Belfast Telegraph

Man has driving offences sentence quashed at High Court

Samuel Nicholl's case will now be remitted to another judge for re-sentencing
Samuel Nicholl's case will now be remitted to another judge for re-sentencing

By Alan Erwin

A man jailed for motoring offences after his case was referred to another judge is to have his sentence quashed, the High Court has ruled.

Parts of a guidance note for Deputy District Judges (DDJs) were also held to be too rigid and declared unlawful.

An order was made for Samuel Nicholl to be sentenced again by a different member of the judiciary.

Mr Nicholl, 30, pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified and without insurance at Lisburn Magistrates' Court in March last year.

He appeared again a month later for sentencing, but a DDJ instead adjourned to a date when the Resident District Judge (DJ) would be sitting.

She eventually imposed five months imprisonment for the motoring offences, and also activated a previously suspended five-month jail term to run consecutively.

Mr Nicholl launched a legal challenge against the DDJ's decision to adjourn the sentencing process.

A disputed claim was made that the Deputy District Judge had indicated he would have "readily considered" imposing a deferred sentence, but was restrained from doing so.

The case centred on a guidance note to DDJs which states: "A Deputy should defer sentence only in very exceptional cases."

Lawyers for Mr Nicholl argued this amounted to an instruction which restricted judicial discretion.

They contended there should be no limit on a DDJ having the same sentencing powers as a full DJ.

Backing that case, Mr Justice Maguire held: "The guidance is marred by undue rigidity and is defective in this regard."

He went on to say Deputy District Judges should not feel constrained about exercising their authority on an equal basis as a District Judge.

Granting the judicial review sought, Mr Justice Maguire declared the relevant parts of the guidance unlawful, and quashed both the original decision to adjourn sentencing and term imposed by the DJ.

He ruled the case should now be remitted to another judge for re-sentencing.

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