Motorist jailed for driving while disqualified entitled only to ‘token discount’ for guilty plea

A motorist who was jailed after admitting driving while disqualified and without insurance has failed in an appeal against his sentence.

Stephen Gilchrist, who was sentenced to 11 months imprisonment – reduced from 12 on account of his guilty plea – argued that he ought to have been given a greater discount.

However, the Sheriff Appeal Court held that the key factor in determining discount was the “utilitarian value” of the plea, and echoed the High Court of Justiciary Appeal Court’s view that in cases such as this an offender is entitled to a “token discount” at most.

Sheriff Principal Marysia Lewis and Sheriff Sean Murphy QC heard that the appellant pled guilty before the sheriff at Dumbarton to two charges, the first being an offence under section 103(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, a charge of driving whilst disqualified, and secondly a charge under section 143(1) and (2) of the same Act, a charge of driving without insurance.

On behalf of the appellant it was pointed out that having been stopped by the police, he immediately admitted his responsibility for each of these offences and pled guilty before the sheriff at the first opportunity to do so.

No challenge was taken to the disqualification from driving imposed by the sheriff for a period of 10 years, but issue was taken with the sheriff’s decision to impose a custodial sentence in relation to the first charge of some 11 months discounted from 12 months.

The appellant did not challenge the headline period, but the discount applied by the sheriff, which equiparated to one of 8.33%.

He submitted that the sheriff “mistakenly” considered the 2007 case of Coyle and made “no reference” to the decision of the High Court in the 2012 case of Gemmell, in particular at paragraph 48, where the Lord Justice Clerk Gill on behalf of the court made a series of comments in relation to the question of discount.

In particular, it was stated that the strength of the Crown case “need not necessarily restrict the discount applied by the court”.

Refusing the appeal however, the appeal sheriffs observed that the “essential underlying factor” in determining discount was the “utilitarian value” of the plea.

They also noted that the Lord Justice Clerk, at paragraph 46 of the judgment in Gemmell, made reference to cases on summary complaint which share certain similarities with the present matter.

“In many cases particularly those prosecuted on complaint,” Lord Gill said, “the witnesses will be police officers. In other cases much of the evidence may come from experts. An early plea may have some utilitarian value for such witnesses in the sense that they can get on with other useful work but it can scarcely be said that they are spared an ordeal. In my opinion an early plea in such cases can attract at most a token discount.”

In a written statement of reasons, Sheriff Murphy said: “It appears to us that that situation in terms of the utilitarian value of the plea is very much on all fours with the situation on the present case. The discount applied by the sheriff in the present circumstances amounts to a discount of the order Lord Gill is referring to in paragraph 46 and accordingly for that reason we shall leave the decision of the sheriff undisturbed in the present case.”

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