A neighbour approached me for some advice about a motoring offence. To cut a long story short, he had been stopped in a radar trap early one morning, along with a few other drivers. The PC who stopped him asked: "Can you produce your licence within seven days?" "No I can't" he said. "I am on my way to Dover for two weeks' holiday in France." The car was full of family and luggage, so he was obviously telling the truth. "In that case, sir, I can't give you a fixed penalty, so I shall have to report you for summons."
So off he went on holiday. The summons arrived, and he pleaded guilty by post. When he got a letter from the court he was upset to find that he had been fined £110 plus four points on his licence, and on top of that he had to pay £35 costs.
With a bit of coaching he wrote to the court. He related the tale above, and he said, respectfully, that he had heard that where a fixed penalty could not be offered for reasons beyond the defendant's control the Bench Book guidelines (as on the sidebar) suggested fining the amount of the fixed penalty. Would the court therefore put the case before a bench, and invite them to re-open the matter and have another look at it?
So they did look at it, they reopened it, and substituted a fine of £60, three points, and no costs.
I think that this was entirely fair, as it ought to be, and I post the story just to make the point that few of us have anything to lose by telling a bench of magistrates what our case is, and letting them decide.
I got a decent bottle of wine out of it too.
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