‘Postcode lottery’ on driver’s hours and tachograph offences
- Credit: PA
Barrister Richard Wood looks at a postcode lottery for driver’s hours and tachograph offences.
One improvement in my 20 years at the Bar has been more court sentencing guidelines to give a measure of consistency over severity of sentences for similar offences. Disparity of sentence is one of the grounds most likely to cause the Court of Appeal to interfere with a sentence of the lower courts.
However, it is not always the case. Keep Your Licence was representing a client in Darlington Magistrates Court on allegations of ‘exceeding hours driven without a break’ and ‘falsifying tachograph records’. There are no sentencing guidelines for driver’s hours or tachograph offences and magistrates often have little experience dealing with this sort of allegation. As the prosecutor said, before the case, it results in a ‘postcode lottery’ – some courts view them very seriously, others dealing with them by fines.
A heavy goods vehicle driver, who is not properly rested, is a real risk to other road users. A fairly old Court of Appeal authority called R v Saunders & Hocking states that periods of imprisonment will not be overturned in the most serious examples of falsifying driver’s hours records, particularly where there is some financial benefit to the offender. Keep Your Licence represented a client in the Court of Appeal on a similar case where a prison sentence was replaced with a suspended sentence.
Some allegations facing the client in Darlington were ‘either way’ offences, which meant that if magistrates felt a fine was not adequate the matter had to be committed for sentence to the Crown Court which can impose sentences of up to two years in prison for each offence.
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Our substantial amount of mitigation for our client included blaming an appalling lack of supervision, training and education from the client’s employer, a haulage company. We satisfied the court this was a case of a negligent lack of knowledge about rules, not a deliberate attempt to falsify records or conceal breaches of the rules.
The court imposed fines, surprising in the light of the Court of Appeal authority above. It is more usual to see these types of cases go to the Crown Court, where sentences of imprisonment are common.
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If you have any queries about driver’s hours offences, falsifying tachograph offences or about any motoring-related offences phone us on 0800 707 6004 for free no-obligation legal advice.
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