Do I need a solicitor?

People often call me after they've been charged with drink driving to ask for legal advice... makes sense, I suppose.  The one question I get asked the most (except "how much is this going to cost me?") is "Do I need a solicitor?"  Now, I'm an honest sort of chap so my answer is always "yes"... I mean unless you happen to have the expertise to analyse the prosecution evidence, look for holes in it and devise an appropriate defence or put together a well crafted speech in mitigation that is.

A few months ago a lady contacted me looking for some advice and somebody to help her minimise her sentence after she was charged with being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle.  Convinced she had no defence all she wanted to do was plead guilty and take the punishment that was coming her way.

When I spoke to her and looked at the evidence I quickly realised that she had been in a private car park that did not fall within the legal definition of either a road or a public place.  I took a visit to the scene of her arrest, photographed the area, took statements and evidence from her, her partner, the owner of the land and the company controlling the car park.  We put together a defence bundle that included the statements, photographs, architects plans for the whole estate and various documents proving ownership and layout of the car park.

Sure as night follows day, the prosecution looked at the overwhelming case against them, concluded that they could not possibly prove the allegation and discontinued the prosecution.

This lady had been about to take the driving ban and a community order requiring her to complete unpaid work (given her high reading that was the inevitable outcome).  Instead, she took legal advice from somebody who understands this complex area of law and is now still free to drive on her clean licence.

One of the reasons I gave my up legal aid practice was that with funding so low it had become impossible to properly prepare cases for trial - many firms I knew were operating with very high numbers of unqualified "lawyers" preparing cases with little or no supervision from experienced solicitors.  In order to maximise profits, many solicitors were taking up trial advocacy despite having little or no desire to do that work. 

The case I described above involved three meetings with the client, a visit to the scene of the alleged crime, hours considering the evidence of both the prosecution and defence and more time spent preparing submissions to the prosecution asking them to abandon their case.  Currently, the standard fee for this case would be £279.45, which includes all court appearances, preparation, travel, waiting and the recent 8.75% reduction imposed by central government.  I want to be very clear about this: undertaking this level of work for that fee would make this a loss making case for any solicitor.  It is simply not possible to conduct the work required for that fee!  So, would any sensible businessman or woman repeatedly carry out work that loses them money?  The answer has to be no they would not because to do so will put them out of business.  So, could you expect your case to be properly prepared under legal aid?  I'll leave that to you to decide.

That £279.45 fee is due to be cut again to £254 soon... can a firm make a profit on that case?  Yes, they simply adopt the pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap method of business, a bit like CostCo does.  You simply take the case in, stick it on the pile doing the absolute minimum work on it - hope the client obtains the necessary evidence for you, send it off to trial and hope for the best.  Even on that method I suspect profits would be slim.

I think my point is two-fold.  First, legal aid cuts affect everyone because they drive down the quality of justice that you can expect to receive in this country if you find yourself accused of a crime you did not commit.  Second, if you're in trouble for a motoring offence then contact me!


  1. So how much did you charge? :)

  2. Had she been driving on a public road before entering the car park? Was she intending to drive away from the car park on to a public road?
    Given the high reading that you refer to she clearly represented a serious risk to other innocent road users. Shame on you and your ilk for helping people like this to get off scot free and boasting about it.

    1. No she hadn't driven anywhere. Left flat following argument with partner and sat in the car in the car park.

      Had she driven she would have been charged with driving with excess alcohol not being drunk in charge.

      You may not like the result but your complaint, if you think that she should be prosecuted for being in her car while over the limit but not actually driving it, is with the government for not making that a crime!

      At the end of the day, she was charged with something that is not a crime! Would you prefer that prosecutors were able to seek convictions even where it was obvious that the person had not broken the law?

  3. He's a defence solicitor - it's his job.

  4. The law is usually very precise. Either it was broken or not. If it wasn't then either the law needs tightening up or she was simply not guilty and should be acquitted.

    Maybe we should have graded guilt? Perhaps she was slightly guilty of the offence?

    I can see this working well. Drivers at 28mph in a 30mph zone who are still accelerating could simply be convicted because they were probably going to commit the offence.


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