Watch Ashworth Motoring Law’s Alison Ashworth on BBC Inside Out

Our Managing Director and Expert Drug Driving Lawyer, Alison Ashworth featured on last night’s Inside Out Programme discussing the very low limits that were set by the 2015 Drug Driving (Specified Limit) Offence.

Click the following link to view the programme

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07xrwlb/inside-out-south-east-03102016

Alison is featured in a number of clips from 22.40 onwards and stresses the small amounts of drugs in a person’s system that can be used to charge a driver with an offence. She also highlights a fundamental flaw in the legislation; namely the Prosecution’s inability to rely on a urine sample to secure a conviction.

alison-ashworth-bbc-inside-out-interview-on-drug-driving-defences

Why we do what we do:

At Ashworth motoring law we are dedicated to keeping drivers on the road. We believe that no driver’s licence should be placed in jeopardy due to a lack of legal or technical knowledge. That’s why we’re always striving to deliver relevant, current content to keep you up to date with issues that could affect your freedom to drive.

We know the devastating impact that a disqualification from driving could have on a person’s life, career and family. It’s from that understanding that we fight to save the driving licences of motorists throughout the Country, to ensure that no person is disqualified where a valid defence or judicial discretion is available.

If you have been accused of committing a drug driving offence and would like to discuss your case in confidence with a specialist drug driving solicitor call 0330 33 22 770 or email enquiries@ashworthmotoringlaw.co.uk. Our expert solicitors will listen to the details of your case and let you know instantly if your licence could be saved.

 

Managing Director Alison Ashworth to appear on BBC’s Inside Out programme

Drug Driving Expert and Managing Director of Ashworth Motoring Law, Alison Ashworth is to be filmed for BBC’s Inside Out Programme tomorrow, 01 September 2016.

Alison Ashworth has spoken out many times in the media to discuss the ‘new’ drug driving offence, appearing on ITV News, BBC 5 Live and in the Guardian and is keen to stress the very low limits which have been set by the controversial law.

The programme is scheduled to be aired in Autumn.

Alison Ashworth; Expert motoring lawyer and Director of www.ashworthmotoringlaw.co.uk

 

If you have been accused of a drug driving offence and would like to discuss your case in confidence with Alison Ashworth, please send an email with your contact details to enquiries@ashworthmotoringlaw.co.uk.

 

 

What sentence can a drug driver expect?

Firstly, there are two drug driving offences:

Section 4 Road Traffic Act 1998  Driving whilst under the influence of drugs.

Section 5a Road Traffic Act 1988 – Driving with a proportion of a controlled drug over the specified limit.

Sentence for people who are found guilty of driving whilst under the influence of drugs:

Someone who is found guilty of driving whilst under the influence of drugs would be sentenced with reference to the level of impairment found in the driver.

Minimum sentence for driving whilst unfit through drugs:

At the lowest end of the spectrum, a person with a moderate level of impairment where their offence contains no aggravating features can expect to receive the following sentence (as a starting point):

  • A 12 – 16-month period of disqualification
  • A band C fine (between 125 -175% of the person’s relevant weekly income)

Maximum sentence for driving whilst unfit through drugs:

At the highest end of the spectrum, a person with a high level of impairment where their offence contains one or more aggravating features can expect to receive the following sentence (as a starting point):

  • A 29 – 36-month period of disqualification
  • 12 weeks in prison and/or a fine of up to £5000

(The maximum sentence for a person who is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates’ Court is 6 months)

The following is a non-exhaustive list of the potential aggravating features relating to this offence:

  • Driving a LGV, HGV, PSV at the time when the offence was committed
  • Poor road or weather conditions
  • Carrying passengers
  • Driving for hire or reward
  • Evidence of unacceptable standard of driving
  • Involved in accident
  • Location e.g. near school
  • High level of traffic or pedestrians in the vicinity

For those who have committed either one of the following offences within the last ten years, the starting point for the disqualification, regardless of the level of impairment increases to 36 months:

  • Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs),]
  • Driving or attempting to drive while unfit through drink or drugs
  • Driving or attempting to drive with excess alcohol
  • Failing to provide a specimen
  • Failing to allow a specimen to be subjected to laboratory test

The full sentencing guidelines for driving whilst under the influence of drugs can be found here:

Sentence for people who are found guilty of driving with a proportion of a controlled drug above the specified limit:

Whilst a great deal is known about the expected sentence for driving whilst under the influence of drugs, precious little is known about the expected sentence for driving with a proportion of a controlled drug over the specified limit. The reason for this is that sentencing guidelines have not yet been produced for this offence.

This places us lawyers in a difficult position when it comes to advising our clients about what sentence they can expect to receive in the event of a conviction.

All that is currently known is the minimum and maximum sentences:

Minimum sentence for driving with excess drugs:

  • A 12-month period of disqualification
  • An unlimited level fine

Maximum sentence for driving with excess drugs:

  • A period of disqualification which is currently uncapped
  • A prison sentence and/or an unlimited level fine

(The maximum sentence for a person who is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates’ Court is 6 months)

The trouble with knowing how to sentence someone for the new offence is that guilt for the offence is not determined by reference to any level of impairment as with the old Section 4 Road Traffic Act 1988 Offence. The government’s own experts who provided guidance regarding the proposed limits of the offence even suggested limits which were significantly higher than the very low specified limits which were set. With this in mind, its likely that a person who provided a specimen which is just under the limit  would experience no impairment whatsoever.

It could be tempting for Judges and Magistrates to sentence offenders in a similar fashion to those who commit a drink driving offence, which is an offence which also does not require any level of impairment to prove guilt for the offence. With reference to the sentencing guidelines for drink driving, we can see that the sentence for a drink driver would increase with reference to the amount of alcohol in their system.

  • A first time offender who is just over the legal limit would face a 12 – 16 month ban.
  • A first time offender who is twice the legal limit would face a 17 – 22 month ban
  • A first time offender who is three times the legal limit would face a 23 – 28 month ban and community service
  • A first time offender who is four times the legal limit would face a 29 – 36 month ban and prison sentence.

However the problem with this approach is that the same logic that applies to the drink driving sentences does not apply to drug driving under the specified limit offence:

Someone who is twice the drink driving limit is likely to be showing some signs of intoxication and would be a danger to other road users. Someone who is four times the drink drive limit would almost certainly display serious signs of intoxication and would clearly put other road users at risk by being on the road.

On the other hand, someone who is twice or even four times the drug driving limit might not display or experience any signs of impairment whatsoever.  Sentencing by reference to the existing guidelines for drink driving is therefore manifestly unfair.

Undoubtedly, the task of setting sentencing guidelines for the section 5a drug driving offence is a daunting one. However, until those guidelines are produced, lawyers and their clients will remain uncertain about the potential sentence that could be imposed for an offence which the driver probably didn’t even realise they were committing in the first place.

Article written by Managing Director and Expert Motoring Lawyer, Alison Ashworth.

Alison Ashworth; Expert motoring lawyer and Director of www.ashworthmotoringlaw.co.uk

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Why we do what we do:

At Ashworth motoring law we are dedicated to keeping drivers on the road. We believe that no driver’s licence should be placed in jeopardy due to a lack of legal or technical knowledge. That’s why we’re always striving to deliver relevant, current content to keep you up to date with issues that could affect your freedom to drive.

We know the devastating impact that a disqualification from driving could have on a person’s life, career and family. It’s from that understanding that we fight to save the driving licences of motorists throughout the Country, to ensure that no person is disqualified where a valid defence or judicial discretion is available.

If you’ve been unlucky enough to be accused of drug driving or any other motoring offence and need to keep your driving licence, you can call one of our team of Expert Motoring Lawyers at any time on 0330 33 22 770 or email enquiries@ashworthmotoringlaw.co.uk. Our specialist driving offence solicitors will listen to the details of your case and let you know instantly if your licence could be saved.

Sentence for drug driving

 

STILL no Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Driving!

Expert opinion by Specialist Drug Driving Lawyer, Alison Ashworth – Managing Director of Ashworth Motoring Law.

Over one year since the new “specified limit” drug driving law was introduced and there are STILL no sentencing guidelines in place to regulate the way that offenders are punished.

Sentencing guidelines (such as the attached with reference to drink driving) are used by Judges and Magistrates to help them decide what sentence to impose when a person either pleads guilty or is found guilty of an offence.

Prior to the introduction of the new offence, I contacted the sentencing council to ask when the guidelines for the new drug driving offence would be put in place. I was told to expect them in at least 2016.

Having seen reports of significantly different sentencing approaches between different Courts as I predicted in this BBC radio interview that I gave on the day that the new law came into force, I recently contacted the sentencing council again to find out how soon the guidelines were likely to be released.  I was told that their two year plan does not include work on this guideline but that it is anticipated that it will be added to the work plan in the future. The sentencing council added that as with any relatively new piece of legislation there is the need to allow a certain period of time to pass before producing guidelines as the production of a guideline relies on research and evidence.

The concern that I have is that Judges and Magistrates are, in the meantime tempted to sentence offenders in a similar manner to guidelines which are available. Take the drink drive limit for example. Our drink driving limits are amongst the highest in Europe. A person who is three times over the limit is likely to be showing some pretty significant signs of intoxication, and their manner of driving along with the level of risk that they pose to themselves and to the public is likely to be significantly effected.

Now let’s look at the drug driving limits. The drug driving limits have been set so low that even one puff on a joint could be enough to put someone over the limit, despite them feeling no effects from the drug, and their manner of driving being perfectly normal. In fact the Governments own panel of experts suggested that a person would be technically fit to drive with twice the current level of THC (cannabis) in their system, although the Government chose to disregard the expert panel’s advice and pursue the current, almost zero tolerance limits for every single illicit drug listed under the legislation.

There have in fact been reports of individuals who have been caught 25 and 50 times over the drug driving limit yet showing no obvious signs of having taken a drug with perfectly normal standards of driving.  If the same level of consumption was extended to alcohol, the person would most likely be either in hospital or dead. If they somehow managed to survive, then they would be facing the most serious sentencing category of the guidelines and would be facing a prison sentence because the level of impairment is so intrinsically linked to the amount of alcohol consumed .

There is a significant risk that motorists are being unduly punished with tangibly greater severity than is warranted, indeed the Courts have displayed a willingness to send drivers to prison for committing the new specified limit drug driving offence.

Whilst I do not condone drug driving, or drug taking, I do, as a defence lawyer have a passion for fighting against injustice and ensuring that my clients are treated fairly by the Courts. Although the overwhelming majority of my clients choose to plead not guilty to this offence after an initial investigation into the merits of their defence, I do have a duty to advise those who wish to plead guilty on the likely sentence that they could face. In the absence of the guidelines, and with the differing approaches which are being taken by the Courts, this continues to be a difficult task.

Is it fair to sentence a young cannabis user who was twice the legal limit for THC (cannabis) and who was not even remotely effected by the small amount that he took in the same way as a drink driver who was twice the limit and barely able to stand up? I certainly don’t think so.

When the guidelines are eventually produced, I would like to see a strong link between the expected level of impairment and the amount of substance in a person’s system, although by then it might be too late for the many who are left unrepresented in Court facing the lucky dip that appears to be the current sentencing approach in the meantime.

Article written by Expert Motoring Lawyer, Alison Ashworth; Managing Director of Ashworth Motoring Law Ltd.

Ashworth Motoring Law are experts in defending drug driving offences. If you have been charged with drug driving and would like to speak to a specialist drug driving solicitor about your case, call 0330 33 22 770 for free initial advice.  

Free legal advice for drug driving offences from the specialist drug driving solicitors at Ashworth Motoring Law