11/13/2008UK Government to Make Challenging Speeding Tickets More Expensive
Taking a traffic ticket to court could cost UK motorists thousands after a proposed rule change.
UK courts are considering changes designed to make it too expensive for speed camera ticket recipients to challenge citations, regardless of whether they are actually guilty of any crime. The Ministry of Justice announced last Thursday that it had begun the process of overturning the traditional cost assessment procedures in criminal court cases to ease the burden on prosecutors and the courts.
"The proposed scheme will be as straightforward as possible and will cause the minimum of disruption to the judicial process," Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission, said in a statement.
Unlike US courts, the British system imposes costs that can amount to several thousand pounds if a motorist challenging a simple traffic ticket is found guilty. For someone wrongly accused, it often is not worth going to court a £60 (US $90) fine when the risk of losing can carry a punishment twenty times greater. The risk to the defendant is at least balanced under the current system because it works both ways -- if a driver succeeds in proving his own innocence in court, he can often recover a portion of the cost of hiring a defense attorney.
The new UK government proposal seeks to convert this "loser pays" arrangement to one where motorists and other defendants are always on the paying end. Guilty or innocent, the accused would be responsible for covering all costs of the defense. Tan Ikram, chairman of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, blasted the proposal.
"This is outrageous," Ikram told the UK Law Society. "Defendants don't choose to be party to criminal proceedings. Why should innocent people be left out of pocket because the state has wrongly brought proceedings against them?"
The average cost of presenting a defense in a crown court trial is £2800 (US $4200), but the court does provide public defenders in some cases. The system considers anyone with more than £3398 (US $5077) in annual disposable income able to afford the defense costs on his own.
"We believe that this is a fair position as, in these straightforward cases, defense representation is not a requirement for an individual," the Ministry of Justice report states.
With nearly two million automated tickets issued each year in the UK, traffic citations make up a significant portion of the cases that come to court. To combat this trend, authorities have taken steps to prevent successful challenges. In 2007, for example, the European Court of Human Rights formally stripped motorists of their right to remain silent and to be presumed innocent (view decision).
The public comment period for the proposal ends on January 29, 2009. A copy of the consultation paper is available in a 350k PDF file at the source link below.