Fleet News

Legal boost for wrongly-convicted motorists

Motorists wrongly accused of traffic offences have been given good news after a judicial review ruled a new law preventing them from recovering the full cost of their defence in court is wrong.

It had been argued that motorists wrongly accused of offences such as speeding were opting not to challenge the offence in court as it was unlikely even if they won that they would recover their costs.

This is particularly true for company vehicle drivers who, because they are employed, are unlikely to qualify for Legal Aid.

“A defendant has to satisfy both of two tests in order to qualify for Legal Aid, namely that it is in the interests of justice and secondly that they meet the strict financial criteria,” explains motoring lawyer Philip Somarakis.

“The reality is that most working motorists do not meet the criteria.”

Therefore they would have to pay the going rate for a solicitor but would only be able to recover costs based on the legal aid rate. “That would typically have been just 20-25% of the total cost,” said Somarakis. “If an innocent motorist knew that he would only recover 20-25% of his costs if he won, he might decide that the cost of defending himself far outweighed the principle of doing so.”

Now a High Court case brought by the Law Society has successfully challenged the rules, which were introduced by the previous Government in October 2009 as a way of reducing its legal aid bill.

The High Court found the regulations were not unlawful, but the rates were as they did not fully compensate innocent defendants for legal costs. 

For best practice and legal advice, have a look at the fleet news legal section for more information.

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