The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Professional Conundrum

One day, something like ten years ago, we were dealing with a drink-drive case involving a local businesswoman. She was defended by a respected local solicitor, known for fierce loyalty to his clients but also for a meticulous approach to his professional duty. He announced that he had an unusual application to make.

"Quite exceptionally, sir, I am asking for an adjournment for six weeks." The bench looked sceptical. "A professional issue has arisen, and despite making considerable efforts I have not so far resolved it. I have consulted my partners and the Law Society but we are no further forward. Even more exceptionally, I may not, for professional reasons, tell you what the problem is. I have to ask you to accept my word as an officer of the court". Which is what we did, bailing his client and putting things off for the requested six weeks.

We saw no more of the case, and it was some time before the dust settled and I found out on the grapevine what had happened. The defendant had been noticed by police who saw her driving erratically at night, and they had tailed her. They followed her for quite a distance before they stopped her, breath tested and arrested her and took her to the police station, where she blew 55 as opposed to the limit of 35, and was charged. She took legal advice, and when the defence went through the paperwork it transpired that the police had followed her so far that they had crossed the border into the neighbouring county force area, and it was there that the arrest had taken place. This rendered the court proceedings invalid, the offence being summary-only.

The solicitor's problem was that he has a duty to the court as well as a duty to the client. If he had pointed out the error then the county force could have issued a summons, to the detriment of the client. If he had strung matters out for six months it would be too late to issue a new summons, to the detriment of justice. So what was he to do?

Sensibly, the CPS asked an independent lawyer to review the case, and dropped it. The businesswoman was very lucky indeed but rules are rules, and police must follow them.