Celebrities facing driving bans will have to prove they can't take public transport if they claim “exceptional hardship” in their bid to keep their licences, under new court rules.
New sentencing guidelines stipulate that magistrates must have evidence from anyone facing a ban that other modes of transport are not viable before accepting any claim of “exceptional hardship” from disqualification.
The move follows claims that the controversial defence of “exceptional hardship” to avoid a driving ban has been exploited by celebrities and other wealthy motorists with the money to hire expensive lawyers.
Celebrities who have successfully used the defence include comedian Steve Coogan, the TV chef Tom Kerridge, former England cricket captain Andrew Flintoff, and pop star Gareth Gates.
The most controversial, however, was a property millionaire facing a driving ban who said that having to hire chauffeurs would be an “exceptional hardship.”
He claimed that during a previous ban he went through “five or six” drivers who would not pick him up during the anti-social hours he worked.
The new sentencing council guidelines, which come into effect this month after a consultation, say magistrates must be strict about defining “exceptional hardship” for anyone facing a ban after totting up 12 or more points on their licence, irrespective of their wealth or background.
They warn that a ban can't be an “inconvenience,” or simply “hardship,” but must be exceptional and the motorist must prove that on oath, and with evidence that meets the civil standard of proof, that is beyond the balance of probabilities.
The guidelines acknowledge that everyone who is disqualified and their immediate families suffer hardship but tell magistrates that this is the “deterrent objective.”
It extends to using the absence of alternative travel as an excuse.
“Courts should be cautious before accepting assertions of exceptional hardship without evidence that alternatives (including alternative means of transport) for avoiding exceptional hardship are not viable,” said the guidelines.
Some celebrities and singers who, like freelancers, can rely on short-term contracts for their earnings have managed to escape bans by claiming that being unable to drive could jeopardise these.
However, the guidelines state: “Loss of employment will not in itself necessarily amount to exceptional hardship.
“Whether or not it does will depend on the circumstances of the offender and the consequences of that loss of employment on the offender and/or others.”
Even the specialist motoring solicitor Nick Freeman, known as “Mr Loophole,” has called for the use of the defence to be tackled after it was revealed one unnamed driver from the west Midlands was still allowed to drive after clocking up 54 points on his licence.
Mr Freeman who has successfully defended celebrity clients including Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Paddy McGuiness and Andrew Flintoff, has said it was inappropriate to allow the “exceptional hardship” defence when bundling together multiple offences.
“There should be one exceptional hardship argument for one offence. What we have now is not a loophole. It’s bad law and it’s why the legislation sorely needs redrafting,” he said.
'If successfully argued, the offender is back on the road despite the vast number of points on his licence. 'It's so simple.”