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Why Retain a Solicitor for matters in the Magistrates Court

I am sometimes asked by clients unfamiliar with the criminal justice system to explain why it is worthwhile to retain a solicitor for matters before the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates Court deals with about 90 percent of all criminal matters, and often times a client charged with a relatively minor offence or traffic matter considers applying a cost benefit analysis before retaining a solicitor.
The following factors really need to be borne in mind:
1. The courts provide a significant discount to those persons who plead guilty early. This does not mean persons should not contest a charge for which they disagree with, but rather that they should be fully informed of the law and their prospects of defending a charge before they seek to do so. Fruitlessly defending a charge will mean that a number of court dates may occur over a number of months or years.
2. An unrepresented defendant will usually be unaware as to whether or not the facts of a charge would allow for the charge to be reduced/downgraded.
3. An unrepresented defendant may not appreciate that they have a defence to a charge and may plead guilty where the offence should rightly be discontinued/dismissed by the court.
4. From time to time a defendant is charged with an offence far less serious than the allegations would ordinarily warrant. By not finalising the matter promptly a person may see such a charge upgraded to something far more serious. An example may be the allegations for a drink driving offence may support a charge of Dangerous Operation of a Motor Vehicle whilst adversely affected by alcohol.

Without obtaining legal advice and representation a person may significantly worsen the result they may otherwise achieve. If the allegation involves a motor vehicle and the person is facing a disqualification the question that ought to be asked is how much is my license worth to me from a financial basis. If the reduction in disqualification by a number of month’s means that you will be able to continue with employment/not spend a significant amount of money on taxi fares or public transport then the decision to retain a solicitor may be answered on that issue alone.

Finally, the courts have a discretion as to whether or not they record a conviction upon a plea of guilty or finding of guilt. A court must take into account a range of factors before deciding whether to record or not record a conviction. If the appropriate information is not placed before the court a criminal conviction may follow where it otherwise would not. A criminal conviction (or even some traffic convictions) could mean that you are unable to travel overseas, your application for employment may be refused, you may be barred from running a company or you may be charged more for finance and insurance.

Most people would not do their own plumbing or electrical work as the risks of doing so could be significant. Attempting to represent yourself could mean that the misfortune in doing so becomes apparent only after the matter has ended.

Author, Terry Morgans, is an Associate at Fisher Dore Lawyers.


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