Tens of thousands more Victorians each year stand to lose their drivers’ licences under a new law police are vowing to exercise in court.
Sweeping legal changes which came into effect on September 30 allow courts to suspend or cancel the licence of any person convicted or found guilty of any offence – regardless of whether that offence has anything to do with driving.
Victoria Police has exclusively revealed to the Herald Sun that it will seek to use the new powers in up to 50,000 court cases each year.
It has already briefed its prosecutors on the law.
“If you’re convicted or found guilty of any offence, a court may suspend or cancel and disqualify your licence,” said Acting Senior Sergeant Richard Bowers, of the Victoria Police Prosecution Division.
“The legislation does not govern or put a limiting factor on which cases it applies to. It’s any offence, and it’s completely open to the magistrate as to whether or not they impose it.
“Unless a superior court gets hold of one of these cases and says ‘Well, this is an inappropriate exercise of discretion,’ it will remain open for use for a magistrate to use in any way they see fit.”
But the move has angered civil libertarians.
“We are very disturbed at the lack of consultation, given this is such a sweeping and draconian measure,” Jane Dixon, SC, the president of Liberty Victoria, said last night.
“To deprive someone of their driving licence can often also deprive them of their livelihood.
“We believe, for well-being, there should be a strong foundation between driving and the offending.”
Victoria Police said it would advice its prosecutors to use the legislation in any case where the offending can be linked to using a vehicle, which it estimates at around 50,000 cases a year.
“We will raise the legislation in circumstances where driving had been part and parcel of the offending,” Sen-Sgt Bowers said.
“It may be an offence where the accused used a car to commit the offences; for example, residential burglaries, using the car to get around.”
In another change to the law, anyone disqualified from driving may be forced to fit an alcohol interlock device in their vehicle when the licence is reinstated, if the original crime can be linked in any way to alcohol or drugs.
First-time offenders, and those guilty of even the most minor offences, will not be exempt from the new law.
There are no set suspension or disqualification limits, giving magistrates free rein to cancel a licence for as long as they see fit.
Sen-Sgt Bowers also highlighted drug trafficking and family violence cases as likely ones for the exercise of the law.
“You have to look at each case on its merits and determine where is the best use of this legislation. We have left prosecutors with a fair bit of discretion,” he said.
“It’s a deterrent and a preventive measure. From our perspective, anything that has the potential to prevent further offending is a good thing,” he said.