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Various media outlets have recently reported on a “secretive” process by which disqualified drivers are able to have their licences returned to them.
The Governor of New South Wales has long had the power to commute sentences that courts have imposed. It is generally known as the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Historically this has been a power that has been used to forgive long gaol sentences, and in some ways it mirrors the Presidential Pardons system in the United States.
In recent times, however, the power has come to be used more and more to reduce crushing periods of disqualification. Many people in New South Wales have been disqualified for decades, even to the point where there is no chance of them ever being licenced to drive again. This has occurred as a result of heavy mandatory periods of disqualification that, until recently, had to be imposed for the offence of Driving Whilst Disqualified.
Recent changes in the law in New South Wales mean that there is now a far simpler way to get your licence back if you are facing long periods of disqualification. The Road Transport Amendment (Driver Licence Disqualification) Bill 2017 has changed the law to allow a court to commute a person’s disqualification period, provided some pre-conditions have been met.
This occurs by way of an Application to the Local Court. Once the court is satisfied that certain pre-conditions are met (including an conviction-free period of 2 or 4 years, depending on the circumstances) the court can then consider whether it is “appropriate” to remove the licence disqualification.
In considering the appropriateness of removing the disqualification, the court will need to consider things such as the safety of the public, the person’s driving record and in particular the nature of the offences that caused the person to be disqualified.
This legislation has come into effect extremely recently, and it remains to be seen precisely how the court uses these new powers. What is clear is that people who had been disqualified for extraordinarily long periods of time now have the opportunity to have their licences returned to them.
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