It has been an interesting few days for observers of legal news as it impinges albeit indirectly on the daily activities of magistrates. Nigel Evens, a high ranking Tory politician who has admitted to behaviour which should shame anyone who has a seat in the elected legislature of this country but who has been cleared of activities for which he was sent to trial, has railed against the imposition of legal costs of his defence which, he claims, will empty his piggy bank of his life savings. There have been arguments in the media that the CPS was acting unfairly in hiring a top class Q.C. to argue its case. This is untenable. If CPS had lost the case and it had been led by a less experienced barrister the cry might have been that inexperience had allowed a guilty man to go free. The CPS must stand by its own decision making process including the decision whether or not to charge on the evidence at hand and the prosecution code of conduct. But, and it`s a big but, the other two ramifications of this trial and verdict are more open to reasoned debate. There has been a suggestion often repeated subsequent to such acquittals that there should be anonymity for those accused of sex crimes as there often is for the complainants in such cases. When open justice in this country is subject to ever increasing salami slicing by the twin bacon cutting blades of sacrifices to “victim centred justice” and anti terrorist orientated secrecy another avenue to apply somewhat oppressive witness protection measures for an accused would be a step too far. Indeed I would posit that anonymity for an accuser has already been taken beyond what is reasonable. On the subject of the costs to be borne by an acquitted defendant there is IMHO a strong case for reimbursement of legal expenses incurred in that acquittal. If CPS employ a silk the diminishing principle of the level playfield should apply and if a fellow silk secures a not guilty for his/her client tax payers` funds should be available in recompense for the defendant.
Fare dodgers are commonplace in the docks of magistrates` courts the length and breadth of the country. Depending on the actual charge they are usually punished by a maximum fine of £500. The case of the City financier who agreed to an out of court repayment of £42,550 plus costs instead of a prosecution in court has raised eyebrows. It could be argued that his wealth (he paid the total sum within a few days) allowed him preferential treatment and the avoidance of a criminal record. On the other hand his payment into public coffers was of direct benefit to tax payers. After all the hundreds of thousands of fines handed out to those on welfare benefits are calculated according to their means even allowing for their being convicted which this chap has evaded and sometimes are out of kilter with the offence eg a fine of £110 for having no vehicle insurance when the costs of insurance can be three or more times more expensive. It seems odd that the case was not pursued to its logical conclusion. Assuming the evidence was overwhelming a guilty outcome would have allowed the railway company to ask a court for compensation for lost revenue. Perhaps that not being the case the prosecution considered settlement was the best outcome in the circumstances. We`ll probably never know.