Farm apprentice who pled guilty to dangerous driving in tractor wins appeal against ‘excessive’ two-year ban

An agriculture apprentice who was banned from driving for two years after driving a tractor the wrong way along a one-way road in the course of his employment in a family farming business has successfully challenged the period of disqualification.

The Sheriff Appeal Court allowed the appeal against sentence after ruling the decision to impose a two-year ban was “excessive”, having regard to the appellant’s “integral role” in the family business, and held that he should be subject to the minimum disqualification period of 12 months instead.

Sheriff Principal Craig Scott QC and Sheriff Sean Murphy QC heard that the appellant John Lamont was fined £350 and disqualified from driving for a period of 24 months after pleading guilty to dangerous driving and two other contraventions of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The court was told that he was spotted by police officers as the tractor negotiated a blind bend on the carriageway, which was said to be “barely wide enough” and an “unsuitable route” for such a vehicle.

Despite being alerted by the police to their presence, the tractor nevertheless continued travelling the wrong way along the single track road at its top speed of 30mph.

The sheriff was informed by the Crown that any vehicle travelling in the opposite direction on the road, which had a number of blind bends, would have had “no chance” to see the tractor’s approach or to avoid a collision.

In approaching the issue of sentence as regards the section 2 charge, the sheriff considered the offence to be a “serious contravention” of the statutory prohibition against dangerous driving and took the view that there was “significant potential for harm” to other road users, adding that it was “fortunate” that the appellant did not encounter any other vehicles en route.

The sheriff concluded that the gravity of the offence merited a period of disqualification of 24 months, as nothing had been said in mitigation that inclined her to the view that a more limited period was appropriate.

However, on behalf of the appellant it was argued that the period of disqualification selected by the sheriff had been “excessive” and that the statutory minimum of 12 months ought to have been imposed.

The sentencing sheriff was not addressed on the impact a period of disqualification might have upon the appellant’s employment, but a letter from his employers was produced advising the appeal sheriffs that his apprenticeship would be “significantly affected” by the loss of his driving licence.

Separately, a letter from the appellant’s father setting out the way in which the running of the family farm had been affected, firstly, by the incapacity of the appellant’s grandfather and, secondly, that of the appellant’s uncle, was also produced.

The sheriff’s failure to allow a discount in respect of the disqualification period to reflect the “utilitarian value” of the appellant’s guilty pleas was also criticised, particularly in light of the fact that the sheriff had discounted the fines imposed.

Allowing the appeal, the appeal sheriffs ruled that the sheriff ought to have allowed a discount in regard to the disqualification period.

Delivering the Sheriff Principal Scott, said: “It was plain to us that had the mitigatory material regarding the appellant’s apprenticeship and his integral role in keeping the family farm business going by working at nights and at weekends been known to the sheriff, she most likely would have reflected those factors when it came to the period of disqualification imposed.

“Moreover, in the whole circumstances of the case, we consider that the decision to impose a disqualification period of two years can justifiably be characterised as excessive.

“Accordingly, we have determined that the disqualification imposed by the sheriff should be quashed and that, instead, the appellant should be subject to disqualification for the minimum period, viz. 12 months.

“We shall also order that the appellant must successfully complete the extended test of driving competency all in terms of section 36 of the Act.”

He added: “For completeness, it does occur to us that the sheriff ought to have allowed a discount in regard to the disqualification period but that matter has, in any event, been taken account of in terms of the court’s overall disposal.”

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