Legal red light
Justice for motorists is becoming the preserve of the wealthy – many are finding they cannot afford to defend themselves when prosecuted. Even a successful defence can leave you seriously out of pocket, usually to the tune of several thousand pounds.
“A driving ban can result in a lost job; putting pressure on relationships or forcing you to move house.”
In cases started after 1 October 2012 (or rather summons dated after this), even those that win a case in a Magistrates Court and recover costs through a Defence Cost Order will only be paid at the Legal Aid rate, significantly below the actual cost of the case. Those dealt with in Crown Court get nothing (excepting appeals, paid at Legal Aid rate).
Those seeing motoring offenses as minor often overlook the effects of a driving ban that can result in a lost job; putting pressure on relationships or even forcing you to move house.
But contesting a case is expensive. Costs for an expert, for instance to fight a drink driving charge can quickly mount. There is also a substantial investment of time and significant stress.
As well as offenses like speeding and drink driving, the new regime has implications for dangerous driving charges that can involve scams, most notably ‘crash for cash’ and ‘flash for cash’ (where a driver deliberately crashes into someone after flashing their headlights to offer right of way).
A guilty verdict in cases like these can result in a ban and/or a heavy fine and open the door to subsequent personal injury claims, despite the fact that you may not have been at fault.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. It is practically impossible to eliminate the risk of prosecution, especially the deliberately malign intentions of organised criminals. However, you can minimise risks by ensuring your insurance coverage is as comprehensive as it can be and drive with extreme care, shunning even a legal level of alcohol consumption.
Expert advice remains the biggest potential saver though. Police investigation does not always result in a court case: agreeing to undergo a driver education course can avoid the severest consequences. However, you need good representation at all times and should try to get legal representation as early on as possible.
For ‘body corporates’, which cannot claim money for legal expenses in any court, pleading guilty may be the commercial solution, even when there is confidence you are not in the wrong. This is especially true for smaller companies that lack the resources to fight charges. Again, insurance and expert advice can help reduce the risks, although companies should also ensure their administration is thorough, including the ability to identify and track the drivers of company vehicles.
- Seek expert legal advice at an early stage
- Review all available evidence carefully and fully
- Don’t make assumptions that investigation will inevitably lead to prosecution and conviction
- Body corporates need proper systems in place to identify drivers and should respond to queries from the authorities.