I’ve spent most of the last two weeks in Magistrates’ Courts. No, they’ve not caught up with me- I’m still one step ahead of them. Hope I’m not tempting fate and the net is closing in on me!
No, seriously, I have been doing some advocacy observations on some of those presenting cases on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). At work, one of the current inspections we are involved in is a follow up to our 2008/9 Advocacy Inspection. Since that inspection took place, associate prosecutors ( not lawyers) are now able to conduct trials for non-imprisonable offences. In practice in London this means the more minor road traffic offences, e.g. Using a Mobile Phone Whilst Driving, Failing to Provide Details of the Driver, No Insurance etc.
These cases are invariably involving un represented defendants. There were a number of the cases I observed where if only the defendant had taken legal advice they would not have wasted their time and money with a trial. For example last week, a gentleman facing a speeding charge. The evidence against him was a speed gun and the word of an experienced police officer. The defence was “I didn’t know I was doing that fast”. He was offered a fixed penalty ticket at the road side (£60 fine and 3 penalty points). He refused this, took the matter to trial, was convicted as he had no defence and found himself facing a fine and costs of nearly £500 as well as the 3 points. Even if he had paid for a solicitor to give him 30 minutes of advice ( more than it would take), he would have saved himself a fortune.
Another gentleman was facing an allegation of using a mobile phone whilst driving. He managed to convict himself and end up with a penalty of £350 plus 3 points instead of a fixed penalty ticket of £60 and 3 points. Why? Well firstly at the roadside he refused to accept the ticket that was offered. Then his attitude in court was one of arrogance and rudeness. He turned up late for court, then demanded his case was heard in the morning despite other cases being ahead of him (cases called on in the order defendants arrived at court). Then during the evidence he ignored the court clerk and failed to advance any defence at all. Whilst the first example was perhaps through ignorance, the second was caused by the arrogance of the defendant.
Its not just the defendant’s who have attitude problems in court. I saw at least one case where the defendant was acquitted. The only reason I could see was the court did not like the attitude of the sole prosecution witness, a very shifty police officer who seemed to take offence at being asked questions by the defence. This police officer presented the attitude that if he said an offence had occurred no one had the right to question that.
In another case, the defendant ( D) was a facing an allegation of driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence. He was a foreign national living in London. He had a driving licence from his home nation. The case turned on how long he had been “resident” in the UK. If he had been resident more than one year, his home nation licence was not valid. he had been in Up on and off for 2 years, but only got formal permission to remain here 7 months before the alleged offence. He gave evidence via an interpreter that he thought the 12 month period was from the formal permission to stay. He gave evidence he had been advised that by police officer at a named station ( not the officer in this case). He also produced a print out from the home office website which equated the permission to stay with residency. It also transpired during the trial that D had got a full UK licence 12 months after the formal permission to remain had been granted.
Not surprisingly the magistrates gave the benefit of the doubt to D. He had tried to comply with all the relevant laws. Upon hearing the verdict the police officer in the case stormed out of court in a manner that would have had a civilian facing a contempt of court allegation. Quite why he reacted this way is not clear. The magistrates had accepted his evidence in full and were not challenging his credibility. He by his own action has probably ensured that next time he is before that bench of magistrates, they will not be looking favourably upon him or his evidence.
All the people referred to here have made pratts of themselves. They have made their situations worse as a result of their actions.
I’m sure that in each and every one of these cases, the person did not think about how their actions would impact upon them.