Legal i

Save a life, become a criminal?

As law abiding citizens, most of us probably don’t even think about breaking the law. Occasionally however, extraordinary circumstances take hold and alter our usual behaviour. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were in a life or death situation and you felt like you needed to break the law for once? 


Would you do it? Would it be alright if you did? What are the consequences that you could face?


Consider this scenario: 


Your friend is viciously attacked and left seriously injured. You suddenly regret having that extra pint, but your car is right in front of you and the hospital is five minutes away. Emergency services have said the ambulance will be there as soon as possible, but your friend is bleeding all over the pavementÖ


The law is there to protect us all and help ensure that we live in a civilised society, but should it be so rigid that it risks being detrimental or counter-productive to the greater good? ìSpecial Reasonsî were perhaps born from this question and might apply in the scenario above. 


Speeding is the most common offence, and we all know someone who has been let off with a warning when stopped by an officer. If the Police knows you were speeding at 33mph because your wife is giving birth, they may just let you off, but this wouldnít be classed as a special reason. Speeding cases are less serious than drink driving, so it is more interesting to look at how special reasons could be applied to that offence. 


What is a Special Reason?


A special reason is a unique circumstance that relates directly to the offence being committed, but is not strong enough to amount to a defence in its own right. 


If a special reason exists then a defendant would still plead guilty, but youíre kind of saying: ìYes, I am guilty, but itís only because of xyz, so please donít punish meî.  


Drink driving can attract severe penalties, including a disqualification (which can often ruin someoneís career and livelihood) or in serious cases a custodial penalty. In finding a special reason, the court can circumvent the mandatory penalty for the offence in question and instead impose an alternative. It may be a shorter disqualification or, in the best possible cases, no disqualification at all. 


A defendant who successfully argues special reasons does not avoid all consequences, however, as the licence would still be endorsed with the conviction and this may then have significant implications for car insurance in the future.


Difficulties with Special Reasons


The courts must apply a high standard before finding special reasons apply. This is to ensure that the provision is not abused by somebody trying to ìpull a fast oneî to avoid conviction. They will subject any special reasons argument to extreme scrutiny and often rule against the defendant, despite the driverís best intentions. 


That may be difficult to swallow when you drive your friend five minutes to the hospital which ultimately saves his life, but you still lose your licence and end up with a criminal record. Should you really be punished? Who can say that an ambulance would have arrived in time? 


Most people weigh up the alternatives and perform a quick risk-assessment before deciding that the best thing to do is to drive (often to save time, which could be crucial) and in some cases it may be an impossible decision to make, particularly when panic during a situation takes over. 


Panic is a very human response to an emergency, and it can be easy to sympathise with those who find themselves in such an awful position. That said, a line must be drawn somewhere, and the law has the luxury of not being bound by human emotions. The courts, however, have the very difficult task of applying that law and possibly telling a person that their good intentions have landed them with a criminal conviction, a hefty ban or even a prison sentence. 


So, knowing what you know now, what would you do? 


Motoring Defence Solicitors are road traffic lawyers specialising in drink and drug driving offences. Based out of their central London offices, they provide free advice on a range of offences to motorists nationwide. You can contact Neil Sargeant for free on 0800 433 2880 or visit the website at

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