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Potential error in conviction involving EU driving licence forms basis of referral to Northern Ireland court 

A conviction for driving without a licence has been referred to the County Court in Northern Ireland because the driver held a valid Bulgarian licence at the time of the offence.  

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has referred the case of Stefan Stefanov, who was convicted of driving without a licence at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court in April 2022.  

Mr Stefanov was pulled over by police in January 2022. He identified himself and gave them his Bulgarian driving licence which was issued in September 2020.  

Mr Stefanov was prosecuted for driving without a licence on the basis that his Bulgarian driving licence only entitled him to drive in Northern Ireland for a year after he became a resident. 

Mr Stefanov applied to the CCRC in April 2023. His submissions included that he held a valid Bulgarian driving licence at the time of the offence and was incorrectly advised that this only entitled him to drive in Northern Ireland for 12 months after becoming a resident.   

He also submitted that after his conviction he was told by the Driver & Vehicle Agency that his Bulgarian driving licence authorised him to drive in Northern Ireland until the licence expired.  

CCRC Chairman Helen Pitcher said: “The CCRC looks into criminal cases where people believe they have been wrongly convicted or wrongly sentenced, and I urge anyone in Northern Ireland who believes this applies to them to get in touch with us.” 

The CCRC considers that there is a real possibility that, as a matter of law, an individual with a valid EU driving licence is authorised to drive in Northern Ireland. The entitlement to drive does not cease after 12 months. The CCRC has therefore concluded that, had the legal position been appreciated, the offence would not have been prosecuted. 

[ENDS]  

Notes to editors:  

  1. The CCRC is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.      
  1. There are currently 10 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.  The Chairman, who is also a Commissioner, is not involved in the casework decision-making process.   
  1. The CCRC receives around 1,500 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.      
  1. The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal.  Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.      
  1. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether to overturn the conviction. 
  1. More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk. The CCRC can be found on Twitter @ccrcupdate.