Motoring lawyer Jeanette Miller admits that her services are unlikely to be required by drivers who face nothing more than financial penalties.
I regularly stress the importance of engaging a lawyer to represent you if you ever face prosecution for a motoring offence.
But to be honest, there are some offences that probably do not warrant a solicitor's involvement.
The reason for this is that it is simply uneconomical to pay for legal advice to challenge a matter that involves a potential fine and no other penalty.
So when should you represent yourself or simply stump up the cash? That depends on what kind of offence you are charged with.
When to engage a lawyer
There are four categories of motoring offences worth considering:
- 1. Fine only
- 2. Endorseable offences (those attracting penalty points)
- 3. Offences carrying a mandatory disqualification
- 4. Imprisonable offences
Without doubt, you should always engage a lawyer if facing the possibility of a prison sentence, not least to ensure you receive a fair penalty if pleading guilty.
Where you are at risk of a driving disqualification or revocation, I would again suggest that engaging a lawyer would be a sensible move.
When to go it alone
If the offence is a non-endorseable, fixed-penalty-only offence, then my advice is to adopt a DIY stance.
There are numerous offences attracting either a £50 or £100 fine but no penalty points. For example:
Failing to comply with box junction markings
If you are caught in the middle of a yellow box, then unless you were moving into the box due to an emergency vehicle needing to pass, there isn't much of a defence and you may be better off just paying up.
Motorway offences (such as stopping a vehicle on the hard shoulder)
Stopping on the hard shoulder of a motorway is reserved for temporary breakdowns and not to simply pull over and have a picnic.
Sounding your horn
Your horn is there to warn other road users of your presence but only while your car is moving. The Highway Code clearly states that you should never sound your horn aggressively. You must not use your horn while stationary on the road or when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am, except when another vehicle poses a danger.
Failure to wear a seat belt while driving
Thankfully the habit of not wearing a seatbelt has become far less common than 30 years ago. I'm not sure if the introduction of a fine is what stamped this out or the many video images of crash test dummies flying through the windscreen when not wearing a seatbelt. Either way, you really do have to be a dummy if you don't buckle up these days.
Opening your car door so as to cause injury/danger
This is something that affects cyclists every year. If you, as a motorist, fail to check that blind spot when opening your car door, you could face a fine.
Driving a vehicle without a valid MOT
If you are found to have been driving without a valid MOT you could face a fixed penalty fine of £100, up from £60 previously. The only defence available to the MOT offence is where you can prove you were driving to a pre-booked garage appointment to have your MOT done. And if you don't have an up-to-date MOT it could invalidate your car insurance which means you could arguably be accused of the far more serious offence of driving without insurance. The fixed penalty fine for driving without insurance is £300 and six points on your licence. Or you could be taken to court for no insurance where the penalty is six to eight points on your licence, a maximum £5,000 fine, and you could be disqualified from driving.
Matters of principle
My team and I are always happy to provide free initial advice to motorists facing prosecution for all manner of motoring offences.
However, it is highly likely we will advise you to go it alone if the offence is punishable by way of a fine only.
That said, some clients want to challenge an allegation no matter what the cost and benefit.
So perhaps the best way of making my point is with a saying famous in the legal profession: "Principles are a lawyer's best friend."
Jeanette Miller is managing director at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.
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