Monday, January 11, 2010

'Innocent’ British driver concedes guilt to avoid cost of court defence

Too many drivers were being exonerated (over 300,000 drivers per year!) for the British government so they are now doing their best to make the courts unavailable to most people. So police persecution of the innocent can now run riot and the police will have splendid statistics to show what a good job they are doing. But the police fear that they might get caught out by it too -- when accused of wrongdoing

A company director has admitted a motoring offence he says he has not committed after becoming one of the first to be caught by controversial new rules on court costs. Ian Harrison says he cannot afford to take his case to court because even if he won he would have to pay nearly all his legal bills of at least £2,000. The 53-year-old has instead opted to accept a £60 fine and three penalty points.

Since October, criminal defendants in England and Wales have only been allowed to claim back lawyers’ fees at the legal aid rate of £60 – often less than a quarter of the real charge – even if they are acquitted, leaving innocent people heavily out of pocket unless they plead guilty or represent themselves.

The Law Society is seeking a judicial review of the regulations, which affect all defendants who do not receive legal aid. Thirty MPs have signed a Commons motion criticising the new rules and nearly 22,000 people have put their names to a Number 10 petition calling for a rethink.

In 2008, 37 per cent of all cases in magistrates courts were motoring offences.

Mr Harrison, a deputy manager of a firm of bailiffs in Bolton, was issued a penalty notice for using a mobile phone while driving earlier this month, but he says he was using a Bluetooth device which is legal. He has been told by lawyers that he has a “better than evens” chance of being found not guilty at court but that he would be liable to pay nearly all of his costs, likely to reach more than £2,000. “I don’t have that sort of money so I’m just going to take the fine and the three points,” he said. “If I had been able to get my costs back then because I had a good chance of winning I would have gone for it. But even if I’m vindicated I’ll still be the loser because I’ll have lost £2,000.”

Jeanette Miller, the founding president of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers, said her law firm, Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, had seen a drop of 34 per cent in the number of motorists taking their speeding claims to court in November 2009 compared with November 2008, when costs were still met from central funds. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 24 per cent of the 1.4 million motorists taken to court in 2007 were cleared, which meant nearly 380,000 drivers recouped about 80 per cent of their costs.

Legal aid is not available for most motoring cases and defending speeding cases typically costs at least £2,000, while costs for fighting a drink-driving charge can range between £5,000 and £10,000.

The Ministry of Justice hopes to save £25 million a year by paying only legal aid rates.

Robert Heslett, president of the Law Society, said: “The human cost of this grossly unfair regulation cannot be underestimated. “It will result in financial disaster for many innocent people, who, having been cleared of any wrong doing, will have endured the stress of these charges, and then face legal fees running into the thousands for the privilege.”

The Law Society’s judicial review has been backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales. Stephen Smith, the deputy general secretary of the federation, which defends officers accused of wrongdoing, said: “The result of the proposed change will put the Federation under severe financial strain or place police officers in a position where the direct cost to them is prohibitive of fighting a charge that they categorically deny. “To that end, the new regulations are unfair and a backward step to equal access to representation and justice.”

Ms Miller said she hoped the review and the increasing pressure on the Government from MPs and the public would force ministers to review the legislation. “They haven’t thought it through before making the changes,” she added. “Hopefully putting this pressure on will work, otherwise people who are innocent could be convicted or face financial ruin after fighting a case.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “While the Government accepts that acquitted defendants should continue to have access to central funds, it is essential that we also target our resources effectively, secure value for money for the taxpayer and control areas of overspend in our budget. “We believe that the rates we pay for criminal cases under legal aid are both fair and sustainable and should be available on the open market. We also believe it is fair to taxpayers that those who can afford to pay for all or part of their legal representation do so. “We believe that lawyers are able to provide a reasonable service at legal aid rates, but if a defendant wants to have, for example, a senior partner’s undivided attention, they may be prepared to pay more for a 'premium service’ but would have to understand that they would not recover all of these costs.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE

No comments: