Road Traffic Law

Driving without Headlights – a Barrister’s advice

I recently received a question about driving without headlights. Effectively, a young driver had got in a car, and driven quite innocently, but driven home and forgot to put his headlights on. He told me, quite candidly, that the reason he didn’t put his headlights on was simply because he forgot. He could see quite clearly because there were road lighting. And he felt he could drive properly. So what it was, was a casual mistake, but of course we all know that’s quite a dangerous mistake, because he may have been able to see but I had to advise him that people coming at him and driving towards him potentiality wouldn’t see him, which of course, we know could end up in disasterous results.

In those circumstances, he was charged by the police when the police saw him -as it unfortunately happen to drive pass the police, and he was charged with careless driving. Now, that was a charge that isn’t specific to headlights, but of course as we know – because he was driving without headlights, and he was a danger on the road. He was careless and not turning on headlights when drove home. So that’s the question I was asked: “Is it an offence to drive without headlights on at night?” And of course, not specifically an offence, but you will be charged with careless driving or you could be charged with careless driving, which is a serious offence.

Caught speeding at an ‘excessive’ speed? Here’s what you can do to avoid or, at least, minimise the length of a ban.

Since specialising in the defence of road traffic prosecutions the enquiries I most commonly receive go something like this:

speedometer and speeding‘I have been caught speeding at 100 (plus) mph. Can I avoid a ban?’


Consequences of speeding that you need to know:

1. The Bad News: The Consequences

driving licence points

  • Penalties for speeding include fines and either the endorsement of your driving licence with penalty points (3-6) or disqualification
  • Your insurance premiums over the next few years may well increase (by a significant margin if you are banned)
  • Penalty points endorsed on the occasion of your sentencing will be added to any other points endorsed for offences committed within 3 years of each other; if the total reaches 12, you will be liable for a ‘totting’ disqualification of a minimum of 6 months (unless you can establish ‘exceptional hardship’ in which case there is a discretion not to disqualify)

2. The Good News: You can mitigate the offence so as to avoid, or, at least, minimise the length of a ban

“Don’t rule out pleading guilty to a speeding offence!” despair-unfair-dismissal-ShenSmith-Barristers


  • Indication of an early ‘Guilty’ plea helps to establish remorse
  • Set out your mitigation carefully (first in relation to the offence and then in relation to your personal background)
  • Where possible obtain independent evidence (that you can show the court) in support of your mitigation
  • Consider taking a driving course to establish that you have learned lessons in advance of your sentencing hearing (there are short courses available aimed at changing attitudes to speeding). Production of a certificate to prove you have undertaken such a course can be beneficial.

3. Here are some commonly encountered ‘don’ts’ that do not usually go down well with the court

  • Obtaining a reference from someone (who was not present at the time of the commission of the offence) that says you did not speed deliberately – (a sure way to annoy the court and, in any event, speeding without realising it is worse than doing so deliberately as it shows lack of attention)
  • Claiming that you are a skilful driver who had full control of the vehicle – (this tends to make the court feel you do not appreciate the gravity of the matter)
  • Claiming that your top of the range marque is so advanced it can be stopped more quickly than other ordinary cars – (don’t be taken for someone who thinks the law does not apply to him)
  • Complaining of the consequences of being banned, for example, that you will have to take public transport (the court may retort, ‘that is why we ban people’!)


For any lawyer who does not specialise in defending road traffic cases advancing mitigation in a speeding case can be a minefield of ‘dos and don’ts’. I frequently find myself explaining to clients why some points, which they would like put before the court, will only aggravate their situation. The best results are obtained by assessing all the facts, taking ‘on the chin’ those points which cannot be avoided, and, skilfully and persuasively making the most of the mitigation that is present. In this way, even when speeding at over 100 mph, surprisingly good results can often be obtained.

25th July, 2016


Sunil Rupasinha, Road traffic defence barrister



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I need to save my driving licence. How much regard should I pay to the ‘success rates’ I see advertised by motor offence solicitors?


You stand accused of having committed a road traffic offence. It is essential that you maximise your chances of saving your driving licence. You are looking for the lawyer, barrister or solicitor, who will give you the best chance of doing so. You Google ‘success rates motor offence solicitors’ and find a whole series of solicitors’ websites boasting success rates of between 95-100%. Should you be persuaded by these claims to instruct one of these fabulously successful solicitors? 

Legal Cases are rarely black or white

I regularly represent motorists who have pleaded ‘Guilty’ to speeding at excessively high speeds. Recently I had a client who was sentenced for speeding at 127 mph. After considering carefully his mitigation the court elected not to ban him (at all). How should this be compared with a solicitor who presents mitigation for a client who avoids a ban (let’s say for speeding at 91 mph in a 70 mph limit)? You may think that it would be relatively easy to avoid a ban in the latter case compared with the former. So, how much weight should each case be accorded in a ‘success’ table?

To take a variation on the above example, I recently represented, upon a ‘Guilty’ plea, a gent caught speeding at well over 100 mph. He was banned for 28 days. As soon as we were out of earshot of the magistrates he made clear in emphatic terms that he regarded the sentence as a ‘result’ (he was thrilled that the ban was short enough to allow him to keep his job when he had justifiably expected a markedly longer ban). If ‘success’ is gauged, in such cases, by the crude measure of avoidance of a ban then this case would have had to have been registered as a ‘failure’ in any league table. Yet, it was clearly a marked ‘success’ from the perspective of the client (which, after all, is the only perspective that matters). I can give example after example of cases resulting in bans but which the clients regarded as ‘successes’ such as the man speeding at 97 mph in a 50 mph limit who received only a 7-week ban when he expected a 7-month ban and so on….

Contested hearings have even more variables than ‘guilty’ pleas (too many for me to even begin to set out in a short article of this type). Consequently, they are even less suitable for measurement in any kind of ‘success’ table. In any event, so called ‘success rates’ can only have any meaning if one is comparing like with like. For this to have happened the solicitors’ practices advertising ‘success rates’ would have had to have agreed and common criteria as to how ‘success’ should be measured. So, next time you read of a motor offence solicitor claiming to have an impressive ‘success’ rate as measured by his percentage of ‘successes’ in motor offence cases you might care to email him or her and ask for the criteria which he and his fellow solicitors have agreed should be used. I am asked from time to time what my ‘success’ rate is. I never provide a percentage figure as to do so would, in my view, be potentially misleading and, therefore, unethical.

How can you assess the abilities of lawyers you identify online?

You can and should make enquiries as to the professional competence and reputation of the lawyers concerned. This is not always as difficult as you may think. Nowadays, there is often social evidence that can be checked. For example, you can ask them to point you to publications they have written on their area of specialisation. You can often look at their LinkedIn profiles to see how many personal recommendations have been posted about them and what they say. You can ask them to give you the details of some clients whom they have dealt with recently whom you can contact and so on. And, of course, you can read the testimonials on their websites. If you take these steps, ensure that they are experienced and that they specialise in the area of law with which you are concerned then you will have done what you can to ensure you have the best representation available.


15th March, 2017

Sunil Rupasinha,

motor offence barrister

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You stand accused of a road traffic offence. Do you need a lawyer?

There is no legal requirement for anyone charged with a road traffic offence to engage the services of a lawyer. An accused is perfectly entitled to research the law, prepare his case and then represent himself in court. If the allegation is of having committed a minor offence which is not endorsable with penalty points you might well form the view that the costs of instructing a lawyer are disproportionately high. Conversely, depending on the value you place on them, if any of your driving licence, reputation and/or liberty are at risk of being taken away you might well form the view that the costs of obtaining legal advice and representation are, relative to what is at stake, low.

You might find a medical analogy helpful – if one of your family were ill would you advise visiting a doctor to diagnose the illness and taking his advice on a prescription? Or would you instead suggest a Google search to self-diagnose and treat with all the risks posed by the proliferation of false and misleading information on the internet? Or, lastly, would you suggest putting one’s head in the sand and hoping it would all go away?

Believe it or not those accused of road traffic offences fall into all 3 camps! Sometimes those facing minor matters are confident they can go it alone. Of those facing allegations with potentially serious consequences some simply put their heads in the sand hoping it will all go away but most (in this category) seem to obtain legal advice in one form or another.

So, if you have decided to obtain legal advice and/or representation what are your choices?

You could consult a firm of solicitors        

Most solicitors do civil work of one type or another and so would not agree to take on the defence of a road traffic prosecution as this involves criminal law and procedure with which they are unfamiliar. Therefore, most would take the ethically correct decision not to represent you. Solicitors who do general criminal work would be most likely to accept your case even though they do not specialise in motor offences. Finally, there are some firms of solicitors who specialise solely in motor offences. In the next paragraph, I set out some of the factors you might like to take into account when considering a solicitor option.

I am considering engaging a firm of solicitors. What do I need to know?

Suppose you have been invited to attend a solicitors’ office to give your account and to receive advice upon your options. You have also been told that they will instruct a barrister for you to represent you at court. Should you simply attend confident that your case will be well handled?

The first thing you should ask is whether the person you are going to meet is, in fact, a qualified solicitor at all — as firms of solicitors sometimes delegate this task to junior paralegals or legal executives. Whether a solicitor or not you also need to know whether he or she specialises in the field of motor offences (remember, the whole direction of your case could be determined at this initial meeting so why should you be advised by someone who has little experience in this field). You might be told, ‘don’t worry, we will instruct an ‘expert’ barrister to represent you at court’.

CPS Surry - Driving offences It is true that barristers are expert advocates and trial lawyers. However, you should check the barrister’s on-line profile to see how experienced he is in this field. You should also ask how much is the barrister to be paid (you might be disturbed to find that this is only a small portion of your costs compared to what the solicitor is taking which itself calls into question his level of expertise and motivation). Finally, you should ask if the firm has an agreement with the barrister’s chambers that they can switch the barrister the night before the case without reference to you (believe it or not this is a common practice especially where the barrister’s fee is low). If, however, upon enquiry your legal team consists of an experienced solicitor and barrister both of whom specialise in this field of law, you have checked out their profiles and testimonials, and, they have been independently assessed as being ‘top notch’, then, ‘well done’ as it would seem that you may have found yourself a good team. Do ensure though that you insist upon meeting your barrister well before the court date as it can be important that his expertise is used in case preparation. Of course, paying a solicitor and a barrister, especially if they are both senior and experienced in the field of motor offences, is likely to prove very expensive in fees which is why you might like to read on to the next paragraph.

You could consider a direct access barrister instead

This is another option. Once again you should look carefully at his or her level of experience (both overall and in this particular field). Does he have broad ranging experience of advocacy in tribunals ranging from the local magistrates’ court to the Old Bailey itself through to the Court of Criminal Appeal, for example, (or, has he spent most of his professional life in local Magistrates’ Courts?) You should look for articles written on the subject area of your particular legal issue by this barrister as well as at his online profile, testimonials, Linked-in recommendations and so on. Finally, check to see if he has been independently assessed as a top level court room lawyer (was he either ‘A’ list on the Attorney General’s list of advocates or level 4 on the CPS list?) This option also provides the advantage of continuity in that you see the same person for initial advice and case preparation who is going to represent you in court in due course. Unless you need to instruct a solicitor as well for some reason why not consider going directly to a barrister. After all, legal costs are high enough without instructing two lawyers when one will do….



The above are just some of the options available to you. Whichever route you take, do your research carefully, look for evidence of genuine specialisation in the area of law required, and, speak to the lawyer concerned before engaging him. After all, your driving licence may be at stake.