Can I Claim Back Legal Costs if Found 'Not Guilty'?

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Can I Claim Back Legal Costs if Found 'Not Guilty'?

Can I Claim Back Legal Costs if Found 'Not Guilty'?

Many people don't consider properly defending themselves when they are accused of a motoring offence because they think it will be too expensive. Even if you are found not guilty following motoring offence court proceedings, you may be left with solicitors fees and other costs. In some cases, you may be able to claim certain legal costs back, but which ones? And how does it work?

In the following guide, the expert motoring offences solicitors at JMW explore the requirements for claiming back legal costs, outline the circumstances in which this might be an option and explain what you will need to do.

Legal costs generally include solicitor fees and sometimes expert witness fees. These will vary depending on the type of your motoring offence you have been charged with and the circumstances surrounding the alleged offence.

Do 'Costs Follow the Event?'

In many legal proceedings, the principle that 'costs follow the event' often applies. This means that the losing party is usually responsible for paying the winner's legal costs. However, in criminal cases, including motoring offences, this is different. There are specific rules and exceptions that dictate whether you can claim back your legal costs if found 'not guilty':

  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is not a party in the same way individuals or companies are in civil disputes, because the CPS represents the public interest, not a private one. Therefore, even if you are found 'not guilty', the court does not automatically order the CPS to pay your legal costs.
  • The court has a range of options at its discretion when it comes to awarding costs. For example, you might be found 'not guilty' of one charge but guilty of another. In such cases, the court will weigh various factors to decide whether you should be granted a Defence Costs Order to recover some or all of your legal expenses (but please note - these are determined by the National Taxing Team).
  • Lastly, even if you are acquitted, the court may consider other factors like the reasonableness of the costs you have incurred and your conduct during the case. Did you cooperate fully with the investigation? Were there any actions or decisions you took that unnecessarily complicated the case or increased costs? The court might find you responsible for covering these expenses yourself.

If you are considering mounting a defence after being charged with a motoring offence, speak to a solicitor and they will be able to advise you on the types of costs you may incur and the possibility of claiming them back.

If you are acquitted of a motoring offence, you might be eligible to claim back your legal costs through what is known as a 'Defence Costs Order'. This order allows you to recover some of your legal costs. However, it is not automatic and there are conditions that must be met.

Firstly, you must be acquitted or have your case dismissed or discontinued to be eligible for the Order. If you are found guilty, even on a lesser charge, this option is generally not available.

Your behaviour and cooperation during the investigation and trial can also impact your ability to claim back costs. For example, if you have been found to have obstructed the investigation or provided false information, the court may be less inclined to award you a Defence Costs Order.

Timing can also be a factor. If you have incurred costs due to delays that were not your fault, such as postponements by the court or the prosecution, these costs may be more readily recoverable.

Partial Acquittal

If you are found 'not guilty' of some charges but guilty of others, the court has the discretion to award a partial Defence Costs Order. This would cover the costs associated only with defending the charges for which you were acquitted.

How to Apply for a Defence Costs Order

Applying for a Defence Costs Order is a formal process that you should consider taking at the end of the trial. You can do so by:

  1. Informing the court that you wish to apply for a Defence Costs Order.
  2. Providing documentation of your legal costs.
  3. Waiting for the court to consider the various factors involved, such as whether your costs were reasonable and your conduct during the proceedings.

Your solicitor will be able to help you navigate the process and communicate with the court on your behalf to give you the best chances of securing some return, but this would incur further costs for the application itself.

It is important to note that even if you are granted a Defence Costs Order, you may not get back all the costs you have incurred. Factors such as the complexity of the case, the court where the case was heard, and the reasonableness of the costs can all influence the amount you can claim back.

Common Misconceptions About Claiming Back Costs

There is a common myth that if you are found 'not guilty', you are automatically entitled to get all of your legal fees back. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The court has discretion in these matters, and full reimbursement is not guaranteed.

One of the most prevalent myths is the belief that being acquitted automatically entitles you to a full refund of your legal costs. While it is true that a 'not guilty' verdict improves your chances of claiming back some costs through a Defence Costs Order, it is not a guarantee. As we have discussed, various factors can influence the court's decision.

"The Prosecution Will Pay Your Costs"

Another common misconception is that if you are acquitted, the prosecution (usually the Crown Prosecution Service in criminal proceedings) will be responsible for your legal fees. This is not automatically the case. Criminal cases are considered a matter of public interest, and as such, the prosecution is not treated the same way as a losing party in a civil case.

"All Costs Are Recoverable"

There is a notion that all types of costs - from solicitor fees to expert witness charges - are recoverable if you are found ‘not guilty’. In reality, the court, and subsequently the National Taxing Team, will scrutinise all costs and may decide that only certain types are reasonable and therefore recoverable.

Navigating the legal system can be complex, and when it comes to claiming back legal costs, every little bit of knowledge and preparation helps. Here are some tips to maximise your chances of recovering your legal expenses if you are found ‘not guilty’ in a motoring law case:

Keep Detailed Records

One of the most helpful steps you can take is to keep meticulous records of all costs incurred during your case. This includes solicitor fees, and any other expenses like expert witness fees. Having a well-documented account will make it easier to present a compelling case for a Defence Costs Order.

Be Cooperative and Transparent

Your conduct during the investigation and trial can influence the court's decision on a Defence Costs Order. Being cooperative, transparent and honest can work in your favour. Any actions that complicate the case or appear to be obstructive could count against you.

Be Mindful of Timing

If there are delays in your case that are not your fault, make sure this is well-documented. Courts are more likely to consider costs that arose from unavoidable delays as reasonable and therefore recoverable.

Seek Expert Advice on Complex Matters

If your case involves complex legal or technical issues, the use of expert witnesses may be justified. However, always consult with your legal team on the necessity and potential recoverability of such costs.

Consult Early and Regularly

The sooner you consult with your legal team, the better prepared you will be. Early consultation allows for a more strategic approach to your case, which can not only improve your chances of a 'not guilty' verdict but also of claiming back some legal costs.

Talk to Us

Understanding whether you can claim back legal costs can be vital for your financial planning and peace of mind. While there is no guarantee of claiming back all your costs, being informed and taking the right steps can significantly improve your chances. JMW is here to assist you not just in winning your case, but also in claiming back your legal costs where possible.

If you are facing a motoring offence and are concerned about legal costs, do not hesitate to get in touch with JMW for a consultation. Simply call us today on 0345 872 6666, or fill out an online contact form and we will be in touch at a time suitable for you.

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