Q I want to challenge a speeding offence, and I’ve found your answers to questions about this very helpful, but I’ve recently heard that the courts are now charging extra to defend a case, which seems very unfair to me, as it’s weakening my resolve to plead not guilty to the charge. Is there truth in what I have heard?
A The only inaccuracy in what you have heard is as to the courts charging “extra”, as until recently there was no charge for using the criminal courts. However, on 13th April 2015, regulations came into effect that impose a charge on adult offenders convicted of an offence, unless the offender was given an absolute discharge for the offence, which does not happen very often.
Outcome of Case Charge
Conviction by a magistrates’ court on a plea of guilty by post £150
Conviction by a magistrates’ court for a summary offence on a guilty plea in court £150
Conviction by a magistrates’ court at a trial on a summary offence dealt with in the
defendant’s absence, without there being any oral evidence given in court £150
Conviction by a magistrates’ court for an offence triable ‘either way’ on a guilty plea £150
Conviction by a magistrates’ court at a trial of a summary offence £520
Conviction by the Crown Court on a guilty plea £900
Conviction by the Crown Court at a trial on indictment £1,200
On a magistrates’ court dealing with a person for failure to comply with a
community order, suspended sentence order, or supervision requirement £100
On a Crown Court dealing with a person for failure to comply with a community
order, suspended sentence order, or supervision requirement £150
A ‘summary offence’ means an offence that can be dealt with only in the magistrates’ courts, which covers the majority of motoring offences. An ‘either way’ offence means an offence that can be dealt with either in the magistrates’ court or in the Crown Court, e.g. dangerous driving. ‘Indictment’ refers to trials where the case can be dealt with only by the Crown Court, which rarely applies to motoring offences.
These are draconian changes and can have consequences that strain our concepts of fairness. The court must impose the relevant charge, regardless of the offender’s circumstances, and is not allowed to take into account the impact of the charge when deciding on penalties for the offences before the court. A number of magistrates have resigned over these stipulations and you may have read, or heard, of cases whereby offenders have been given quite trivial sentences in terms of a fine (not necessarily related to motoring offences), but hit with court charges that bear no relation to the seriousness of the offence, or the offender’s ability to pay.
The rules may have a heavier bearing on your decision about whether or not to fight a case that would otherwise apply, since the difference between being convicted on a guilty plea after a trial, or a not guilty plea, can be uncomfortably wide. This therefore strikes me as an imposition of undue influence on that decision.
Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.