campaigns have turned the spotlight on the risks of drink driving the ‘morning after’ - especially during the countdown to Christmas when our social diaries are crammed with boozy celebrations.

We are urged to calculate our alcohol levels - a very unscientific business as people recuperate at different rates.

A driving ban can be catastrophic in terms of a person’s career and reputation. In the worse cases, tragically, lives can also be ruined or lost. After nearly four decades of decline, the number of drink driving fatalities on the UK’s roads rose 23% to to 290 in 2012, according to the latest Government figures.

Businesses may not be legally responsible for the ‘morning after’ actions of employees in many scenarios, such as the morning school run, but an employee taking to the wheel of a company vehicle or driving as part of their job while over the limit can cost a business dear.

Depending on the circumstances, a business could be held accountable. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure all staff are safe at work. Proper advice to any staff member due to work the next day and possibly monitoring is essential. Even changing a person’s work schedule to avoid driving tasks is advisable - if the employer believes the person may be over the limit from a work-related night out.

Good businesses need good employees - yet every Christmas (or more often New Year when the case goes to court), valued staff members are stripped of their driving licences by the courts and possibly sacked due to festive drink driving.

Some would argue that morally an employer is responsible for any direct consequences of an alcohol-related offence by an employee at a ‘works party’ - especially if free drinks are offered. Hence some businesses take no official part in Christmas events.

If nothing else, it is good business sense to protect staff by steering them away from the temptation of driving while under the influence with good advice and practical support.

New Super-Camera Could Put Fleet Drivers Jobs at Risk

Posted on 27/09/2013

A new model of cameras could criminalise employees who drive for work purposes, according to a leading motor lawyer.

Natali Farrell, from Just Motor Law, believes that the £17,000 ZenGrab LaneWatch Mk2 cameras will lead to thousands of people being convicted for minor offences such as momentarily parking on double yellow lines while dropping off deliveries.

Her concerns come after it was revealed that the new super-camera, which can catch up to 50 times as many drivers as conventional speed cameras,snapped more than 1,000 offences in just two weeks, compared to 271 over a whole year with the conventional Gatso camera.

The ZenGrab features two lenses and night visions, and councils across the country have already started investing in them.

According to the Daily Mail, Manchester installed 15 ZenGrab cameras last month, and Glasgow and Medway in Kent also use the system. Nottingham is also said to be upgrading to ZenGrab.

Ms Farrell said: “The sheer fact that those who drive for work spend the vast majority of their week on the road means that they are already vulnerable when it comes to being caught for minor contraventions. These super-cameras, which are capable of documenting so many more offences, put drivers at even greater risk of being prosecuted, unaware that they are falling foul of the law.

“For most drivers these cameras will increase stress and driving pressure, but for those who drive for work purposes, the effect will be tenfold, as they will be painstakingly aware that a few wrong moves could lead to their licence being lost, putting their job in jeopardy as a result.”


Common Driving Offences You May Not Realise You’re Committing:

 

Entering a yellow box junction: Yellow box junctions have criss-cross yellow lines painted on the road. You cannot enter a yellow box junction until your exit road is clear, and you can’t stop in a yellow box junction if you are turning left. You can only enter a yellow box junction if you want to turn right and are stopped from doing so by oncoming traffic, or by other vehicles waiting to turn right.

Making banned turns: Signs with a thick red outer line tell you what you cannot do – but many drivers regularly ignore the signs to make banned turns.

Driving in a bus lane: This can result in a fine

Momentarily stopping in a loading bay to read a map or pop to a cash machine: This can also result in a fine.

Failing to comply with a no entry sign: Passing a no entry sign could leave you facing three penalty points or a discretionary disqualification and a fine.

Victory For Speeding Fine Motorists Over Wrong Shaped Numbers

Posted on 26/09/2013

A motor law specialist believes thousands of drivers should have speeding fines refunded and penalty points wiped from their licences after he successfully challenged convictions because variable speed motorway signs did not comply with the law.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has confirmed that it is no longer contesting two test cases brought by solicitor Matt Reynolds of Just Motor Law because it is not in the public interest.

Mr Reynolds believes that following this decision the CPS and police should now adopt this policy with other affected drivers who come forward.

“This latest development changes everything,” said Matt Reynolds. “It gives hope to motorists who have arguably wrongly paid fixed penalties, been banned, paid for speed awareness courses or suffered hiked up car insurance premiums because of the Highways Agency mistake.

“In the circumstances it is only fair and consistent that all speeding convictions associated with these speed limit signs during this period are overturned and indeed all fixed penalties reversed and drivers refunded.

“Had motorists known at the time that the signs were unlawful they may have reasonably contested the allegation.”

Initially, Mr Reynolds used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that electronic speed limit signs alongside enforcement cameras on the M42 near its junction with the M6 toll road near Birmingham featured an unauthorised font, making the signs technically unlawful.

Police and the CPS suspended prosecutions indicating that the mistake came to light in November 2012, several years after the rogue signs went live. Until now the CPS was objecting to applications to reopen the cases of potentially thousands of motorists racked up during the intervening period, and they were vehemently prosecuting the two test cases that had been listed for trial later this year.

However, Mr Reynolds made further requests under the Freedom of Information Act and obtained minutes of Highways Agency meetings in late 2011 and early 2012 which confirmed that they knew the signs were unlawful and had concluded that enforcement should stop.

The senior Road Traffic Prosecutor for the CPS was present at these meetings. Concerns were expressed in the minutes about what convicted drivers could do if or when they became aware of the issues. The Highways Agency was advised by the CPS that it was too late for drivers to do anything about it.

Electronic numbers on overhead signs were not in the correct font and were therefore not compliant with regulations. Signs on the M1, M4, M5, M6, M20, M25 and M40 were similarly affected.

Mr Reynolds added: “For most of those motorists who accepted the police evidence at face value it would have meant a £60 fixed penalty fine and between 3 and 6 points on their licence, but for some - including the two drivers whose cases I have successfully had set aside - it could have led to a driving ban with potentially life-changing implications such as losing your job.

“It is of huge concern and something that is very much in the public interest, that the authorities have seemingly covered up the unlawfulness of the signs. I have had to make Freedom of Information requests to unearth the truth.

“Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin must now intervene to put this situation right and answer questions about how this whole business was conducted. What faith can the public have in the authorities and in being treated fairly, based on what has happened?

“Once the authorities knew about this mistake their concern should have been directed at how this impacted on drivers who had been convicted or issued with points and fines. Shortly after the CPS became aware that the minutes of these meetings were in the possession of the defence they discontinued the cases. I find it hard to believe that the timing of this decision was a coincidence.”

Just Motor Law - www.justmotorlaw.co.uk - is a dedicated team of lawyers who specialise in defending motorists who fall foul of the UK’s road traffic laws, offering free consultation and online advice. Ring 0845 485 1234.

Just Motor Law Solicitor Matt Reynolds Features on BBC Radio West Midlands

Posted on 14/08/2013

Just Motor Law solicitor Matt Reynolds was interviewed by BBC Radio on 7th August 2013 for his views on the latest drink driving statistics.

Research by the Central Motorway Police Group shows that 8% of drivers stopped on the motorway in the West Midlands area in June 2013 have been found to be over the limit. This new data includes over 550 cars being pulled over and has resulted in 44 arrests.

The research suggests that people don’t realise how dangerous drink driving is at this time of year, as opposed to other times of the year, like Christmas, when the Government use targeted campaigns to raise awareness.

For the full interview click on the audio above.

Clip courtesy of the BBC

 

Summer Eclipses Christmas In Tempting Drink Drivers, Says Lawyer

Posted on 29/07/2013

A motor law firm is reporting a rise in drink-driving cases as summer eclipses Christmas as the peak season for offenders.

 

Solicitors from Just Motor Law believe several factors - including the UK’s growing barbecue culture and the boom in live music festivals - are behind the trend which is confirmed by analysis of official Government statistics.

 

Complacency could also be a factor as motorists believe they are less likely to be stopped by police in summer than Christmas, although many forces now run summer drink drive campaigns.

 

Lawyer Natali Farrell of Just Motor Law said: “Our caseload and national statistics both suggest a definite and sustained trend emerging whereby motorists, especially younger male drivers, are risking all by taking to the wheel after summer drinking.

 

“This seasonal hotspot in cases reflects the growing popularity of barbecues, impromptu summer parties, watching sport, live music events as well as attending traditional family gatherings such as weddings, christenings, etc - each of which offers the temptation of drinking alcohol.

 

“People understandably get in the party mood when the sun shines but the good weather also brings temptation. For instance, half of respondents (48%) in a new AA-Popular Motoring Panel survey said there are more temptations to drink and drive in the summer than the winter.

 

“The physical risks of drink driving to motorists and others are well established but young drivers do not always appreciate the professional harm they can suffer by damaging their reputation, losing their licence or going to prison if convicted of drink driving. Professional legal advice in these circumstances is crucial.”

 

Department of Transport statistics indicate that drink driving is now around 20% more common in August than December. During a five-year period from 2006 there were on average 5,790 drink drive related casualties in the month of August compared to 4,780 in December.

 

Drink driving is responsible for around 15% of UK road deaths. Latest government figures show that 1,754 people died on our roads in 2012, including 61 children. Of these fatalities around 250 are attributed to drink-driving.

 

Despite the number of drink drive convictions falling since its peak of around 100,000 in the mid-1980s, mainly due to the success of hard-hitting anti drink drive campaigns, around 80,000 people are caught every year.

Don't Let This Summer's Music Festival Highs Turns Into Lows

Posted on 29/07/2013

Motoring lawyers are bracing themselves for a surge in young revellers committing drink, drugs and car insurance offences during this summer’s music festivals.

Hundreds of thousands of music lovers, mostly under the age of 30, will get behind the wheel to attend UK festivals in August. Some will be tempted to break the law, risking points on their licence, hefty fines, a ban or even jail.

Matt Reynolds, a solicitor with Just Motor Law, said: “We’ve already had Glastonbury and T In The Park this year but there are still plenty of music festivals from now until September across the UK, some attracting up to 70,000 people. Traditionally we deal with a lot of festival goers arrested for motoring offences.

“Drink-driving is a common offence, especially by young men between the ages of 20 and 24. Statistics show they are more likely to fail a breath test if involved in a car accident than any other age group.

“Festivals also see a sharp rise in the use of illegal drugs which can seriously impair a motorist’s judgement. For instance, cannabis distorts a driver’s perception of time and distance, cocaine causes aggressive and risky driving, while Ecstasy causes blurred vision.

“Another growing area of concern is people driving without insurance because they cannot afford rising premiums. Police often use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to scan number plates and flag up uninsured cars on routes to and from festivals.

“If you are arrested for a motoring offence the buzz of a music festival can quickly become a depressing experience - if so, you need to get support immediately. Everyone has a right to be represented at a police station and, should it be required, to be defended in a court of law.”

Not all Totters are Dangerous Drivers!

Posted on 14/05/2013

What is a totter?  A person is described as a totter when he or she reaches 12 or more penalty points on their driving licence within a 3 year period.  The law states that anybody reaching this is automatically disqualified for a minimum period of 6 months.

A recent report from the Institute of Advanced Motorists has found that more than 8,000 motorists reaching 12 or more penalty points are still legally allowed to drive and argue that these drivers should be taken from the road and that tighter practices should be used by the courts to enforce this.

Many will agree that this law is in place to maintain and encourage road safety and quite rightly so. However, if we dig further into the reasoning behind the offending and the times between each offence being committed, they are not always as serious as they first appear. More often than not, these offenders are not prolific offenders that simply flout the law intentionally. 

For example, a typical ‘totter’ would be somebody who has been caught speeding marginally over the limit on four occasions in a 3 year period.  You might think that is a lot of speeding offences but these people are often people who either drive for a living or spend a large proportion of their working week on the road driving up and down the country, which in turn increases their chances of exceeding the speed limit.  There is no excuse for speeding and anybody that does speed is breaking the law and should be punished although is it really fair to say that every single person who finds themselves in the ‘totting’ position is disqualified from driving for a minimum of 6 months? I think not and this is why the courts have the power not to disqualify if exceptional hardship can be found.

Exceptional hardship arises when hardship would be caused not just to the offender but also to a third party if the offender were to be disqualified from driving. A classic example to this would be somebody who drives for a living and without their driving licence they would lose their livelihood.  Not just the offender would suffer as a result of this loss but the whole family that he or she financially supports would suffer also.

Yes the courts should disqualify those that have no regard for the law but it is certainly right for the courts not to disqualify in certain circumstances when exceptional hardship arises.  Not every totter is a dangerous prolific offender that sets out to disregard the law, which is why the law provides the courts with the power not to disqualify!

Driving Whilst Disqualified? Is it Worth Taking The Risk?

Posted on 05/04/2013

It has been heavily reported in this week’s media that footballer Carlos Tevez has pleaded guilty to offences of driving whilst disqualified and driving with no insurance.  Both offences are serious to any driver, which leads to the question of “Is it really worth taking the risk of driving whilst disqualified?”.

The usual ways of detecting such offences are when police stop a vehicle and undertake relevant checks on the vehicle and the driver. With the use of the Automatic Vehicle Recognition systems now fitted to most police vehicles, when a vehicle is detected with something showing on the legality of the vehicle, the police are automatically alerted to this and will simply stop the vehicle.  This means that drivers do not actually have to do something to be stopped!

The consequences of driving whilst disqualified varies depending on the circumstances on the offence although unlike the majority of motoring offences, driving whilst disqualified is an arrestable offence which means anybody suspected of committing the offence would be arrested at the roadside and taken into custody at the police station.  Following arrival at the police station the usual procedures of being searched, having your photograph and fingerprints taken as well as providing DNA and being placed in a police cell is an experience most people will find daunting but particularly for those people who are not familiar with the whole police station process.

The penalties being imposed for such an offence do vary although the offence will almost always carry a further period of disqualification as well as a fine of up to £5000.  In addition to this, the court can impose a period of imprisonment, which can often be the case when the offence has been committed on more than one occasion.  In cases where the court does not impose custody, they would impose a community order such as community service, which was the case for Mr Tevez.

Each case is considered on its own merits and each case will therefore be dealt with differently depending on its particular circumstances and the individual offender.  It is evident from the recent sentence imposed on Mr Tevez that a carefully prepared case with a specialist motoring lawyer can result in custody being avoided.  Despite the penalty imposed in that particular case, it was noted within sentencing that the offence is regarded as very serious and one which should not be repeated!

In answer to the above titled question of “Is driving whilst disqualified really worth it?” the answer is a clear definite no!
 

M6/M42 Wrong Shaped Variable Speed Limit Signs - first conviction overturned!

Posted on 26/03/2013

On 20 February 2013 I successfully persuaded Warwickshire Magistrates to reopen the case of a motorist who had been sentenced in 2012 to 6 penalty points and £650 fine and costs for speeding on the M42 motorway between Junctions 7 and 9.

Police decided to scrap all pending prosecutions for speeding on the M42 when it was revealed that Advanced Motorway Indicators (AMIs) introduced there between 2006 and 2009 were not traffic signs as prescribed by law because the font used to display variable speed limits on the electronic signs contravened the guidelines set out by the Department of Transport. Warwickshire and West Midlands Police also turned a blind eye to drivers caught between November 8, 2012, when the issue came to light, and November 27, when the Secretary of State issued an ‘authorisation’ which allowed a rule change to ensure the signs were legal.

Our client contacted me after I uncovered the issue last year through a Freedom of Information request. I argued that he should be dealt with the same as motorists who had pleaded not guilty from the outset, who had had their cases discontinued. Although he had originally pleaded guilty, the court agreed to reopen the conviction and the prosecutor agreed that it was not in the Public Interest to pursue the case to trial and his case was dismissed.

The next two motorists who have instructed me will have the applications to reopen their cases heard at Warwickshire Magistrate’s Court on 10 April 2013.

If you are a motorist who has been convicted in these circumstances on the M42, M40, M6, M1, M20 or M25 then get in touch with the Just Motor Law team to see how we can help you.