We often receive enquiries from concerned motorists who have been charged with an offence and are surprised when we advise them that they do not actually need a solicitor or a representative. We firmly believe that we should not receive instructions just for the sake of doing so,particularly if the potential client does not need representation so when should you instruct a solicitor or representative to help you with your case? The aim of this page is to clarify that question and hopefully help you make a decision.
Regardless of what some firms may claim, the simple fact is,not every offence needs representation from a solicitor or otherwise. We could claim that you need help filling in a notice of intended prosecution, or in making a statutory declaration or even that you really should not plead guilty to an offence without having a lawyer but we could not, in good conscience, do that and charge you.
Undoubtedly, there are some offences that we would recommend instructing a lawyer unreservedly and these are usually offences that carry significant penalties and is obvious to most people that a lawyer is required. There are some offences however that may not carry a hefty penalty alone but the consequences may be further reaching than anticipated and this is where it can get a little confusing as to whether representation is needed or not.
The following summary should hopefully help provide some clarity:
Dangerous Driving or any offence that involves a fatality
You should, without any doubt, seek legal advice and seriously consider instructing a representative to help you. These allegations quite often carry life-changing penalties and the proceeding can be extremely complicated and involve a number of steps. Do not enter into proceedings for any offence of this nature without seeking legal advice.
Allegations involving Drink or Drugs
The best answer we can give you here is to think about the consequence of a conviction. The majority of these offences will carry a minimum penalty of a 12 month disqualification but more serious offences can attract lengthier bans, community service or prison. If the penalty will have a significant impact upon your life, we would recommend instructing a lawyer to help you. Many of these offences can be defended and if you are dependent upon your licence we would strongly recommend you at least have your case looked at before you consider pleading guilty and accepting the consequences.
If the ban, or any other aspect of the penalty, will not have an impact on your life then we would only really recommend instructing a representative if you were genuinely frightened, concerned or intimidated by the proceedings. If the proceedings themselves are causing you a great deal of stress, instructing a lawyer can alleviate that for you immediately and take the pressure off. You can also be comfortable knowing that when you appear in court, you will have a lawyer there with you to conduct the proceedings on your behalf.
Drunk or Unfit Whilst In-Charge
The reason this offence is not included in the paragraph above is because, unlike the offences addressed above, this offence can sometimes carry penalty points and this can make a huge difference to the impact the sentence has on your life. As above, if any aspect of the penalty will have a serious impact on your life then we would recommend instructing a lawyer. If however, as an example, you have a clean licence and this is a very minor case of being in-charge then there is a good chance you will get 10 penalty points. If these points do not result in you “totting up” then you may wish to consider just accepting the points as opposed to incurring legal fees. We must stress here however that being drunk or unfit whilst in charge can often result in a lengthy disqualification and they can often be cases that involve samples of blood or urine. We would remind you here that we have a 100% success rate at defending these types of cases so it may be worth considering a lawyer if we believe there is a good chance you can avoid a conviction entirely.
Speeding, Mobile Phone Offences, No Insurance
If you have a defence to any of these allegations then, in most cases, you will need a lawyer to properly advance that defence in court. If however your defence is so obvious and so irrefutable (for example, you are charged with no insurance but you clearly do have an insurance policy that covers you at the time of the alleged offence), then there is good chance you can deal with this yourself without incurring the costs of a lawyer. All of these offences carry penalty points and whether or not you will “tot up” should be a huge factor in whether you need a lawyer.
We hope this summary has proven informative but below, we have addressed some frequently asked questions that may also be of assistance
- I have been caught drink/drug driving, do I need a solicitor
The short answer is it largely depends upon the circumstances and the level of penalty you face. Drink driving (and drug driving) can attract a range of penalties starting at 12 month ban but more serious cases can see that ban increased significantly to a number of years. These offences can also attract community orders and terms of imprisonment so we would recommend you speak to us for some free advice about whether you need help with your case
- Why do I need a solicitor, what can a solicitor do for me?
The law ad the proceedings that arise from its implementation are vast, confusing and complex. It is an odd period we currently live in where the value of a solicitor, barrister or other type of lawyer is not widely known but a professional in this field can help you navigate these proceedings and hopefully come out with a good result. You should always bear in mind that even though road traffic cases are often considered to be minor, you (an individual) are still being Prosecuted by the state (a huge, governing body). You are immediately at a disadvantage in this situation because the Prosecution/The State, hold all the cards and have all of the information. Instructing a representative can help put you on a level playing field to ensure equality of arms and will almost certainly make it more likely that you receive effective justice. So many motorists do not seek advice after they have already been convicted and this is hugely frustrating as there are often things we could have done to help prior to the case progressing so far.
- Do I have to pay for a solicitor? Can I get legal aid?
Motoring Defence Solicitors do not accept cases that are legally aided so if you wish to instruct us you will either need to pay privately or fund the case via a policy of insurance. The reason for this is simple: we want to provide you with the best level of representation. As a general rule, legal aid is unavailable for those charged with road traffic offences unless two strict tests are passed. The first is the “means test” where a defendant applying for legal aid must show they earn the minimum in terms of income. Even if you pass that test, you must also pass “the interests of justice” test. You would likely not pass this test unless you were at risk of prison.
Even if your case did qualify for legal aid, we would not accept instructions as legal aid is simply too restrictive. To effectively represent you we must be able to prepare your case effectively and legal aid does not provide funding for so many aspects that are required in defending a road traffic case. For example, if you were charged with drink driving and were challenging the reliability of the blood sample, you would need an expert witness who is suitably qualified and experienced enough to do that. These experts are extremely limited and none that we know of accept cases that are legally aided due to how little the experts would be paid.
We appreciate this may be hugely frustrated but please remember that there are other funding options available. With privately funded cases we can often arrange flexible payment agreements and many motorists have insurance policies that can cover the costs so we would recommend you contact us to discuss this in more detail.
- What are the possible defences to drink/drug driving?
We are often asked this question as, quite understandably, many motorists assume that there is no defence. Unlike general crime (theft, rape etc) there can be what is called a “statutory defence”. This is a defence that is written somewhere in amongst the vast volumes of text that contain the laws that govern us all. Somewhere in a book, it will say that “you are not guilty of theft if xxxxx” (or something to that extent). The difference with road traffic cases such as drink and drug driving is that there are very few “statutory defences” but instead, there are a range of technical defences. The term “technical defence” or “technicality” itself often inspires an eye roll or certain level of disbelief but we believe this is due to a lack of understanding. For example, the law says that if you drive whilst over the limit of alcohol then you are guilty of a criminal offence and that is absolutely right. If however, the evidence that you were over the limit is a blood sample, and we find that the blood sample was contaminated or flawed in some way- how or why should that person still be convicted of a criminal offence? Whenever a person is prosecuted, it is “the State” prosecuting an individual. The state is the huge governing body of our country with a frightening level of power and influence over our lives. If they want to prosecute someone and potentially deny that person of their liberty, they must ensure they are doing so correctly and they must ensure that any conviction is “safe”. Regardless of your feelings towards terminology like “technicality”, if it is your life that is at risk of being turned upside down, would you be happy possibly being convicted as a result of “dodgy” evidence?
- The difference between a solicitor, barrister and lawyer
We are often asked what the difference is between various legal professionals and there are so many titles now that people are understandably confused.
To put it in the simplest of terms:
Your case/defence would usually be prepared in an office by a solicitor. In today’s modern world however there are various other professionals that perform similar duties to that of a solicitor and you will often find that Legal Executives, Caseworkers or Paralegals are responsible for preparing your defence. The title here usually represents the individual’s qualification and the route they took to obtain that qualification. For example, a solicitor and a legal executive perform largely the same role. The main difference is how that person became qualified. A solicitor would do a degree, then a course called the Legal Practice Course (LPC) before having to secure a 2-year training contract before being a “qualified solicitor”. By contract, a Legal Executive may have taken a more work-based approach to their studies. Many Legal Executives work in the legal profession as they obtain qualifications and are therefore learning the skills that the LPC or training contract may bestow upon a potential solicitor. Paralegals and caseworkers are usually non-qualified professionals. The main thing to remember with who you instruct is their experience in the area you want to instruct them in. You would not want to ask a qualified mechanic to conduct brain surgery so why ask a qualified solicitor (who may work in Employment) to represent you above a non-qualified caseworker who has years of relevant experience?
A barrister, solicitor-advocate or legal executive advocate are the people who represent you in the courtroom and these are the professionals who are best-equipped to represent you. The skills required to effectively prepare a case are vastly different to those needed in a court advocate and that is why it is almost always beneficial that you have one person dedicated to the preparation of your case, and one person dedicated to advancing and arguing it in court.
Those who prepare your case must be thorough, meticulous, understanding, empathetic and analytical whereas your advocate needs to be a quick thinker on his feet, adaptable to fluid circumstances and be a fierce advocate to successful argue your case. It is worth remembering that our trial system is known as taking an “adversarial” format. This means you have one advocate against another and your advocate needs to be prepared to go into court and argue your case to the best of his ability.
The term “lawyer” is more general and can encompass all of the roles/professions mentioned above.
- Tips on finding the best Solicitors for you
Instructing a firm of solicitors is not a decision that should be taken lightly. When you instruct someone, you are putting your trust in them to prepare your case to the best of their ability to ensure you get the best representation. The “best representation” is that which keeps you fully informed and makes you aware of all the potential consequences to your decisions and actions throughout the case. Decisions and actions have consequences and some of them can be life-changing so if you are instructing a representative, you must have a degree of trust in them. Your representative is going to be advising you on evidence in your case and some of this may be evidence/advice that you don’t particularly like . In these situations you need to be comfortable in accepting that even though you do not like the advice, you trust that it is still the best advice under the circumstances. Sometimes pleading guilty to an offence can be better in the long run but this is not always easy to accept. He worst situation you can be in is having paid a representative to help you and not trusting that they are acting in your best interests.
The best way to put your mind at rest about any representative is by speaking to them as only then will you get an idea about their skills and experience.Everybody has different personalities and you need to have a good fit with your representative.
So many firms claim to specialise in road traffic law but when you scratch beneath the service it becomes apparent that they only really represent motorists who are pleading guilty to an offence and, as explained further up the page, representation is not always needed. If you want to defend a case such as drink driving, we would recommend asking specific and direct questions about that specific person’s experience. How many cases do they deal with? How many of their clients charged with drink driving are found not guilty? You claim to have a great success rate but is this your success rate or that of a colleague’s? These are all questions that are worth asking.