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Court grants dangerous driver licence to aid rehabilitation

A Central Queensland judge has granted the return of driver’s licence to a motorist jailed for killing a 16-year-old passenger almost five years ago.

The judge reasoned that the 26-year-old’s chances of “rehabilitation is enhanced by having his licence restored”.

Rockhampton District Court Judge Jeffrey Clarke yesterday removed the absolute driver licence disqualification imposed on Mitchel James Hawkins over the death of teenager Hannah Dingle as a result of single-vehicle rollover crash on a beach five years ago.

Hawkins, aged 21 at the time of the crash, was sentenced to two years and nine months in jail, suspended after having served eight months in custody, when he pleaded guilty in April 2019 to a criminal charge of dangerous driving causing Hannah’s death.

The court also ordered Hawkins – whose licence was suspended due to an accumulation of demerit points at the time of the crash – be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence absolutely.

The effect of the disqualification meant Hawkins could never drive again without an order made by a District Court judge.

Last month, Hawkins applied to Judge Clarke to lift the disqualification. The application was strenuously opposed by the Commissioner of Police, who submitted it should not be lifted until three months after his release from jail – 17 December 2022.

Judge Clarke, in a five-page written judgement, lifted Hawkins’ licence disqualification, saying he saw little utility in imposing any further sanction on his ability to drive.

The court had been told Hawkins had two passengers – a male friend asleep and Hannah – in his four-wheel-drive vehicle as it was travelling along a section of beach in the early evening of 25 November 2017.

Hawkins was travelling about 70kmh when his car hit contours in the beach, making the vehicle ‘bounce’ or ‘porpoise’ many times before it became airborne on about the fifth contour, landed nose first into the next contour and rolled on its side.

Judge Clarke noted: “The front seat passenger (Hannah), an only child, was killed.”

Hawkins, a qualified diesel mechanic, became eligible to apply to the court for reinstatement of his licence two years after the disqualification was imposed.

However, Judge Clarke said that in considering whether to grant Hawkins the right to drive, the court had to consider a range of other issues, including the community’s demand for just punishment, the period of time Hawkins had spent in the community after being released from jail and a demonstrated legitimate purpose for restitution of his driver’s licence.

Lawyers for Hawkins submitted it would deleterious to impose longer driving sanctions and that to do so could impede his chances of rehabilitation.

“In this case, (Hawkins) has demonstrated his otherwise good character,” Judge Clarke said. “There is a demonstrated need for his driver licence to be restored so that he can collect vehicles at mine sites and other places or attend callout jobs. His employer cannot afford to continue to provide a driver for him indefinitely.

“I accept (his) affidavit evidence that he feels ‘haunted’ by being responsible for taking a young girl’s life.

“I am satisfied, having regard to all matters, (Hawkins’) rehabilitation following incarceration may be compromised if the application is refused.

“I see little utility in imposing a further sanction on his ability to drive. (Hawkins) will be subject to the restrictions of a ‘P’ probationary licence upon obtaining a driver licence. He simply must comply with those restrictions.

“In the absence of the conviction for dangerous driving, (Hawkins) has been a law-abiding and productive member of the community. (His) rehabilitation is enhanced by having his licence restored.

“Notwithstanding the seriousness of the offence, I consider the disqualification period served has been enough to address issues of punishment.”

Read the decision.

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