Legal costs – a victory for the innocent

Potential defendants should welcome the recent ruling made against plans for those found innocent to bear a greater proportion of their legal costs.

Regulations introduced last year significantly reduced the amount that an innocent defendant or one against whom charges had been dropped, could claim back from the State. This meant that an innocent defendant was paying for the privilege of being found not guilty. It was a great incentive to particularly accept a fixed penalty where the penalty was far less than the shortfall between the costs of defending an action and what you would get back from the State, if it was successfully fought through the courts. The regulations changed the definition of what was “considered to be reasonably sufficient to compensate the defendant for any expenses which he properly incurred in the proceedings”. Previously what was considered reasonable was determined by reference to the rates charged by solicitors with similar experience in that area. The changes introduced a scheme whereby what was recoverable was limited to legal aid rates, even though for the majority of road traffic and haulage offences, legal aid is not available.

The Law Society, who brought the action, said that it was completely at odds with the accepted principles of justice. They accept that there are severe constraints on the Ministry of Justice’s budget but urge to seek the government not to overturn the judgment. I can only concur.

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