Offences of driving during a period of court-ordered licence disqualification are considered serious offences. Under section 32 of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT) driving in the ACT while a license is disqualified carries significant penalties that range from further lengthy periods of licence disqualification, fines or imprisonment. Similar penalties also apply for the offence in NSW under section 42 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW).
The offence of driving while disqualified prohibits driving on a public road or road related area (such as a public car park) at a time when that driver is subjected to a court-ordered disqualification of their driver licence. In some rarer cases it may be a legal defence to the charge if the prosecution cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that a drive was on a public road or road related area instead of a private road or road related area. Of course the prosecution must also prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the actual driver of a motor vehicle. Ignorance about how long a court-ordered disqualification was in place would rarely be a defence. A driver would need to establish that they held an honest and reasonable mistake about the fact that they where disqualified by a court when driving. Mere ignorance is not sufficient.
In the ACT, a driving disqualified offence is to be contrasted with an offence of driving while suspended by the RTA or police which are generally considered less serious. Disqualification of a driver licence can only be ordered by a court sentencing an offender for an earlier driving-related offence.
The penalties for driving whilst disqualified depend on whether it is the first time driving whilst disqualified or whether it is a second or more occurrence, and on the jurisdiction. A first offence in the ACT carries a maximum fine of $8000, a likely criminal conviction and potentially up to 6 months’ imprisonment. For repeat offenders the maximum fine is $16,000 and imprisonment of up to 1 year. In NSW, first time offenders can face a fine of up to $3,300 and imprisonment of up to 6 months. For repeat offenders in NSW, the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $5,500 and imprisonment for up to 1 year.
In addition to these penalties, the offence carries further lengthy licence disqualification periods. This additional period will start only once an already existing disqualification ends. For first offenders in the ACT the automatic licence disqualification period is a further 12 months or longer if the court decides. For repeat offenders the automatic period is a further 24 months or longer. In NSW, the minimum disqualification period for first time offenders is 1 month, and the default disqualification period is 3 months. For second time or more offenders, the minimum disqualification period is 3 months while the default disqualification period is 12 months.