High Court judgment said to mark return to sanity
Under the current scheme introduced by the previous government, motorists or defendants are not always able to get their legal costs reimbursed in full after a successful court case – where they are acquitted, or a case is withdrawn by prosecutors, such as the police or VOSA.
The current scheme, which came into force in October 2009 by the Costs in Criminal Cases (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2009, means that someone fighting a criminal prosecution can potentially only get their legal costs reimbursed at legal aid rates. This means that innocent motorists and professional drivers may be compelled to plead guilty just to avoid being out of pocket.
Anton Balkitis, a specialist transport solicitor at midlands-based firm Rothera Sharp, is convinced that the latest judgment marks a return to sanity and should avoid further injustice.
Mr Balkitis said: ‘Since the regulations came into effect last October, innocent motorists may have thought twice about going to court. Why would anyone choose to invest possibly their life savings in legal representation knowing full well even if they are found not guilty they will not get that money back in full? These regulations have made it difficult for people of limited means to defend themselves and secure an acquittal.’
At the Judicial Review hearing The Law Society submitted five grounds on which it was alleged that the scheme was unlawful; but only one was successful. That is, that the new scheme was introduced for improper purposes: to effect government savings.
Although the High Court has said that the 2009 Regulations are not unlawful in themselves, the rates and scales scheme introduced last October by the Lord Chancellor is said to have been deemed unlawful – it does not fully compensate innocent defendants for legal costs properly incurred; it provides only a contribution. One of the two High Court Judges, Lord Elias, stated that compensation should equal the amount reasonably incurred for work properly undertaken. He added that to determine what is reasonable, the present market conditions have to be taken into account.
Lord Elias stated that the Lord Chancellor appears to have asked himself what level of fees it is reasonable to expect the government to pay rather than asking whether that provides reasonable recompense for defendants’ costs.
On hearing the result Mr Balkitis stated: ‘Common sense has finally prevailed. It is a victory for innocent defendants and solicitors alike.’