When you feel you haven’t done anything wrong, the expense of instructing a defence solicitor can seem unnecessary, and quite frankly, unfair. But the reality is that the potential consequences (financial and otherwise) of NOT using a solicitor are far, far more serious.
There are two points at which you are most likely to be considering instructing a solicitor: during an investigation, and during a trial in court.
How a defence solicitor can help during an investigation
In the early stages of any kind of an investigation, formal interviews will usually be conducted. While it may be the police conducting these interviews, it could also be a number of other agencies with powers of investigation, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVLA) or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
A defence solicitor can help you before, during and after an interview, by:
- Ensuring that any prosecuting agency adheres to all legal requirements, including ‘disclosure of evidence’.
- Advising you on how best to respond to the interview depending on your situation – whether you should answer the questions, withhold comment entirely, or prepare a written statement in lieu of a verbal response.
- Ensuring that you are treated well and fairly throughout, and that the case is resolved as quickly as possible following the interview.
In addition to conducting formal interviews, a prosecuting agency will need to gather and review a range of evidence in order to decide whether or not to bring charges against you. Responding to their requests can be extremely time-consuming, and it can be difficult to know what you are required to provide and when – a solicitor can help with this by dealing with all correspondence on your behalf.
Of course, it might turn out during the course of an investigation that you actually have done something wrong, or at least that the investigating agency believes that you have. If this is the case, charges may be brought against you. While it may seem that a court case in inevitable at this point, a solicitor can help you avoid going to trial by negotiating with the prosecution. It may be that proceeding to court is in your best interests – a solicitor can advise you on your options.
How a defence solicitor can help during a trial
Most solicitors can only represent their clients in the lower courts (including Magistrates’ courts, County Courts or tribunals) – should your case progress to the higher courts (Crown Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court), a barrister is usually required to represent you.
The exception to this is Solicitor Advocates, who are qualified to advocate for their clients in all levels of court (this is how we operate at Regan Peggs Solicitors, so we won’t hand you over to a stranger to represent you if your case reaches trial, whatever the level at which it is being heard – from start to finish you’ll deal directly with us).
You are also entitled to represent yourself in any court, but there are a few things to bear in mind before you decide to do this.
- Firstly, there is usually a great deal of paperwork involved in a trial. Not only can this be extremely time-consuming, but if it is completed incorrectly, it can lead to delays or even additional costs. A solicitor can ensure that any paperwork is properly filed, and that your case is brought to trial and resolved as efficiently as possible – reducing what is likely to be a stressful period of uncertainty for you.
- Secondly, the potential outcomes of a trial can vary significantly, depending on the case and the charges. In the case of a criminal trial, the court can issue a prison sentence, the length of which can range from days to years, or which may be suspended completely. Courts can also impose fines, revoke or suspend licenses (for driving, professional practice or any other regulated activity), dictate ‘conditions’ for work or travel, or dismiss the case altogether. A solicitor can advise you about which outcomes are most favourable and least harmful to your future prospects in both the short and the long term – something that you are very unlikely to be able to predict yourself.
- Finally, it is important to consider the impression that it may give if you decide to represent yourself. Courts tend not to look favourably on those who do so, and turning up without a legal representative may even suggest that they have withdrawn from your case. There are very few reasons that counsel (a barrister or solicitor) would withdraw from a case, particularly in the higher courts. The only scenarios in which this is likely to happen are if the client changes their instructions (and counsel is subsequently unable or unwilling to continue with the case), or if the client declines to take their advice – usually in situations where counsel has emphasised the hopelessness of the case and the unlikelihood of the court’s decision going in their favour.
There are two sides to every case that ends up in court. The prosecution will almost certainly have professional legal representation – it’s only fair that you do too. The law is there for a reason, and it’s your right to use it – legal assistance is not just for people who have done something wrong.
For advice about a specific case, including how to respond to an investigation, contact us on 0121 201 3765 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.