Back to school…but is it time for a change?
Earlier this month Flintshire Magistrates’ Court ordered David Pickup to pay £10,384 in prosecution costs after he was found guilty of speeding. With summary trials usually attracting prosecution costs of £500 to £1,000, this was an extraordinarily high sum to be awarded.
So what happened? Mr Pickup challenged the Crown’s case that he had been speeding at 101mph along the A55 en route to Abersoch, Wales. According to media reports, he instructed an expert who assessed the accuracy of the speed camera and its calibration. The Crown, in (a relatively elaborate) response hired an airfield and instructed their own expert to carry out tests on a car of the same model as the Defendant’s. This was then presented to the Court as part of the Crown’s case.
The Court clearly found the Crown’s evidence compelling and duly found the prosecution case proved. Mr Pickup’s licence was endorsed with 6 penalty points and he was fined £675, which would have reflected between 75-125% of his relevant weekly income.
The court also then awarded costs – an ancillary order that does not form part of the sentence. The ordering of such costs is customary when a defendant is convicted (either by pleading guilty or after trial) and permissible pursuant to s.18 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. The application is designed to cover the expenses the CPS has reasonably incurred in carrying out the prosecution: such as work undertaken when preparing the case, counsel fees, disbursements and witness expenses. The order should only be for the amount that the court considers just and reasonable, which – according to the principles set out in R. v Northallerton Magistrates' Court ex p Dove  1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 136 (and reiterated in various forms since) requires consideration of the following:
Considering summary trial costs are normally below the £1,000 bar, it is quite remarkable that in this case over £10,000 was ordered to be paid. This presumably, however, reflected the elaborate measures the Crown deployed in proving their case. With a relevant weekly income of £675 Mr Pickup will take (on the face of it) a while to satisfy the order.
So what is the remedy against such a significant costs order? Whilst no appeal lies to the Crown Court, it can be challenged by applying to the High Court to either state a case pursuant to s.111 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 or judicially review the decision pursuant to s.31 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. Whilst the most appropriate path to take will be case-dependent, both routes provide the power to set aside the decision of the court below.
Whether or not Mr Pickup has any grounds to challenge the order the case provides a salutary reminder that a defendant cannot control how the Crown chooses to prove its case and the expense it incurs in doing so. Nonetheless, whilst cost implications will always be a consideration for any Defendant, it should be borne in mind that this case is and will no doubt remain exceptional. Whilst something to bear in mind, defendants should not see this as a deterrent to properly challenging a prosecution case. No defendant should “be punished for excising a constitutional right to defend himself” [ex p Dove], the rule of law depends on it.
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