Driving Offences are often the only interaction that ordinary members of the public have with the criminal justice system. There are a myriad of different offences stretching from parking in a disabled bay through drink driving and speeding to careless driving and causing death by dangerous driving.
If you have been caught by a camera then the first thing you are likely to know about an offence is when the Notice of Intended Prosecution arrives in the post. Most people are now aware of the process of dealing with fixed penalty speeding offences and the possibility of speed awareness courses.
However if you have points on your licence already you could be summonsed to attend court. With simple driving offences there is nothing wrong with representing yourself and the magistrates’ courts are used to defendants appearing in person. That said the vagaries of the totting up system are complicated and poor representation can mean that a driver loses his or her licence where arguments could have been made against disqualification.
If you are stopped by police in relation to a driving offence, be it speeding, drink driving, careless driving or dangerous driving then you should be aware that anything you say at the scene [to police officers or other witnesses] can and will be used in a subsequent prosecution. This is particularly difficult for defendants when they have been involved in an accident and are often in shock themselves.
If it is more serious you will find yourself arrested at the scene and taken to the police station for interview. Because those arrested for driving offences are normally law abiding citizens their first instinct is to assist the police. They will often turn down the opportunity of having a lawyer in interview and will often answer questions even though they are in shock and may not have had the opportunity to properly consider events themselves.
These interviews often take place very late at night, in one of my current cases the defendant left the police station at 4am having been arrested at 3pm. It is a sad fact that the police are incentivised to get as many convictions as possible and although you may think you are trying to help their investigation, defendants regularly find their words twisted and used out of context.
If you find yourself prosecuted for driving offences you may be able to take advantage of the fixed penalty scheme. If you are summonsed to court you should consider if you want to be represented. As I said above there is nothing wrong with representing yourself for minor offences. There is a lot of information available on the internet to help you prepare your case.
However if you feel intimidated or if you simply want to make sure that you get the best possible result you can, then you should instruct a lawyer. If the offence is serious enough to merit a custodial sentence the court will advise you that a lawyer is in your best interests.
Many people now have legal assistance insurance attached to their insurance policy which will pay for their defence in the event of prosecution. Your first port of call should be your insurance company. Sometimes, if you have been involved in an accident and are being prosecuted for driving without care and attention the insurance company will often fund your defence because they will be facing a civil claim from the other side and what happens in the criminal case can have an effect on any civil claim.
If the insurance company won’t help then you will have to rely on Legal Aid or pay privately. If your offence merits legal aid [normally if the maximum sentence is some sort of custodial sentence] you can apply and will be granted a representation order. Many people are under the misapprehension that legal aid is ‘free’. It is now means tested and you have to make contributions on a monthly basis assessed on the level of your income. These can often be very substantial payments and if you are convicted you don’t get the money back. There are also more changes coming soon which will mean that many more people will not be eligible for legal aid at all.
If you pay privately for your own defence and you are acquitted you will be able to claim some of the costs back from the court by way of a Defendant’s Costs Order.
In the past if you chose to pay for your own defence you would pay for a solicitor and for a barrister. The rules have been changed and you can now instruct a barrister directly. This makes the process cheaper as there is no duplication of work and you deal directly with the person who is going to be standing up representing you at Court. With a serious offence you may still need a solicitor and a barrister but if you start with a barrister you can be sure that you won’t be paying over the odds for your defence and we can recommend a good solicitor to take your case forward if necessary. For lesser offences, because of our lower costs base, instructing a barrister directly is almost always cheaper.
Whatever your position you can always contact us directly for a no obligations initial discussion.
Alex Stein, No5 Chambers