by Alex Chessum
Paying for everyday items by direct debit is easy and straightforward.
It’s extremely common with car insurance providers. You pay for your car insurance by direct debit every month and the policy expires at the end of 12 months.
When the 12 month is coming to the end, your car insurance provider writes to you, or as is more likely nowadays, emails you the reminder letter that the policy is due for annual renewal. The certificate of insurance for the next 12 months is included. The policy for the next 12 months looks fine. “You don’t have to lift a finger.”
You renew the policy, the direct debit amounts continue to be taken from your bank account and nothing changes.
A few month later a police car stops you.
You are not speeding.
You haven’t been drinking.
The police officer tells you that you are driving without insurance.
But you tell the police officer that you pay by direct debit.
The police officer checks and there is no insurance in place.
When you ring up the car insurance company they tell you the direct debit was never taken and they have cancelled the policy.
They wrote to you but you have never received a letter. They propose to send you a copy of the letter. But you’re now facing a criminal prosecution.
I acted for a client who found themselves in this exact position: Assuming that the direct debit was being taken and driving whilst completely unaware that no valid insurance policy was in place.
Driving without insurance is a strict liability offence; if you don’t have valid insurance in place you are guilty. Your intention or whether you are reckless do not factor into whether the offence can be proved.
Being guilty of driving without insurance carries a minimum penalty of 6 points.
If you already have 6 points and receive another 6 points you become a “totter” and are automatically disqualified for 6 months.
So what are your options in this scenario?
Whilst your honesty and your reasonable belief do not play a part in whether you are guilty of the offence, you can argue that there are ‘special reasons’and therefore you should not receive 6 points.
As a lawyer I had to find previous cases where the Courts had explored what could constitute ‘special reasons’.(For the purpose of this article I am focusing purely on the offence of driving without insurance. I will address drink driving in a separate article.)
The case of R v Wickens (1958) identifies 4 criteria that must be established for special reasons to exist. Special reasons go to the heart of how the offence has occurred. On behalf of my client I submitted that not being insured to drive by virtue of the direct debit not being taken without their knowledge and the insurance cancelled without their knowledge met the Wickens criteria.
It greatly assisted my client’s case they had kept the paperwork sent by the car insurance company before the policy was due to expire. This supported the client’s honest and reasonable belief that they were insured up until the police stopped them.
The client had also kept a note of the conversation which they had with the insurance company after the police stop. The note showed the steps the client had taken to try and work out why the insurance was not in place. It also supported the point that my client did not know about the letter the insurance company had allegedly sent out saying that the policy was cancelled but the client had never received.
Fortunately for my client, the Magistrates found there were special reasons and did not endorse my client’s licence with any points. The Magistrates ordered an absolute discharge (they did not receive any formal punishment).
There is a lot of caselaw that identifies what is not a special reason, for example, if your license is endorsed with more points you will be disqualified (by virtue of “totting”). The fact you do not have previous convictions is not a special reason.
For further advice on any driving case give us a call.…..