17 May 2011

Ben Aulich on the new drink driving laws

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Ben Aulich

As I am sure you are all aware, recently the Government has implemented “tougher drink driving laws” making fundamental changes to eligibility for restricted licences and allowing police to hand out on the spot licence suspensions. Whilst these changes may appeal to some members of the public, who are on the “tougher on crime” bandwagon, the Government has actually moved our drink driving laws closer to mandatory sentencing than we have ever been before. The changes to the drink driving laws significantly limit the discretion of Magistrates to deal with matters and erode the presumption of innocence. That could never be viewed as a good thing.

I have often been successful in defending drink driving charges. If a person defends the charge, the case may not be decided for many months. With these new changes a person can be without a licence while waiting for his/her matter to be heard. He or she may be found not guilty, but had to endure a significant licence suspension anyway. That hardly seems fair.

It also means that it is far more difficult (and in some cases impossible) to obtain a restricted licence. A Magistrate does not have a discretion to grant a restricted licence if a person has a previous drink driving conviction. On the face of it, this may sound like a good idea, but take an example where a taxi driver, who is the sole provider for his family, who has previously been convicted or found guilty of a drink driving offence some 20 years ago. This person makes a silly mistake 20 years later and because of his record, he is unable obtain a restricted licence. It follows that this taxi driver would lose his job and his family suffers because the government has taken away the discretion of a Magistrate to grant a restricted licence.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not condoning drink driving, but I am advocating for a fairer system where Judicial Officers have the discretion to take into consideration all circumstances without the Government limiting their power. If the police have issued you with a suspension notice for drinking driving or any other driving offence, please remember that in some circumstances this suspension can be overturned.

If you would like further advice, please feel free to contact Ben Aulich & Associates.

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