Update on e-petitons

A while back I wrote asking what e-petions are good for following on from a hopeless response from the Government about the petition against the change to cost recovery for defendants. Well I have a slight update in the comments from Jeanette Miller (aka Miss Justice) which suggests that in an entirely predictable fashion people are indeed opting to accept a fine and thus guilt rather than end up far more out of pocket due to trying to clear their name.

Read on:

I was also very disappointed by the response received. Feel free to publish details from this press release. At least the fight continues!

Another disappointing day’s work for Gordon Brown.

The Government’s long awaited response to a petition backed by almost 22,000 signatures has been described as “a joke” by Jeanette Miller, aka ‘Miss Justice’. The expert Motoring Lawyer who is also the Founding Chief Executive and President of AMOL, The Association of Motor Offence Lawyers, began the petition back in September 09 in response to the government’s plans to introduce regulations to restrict the amount of costs an innocent defendant could recover after fighting to clear their name. She says, “The reason I started a petition was primarily to raise awareness of what the government’s plans were. The method that they chose to introduce the rules was very much under the carpet and an almost farcical process. The overwhelming response to the consultation was against introducing the rules that have since come into force on 31 October 2009.”

When the petition closed Jeanette Miller wrote a letter to the prime minister with 37 pages of supplementary information to enable him to produce a proper considered response that she hoped would address many of the flawed premises in the consultation process itself. In relation to the response received today Miss Miller states “I am astounded by the dismissive approach adopted by Gordon Brown and his pitiful response for the issues I tried to raise.”

The petition was launched in an attempt to stop or to repeal the regulations implemented to limit the amount of legal costs an acquitted defendant can claim back from the court once a criminal case against them fails or is discontinued.

Under the rules prior to the 31 October 2009 a defendant could expect to recover between 50-100% when acquitted or found not guilty. The government were losing too much money however, due to the number of cases they were losing. In 2007, 26 per cent of motoring offence prosecutions in Magistrates’ Courts were unsuccessful. The rules do not just extend to motorist but to all criminal defence.

Miss Justice explains that she chose to launch her campaign as she was fearful that many innocent motorists would chose to accept penalties for less serious offences such as speeding or mobile phone offences when they were not at risk of a ban.

Since the rules have changed it seems she has already been proven right. Ian Harrison a company director who contacted Miss Miller in December admitted a motoring offence he had not committed. He was issued a penalty notice but says he was using a Bluetooth device which is legal. He said he could not afford to take his case to court because even if he won he would have to pay nearly all of his legal bills of at least £2,000. The 53-year-old instead opted to accept a £60 fine and three penalty points.

Miss Justice commented “When I spoke to him I was pretty convinced we would succeed in securing his acquittal at court if he chose to contest the proceedings. I had to warn him, however, that even if he won his case he could be liable to pay nearly all of his costs, likely to reach more than £2,000. Mr Harrison said he could not afford to proceed on the basis that even if he was vindicated he would still be the loser because it would have cost him £2,000.”

Turning to the government’s response the Prime Minister argues that the government does not believe that a defendant will be more likely to plead guilty under the new regime as they claim a defendant could never be guaranteed an acquittal. There is no research whatsoever published or referred to that justifies this belief. In the wealth of experience of Miss Justice and her fellow AMOL member solicitors they find that where someone knows they are innocent under the new regime they are far more likely to give up their principals and take the punishment than be several thousand pounds out of pocket.

Miss Justice has confirmed that her firm, Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, have seen a drop of 34 per cent in the number of motorists taking their speeding claims to court in November 2009 compared with November 2008, when costs were still met from central funds. With an offence that carries points and poses no risk of a ban, most drivers seem to be admitting to offences rather than be out of pocket. A scenario Miss Justice predicted would happen when launching the petition.

The government also referred to there being no guarantee of the sum recovered if acquitted. Jeanette Miller’s response to this is ”This point is true. However, my firm Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, maintain detailed statistics of our clients’ costs recovery levels so that all of our clients are fully informed of the likely recovery they can expect at the outset of a case”

The rates the government claim to be sustainable for criminal lawyers are widely known across the legal field as nothing more than a pittance. With most plumbers charging more than the government plan to pay under the legal aid scheme, their response is likely to infuriate the majority of the legal profession.

Jeanette Miller states “The final paragraph of the government’s response is insulting not just because of the sentiments expressed but it is clear that the Prime Minister has simply dismissed all requests to review this significant issue. Mr Brown has adopted the wording of several press releases that were issued during the campaign and continues to miss the point entirely.”

Miss Justice suggested a face to face meeting with the Prime Minister once the petition had closed to be able to discuss the more intricate details relating to the campaign. Unlike the Tories met with Miss Miller, and fellow AMOL member, David Sonn, Gordon Brown chose to snub this opportunity and dismiss the concerns raised with nothing short of an extract already used during the campaign to raise awareness of the petition.

The fight is not over though as a result of Miss Justices’ petition, the Tories backed her cause and tabled an early day motion which received support from 30 MPs.

Following on from that was the Law Society’s Judicial Review Proceedings issued against the Government on 7 January 2010. One way or another, the government will have to respond with real answers rather than the nonsensical responses they continue to spout in the hope that the majority of the general public either will not understand or will not care about the erosion of the British Justice System as we know it.

For more information or to speak to Jeanette Miller, President of The Association Of Motor Offence Lawyers about any motoring issues please contact Caroline Tomlinson at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors on 0161 271 5591 or ctomlinson@motoroffence.co.uk.

Update: Almost forgot to link to this older article by Anna Raccoon about the Law Society launching a judicial review into the matter.

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