POLICE DROPPED THE CHARGES. CAN I CLAIM MY LEGAL COSTS?
When a man challenged a speeding fine, the police dropped the charges against him. But he was unhappy that this had happened without explanation, after causing him much inconvenience and expense. He sought reimbursement of his legal costs and appealed to the Supreme Court of South Australia. This case is a good summary of the circumstances in which defendants in criminal and traffic cases are entitled to their costs.
Background – South Australian speeding fines
A man received an expiation notice that alleged that he had been speeding in Nairne, South Australia. Instead of paying the fine, he viewed the photo that the police claimed was evidence of his offence. After seeing the photograph, he decided to dispute the offence and elected to be prosecuted.
The police then charged him with speeding and the case went to the Mount Barker Magistrates Court (being the court closest to where the alleged offence occurred) for some pre-trial (interlocutory) hearings. The purpose of the hearings was to set out a timetable for the case to be prepared for trial. The man was self-represented.
There were five interlocutory hearings in total and the man attended on each occasion. The Court was located about 35 minutes’ drive away from the man’s home in Bellevue Heights.
On the day of the trial, the man again attended Mount Barker Court. However, instead of the trial commencing, the police prosecutor withdrew the charges. The man had no warning that this would happen and the prosecutor offered no reason for the withdrawal.
The Magistrate granted the police permission to withdraw the charges without any discussion with the man. The Magistrate didn’t explain to the man what was happening, didn’t give him the opportunity to oppose the withdrawal, and didn’t give him the opportunity to seek payment of his costs as a condition of his consent to the withdrawal.
The man applied for his costs but the Magistrate refused, saying that because the man had no legal representation, he wasn’t entitled to his costs.
The man appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of South Australia.
Decision – costs
One of the key questions for the Court to determine was whether a person who had no legal representation was entitled to costs. One of the general costs principles is that lawyers’ fees can be compensated because they are a significant expense. But in this case, the man had been put to the expense and inconvenience of travelling from his home to attend Court on six occasions (including the day of the trial).
The Court said that there was a case flow management scheme in place to ensure that the time and resources of the Magistrates Court were used as effectively as possible, and that cases should not be listed for trial unless it is clear that a trial is necessary. In this case, the prosecutor had admitted to the Magistrate that they believed they would have difficulty in securing a conviction because for some time they believed they would be able to show that the man was the driver of the car. But after making some enquiries, they changed their view. There was no other explanation for the withdrawal of the charges.
In cases that go to trial, the Rules of the Magistrates Court may require that there is a pre-trial conference and that all parties attend. One of the purposes of the conference is to work out whether the case can be settled before trial and if not, to ensure that the case efficiently proceeds to trial.
The Supreme Court found that the police should have withdrawn the charges at the pre-trial conference and its failure to do so constituted a “deplorable flouting of the case-flow management regime.” There was no excuse for having the case listed for trial and then withdrawing it at the last minute. The police failed to give notice to the Court or to the defendant of its intention to withdraw the charges.
The Court rules prevented the prosecution from laying further charges against the man because the 6-month time limit for doing so had expired. This meant that the situation was worsened because the prosecution had no intention of laying the charges again in a different form after they had been withdrawn.
The Supreme Court found that because the man had no legal representation, he wasn’t entitled to costs for the time he spent preparing the case for trial. But he was entitled to his travel expenses which included out-of-pocket expenses (for petrol) and for his time.
He was awarded $420 in costs.
What does it mean?
The importance of case flow management principles can’t be overstated. Without them, the Court system would almost grind to a halt, groaning under the burden of unnecessary prosecutions. This is why the Supreme Court took the issue so seriously. If the prosecution acted in a similar way with all of its cases, the Court system would be unable to cope.
The man stood up for his rights and as an important first step, he didn’t pay the fine when he first received the expiation notice. Because payment of the fine constitutes an admission of the offence, he would have extinguished his right to challenge the offence had he done so.
This decision confirms that a person can be entitled to their costs, even if they don’t have a lawyer. Out-of-pocket expenses and time are also important considerations. Not only was the man entitled to have this considered by the Magistrate, he was also entitled to be informed of his legal rights about costs and the options available to him.
If you are concerned about criminal or traffic charges against you and are considering engaging legal representation to defend yourself, contact us today for a free initial consultation. We have a team of outstanding traffic lawyers who can inform you of your rights, your chances of success and who can assist you to recover any costs (including legal costs) to which you may be entitled.
FREE FIRST INTERVIEW
NO WIN NO FEE*
LOCAL LAWYERS FOR LOCAL NEEDS
GET THE RIGHT LAWYER FIRST
Having such a short time frame I was very impressed with the outcome made by [my solicitor]. Excellent and timely manner
Very professional mannerism and overall great outcome was delivered by Websters Lawyers.
West Ryde NSW
Helpful, explained fully, patient, excellent service.
Patient and helpful in explaining the process.
Call Websters Lawyers for a most professional and friendly service. All understanding with [my solicitors] and the reception staff. Thank you so much.
Making my will was effortless on my part, with everything explained clearly. Well done to all.
Great service, professional, explains things clearly, definitely recommend Websters Lawyers.
Patient, professional, good communication about procedures and probable outcomes.
Thank you for all your work over the course of the case. You [both] were always very approachable and I appreciated your understanding and professionalism in all areas.
All in all my experience was great. Thank you for your time and expertise.
My matter was dealt with efficiently and was explained in an understandable language. A pleasant experience.
Practical and very helpful. Reasons and explanations given where needed
I stumbled across Websters in the Yellow Pages and I rang, explained my situation and immediately they took my case on. Greatly appreciate their services.
The service from Websters Lawyers was outstanding. [My solicitor] was caring, had patience and was very professional. Wonderful personality.
[My solicitor] made everything so simple to understand. [The receptionist] was wicked too, would recommend them anytime. Level of entire service was outstanding.
I had dealings with Websters over 20 years ago. They were my first choice when I recently needed legal advice. Both legal and office staff were professional, courteous and accessible at all times. Everything was explained up front in a clear and concise manner. I would not hesitate to recommend their services.
It has truly been a pleasure communicating with you throughout the process. I really appreciate your patient and speedy replies to my questions and requests. You were always able to provide an easily understood response and this helped me deal with the process. Your friendly and positive manner encouraged me to seek your advice.
Battery Hill QLD
[My lawyer's] service was prompt and efficient with all questions explained clearly with all our requests carried out within the laws. Overall service was very satisfactory.
[My lawyer] was excellent.
Excellent service. Professional. Clear advice and instructions. Prompt actions. Overall 10/10!
Overall, I was happy with my outcome and my lawyer, would definitely recommend [my lawyer].
[My solicitor] was excellent at helping us through preparing our wills which were particularly challenging as they involved assets in multiple countries. She was professional and knowledgeable and spent time tailoring the wills to our needs.
[My solicitor] was very helpful, respectful and polite. She made sure I understood the process and documentation of our wills.
Professional. Smooth Transaction.
I found the whole experience from Receptionist to Solicitor excellent. They completely put us at our ease.
This was a new experience for us and didn’t have a clue what to do. [Our solicitor] on our first visit put us at ease, explained what will happen, pointed out there was a strong case. [Our solicitor] was genuine in her approach, kept us well informed, explained actions several times with patience and understanding. Overall very happy with the service we received.
[My lawyer] was very reassuring in her approach to my case. I felt that every possibility in terms of evidence to provide and possible outcomes were explained to me, The result of the case was the best possible outcome I could have expected.
With no previous dealing with the criminal justice system, [our solicitor] gave us excellent advice and guided us through a nightmare to achieve a just and correct outcome. [Our lawyer] was both forthright and compassionate in her handling of our case.
[My lawyer] explained all the legal terms in language I could understand – she was very easy to talk to.
Cameron, Munno Para
I felt confident knowing my matter was in good hands. Very professional!
Shravan, Christie Downs
Initial phone call was fantastic and the role of an executor was fully explained.
Penny, Henley Beach
The service I received was efficient and promptly finalised. The solicitor clearly explained the details and I was happy with how easy it was.
Dale, Fairview Park
[My lawyer] was exactly the lawyer I needed in a serious matter. The outcome was as predicted which was a fantastic result. I received prompt professional and personal service at all times. Capable and supportive in a very stressful period.
Jason, Munno Para West
I had any of my concerns answered to my satisfaction and understanding.
Valda, Ingle Farm
[My lawyer] is an excellent professional lawyer who assisted in achieving a great positive outcome/result. I sincerely thank you and your great staff for your assistance and guidance throughout my claim. Would highly recommend [my lawyer], staff and Websters Lawyers. Kept fully informed and guided, professionally throughout the matter.
Our work was dealt with very efficiently and speedily. Our lawyer was very professional, at the same time as being approachable. Communication was great.
My experience with Websters Lawyers was far beyond what I expected. From the moment I spoke to [my lawyer] she made me feel very comfortable and eased my stress. In my case I had a court appearance the day before we were scheduled to fly to Spain, Considering my first appointment with her was only 2 weeks before the court hearing, she was able to obtain the police statement and thoroughly work on my case within that limited time frame. She was very knowledgeable, understanding and confident which greatly relieved so much pressure from me and my family. At court, she explained everything thoroughly and advised me of all the possible outcomes. Price, service and result, very highly recommended. Thank you Websters Lawyers.
Rafael, Davoren Park
I have high expectations and they were met. Websters service was swift, courteous, professional and met the agreed budget. I will recommend Websters to my family, friends and colleagues. Thank you.
I would recommend Websters Lawyers, especially for [my lawyer's] dedication and exemplary attitude and advice. She is the epitome of a good lawyer. The service was impeccable.
Pamela, West Lakes
[My lawyer] was very professional and I was made comfortable to understand.
I was very pleased with the end result and how well [my lawyer] conducted herself.
Jesse, Morphett Vale
[My lawyer] has been very prompt , reliable and provided a high level of communication.
My experience at Websters was very positive. The stress was taken from me and I could not be happier with the outcome. [My lawyer] at Websters was professional, personable, available and caring. Thank you for making the experience stress free.
Magda, Holden Hill
Found my lawyer upfront and reliable – I would highly recommend Websters Lawyers.
Lee, Evanston Park
Top bunch of solicitors and admin staff. Very friendly and to the point service.
Bradley, Hallett Cove
Websters Lawyers were very professional in their service, I would be happy to recommend them.
Carole, Tea Tree Gully
We would not hesitate in recommending Websters for any legal matter. They are professional and courteous at all times and call back when they say they will.
David and Dianne, Lockleys
I fully recommend Websters Lawyers. This was the 3rd time myself & my family have used Websters Lawyers. In these stressful times we have found them to answer and guide us through the process needed to accomplish the legal requirements in a timely and courteous manner.
Solid, to the point, no hustle. Highly recommend.
George, Windsor Gardens