Fast Bikes’ Charlie Oakman found himself on the wrong side of the law. 0n 9th November 2013 Charlie had an “exuberant burst” of speed on the M5 and saw his mirrors fill up with blue light. Despite tucking into the slow lane at a steady 70 he was not fooling Devon and Cornwall’s finest. Knowing he was well over the speed limit, Charlie clambered into the police pursuit vehicle, immediately got out, removed his ruck sack and got back in again, where he saw the Vascar video showing his average timed speed of 102.7 mph.
The Police declined to bollock him and warned him he would be written up and to expect a summons through the post. Charlie wisely decided not to run any defence at the side of the road. Unless you know what you are doing and telling the truth, then saying ‘I was about to lose control of my bowels’ or ‘I have a kidney for a child’s transplant on board’ is unlikely to get you very far. The old ‘I was about to fill my pants’ doesn’t really work when the police officer says, “Really? I’m waiting…”.
The Police reciprocated by observing in their statements that Charlie’s riding was perfectly safe and unremarkable ‘but for his speed’. As a general observation, if the police start verbally laying into you, it means they’re not going to nick you. If they are civil but start doing paperwork pretty well instantly, then you are going to be written up. They rarely have a massive go and then nick you – generally.
After the agonising wait, the ticket turned up. I’d already told Charlie to do nothing until the summons arrived. There is a decent chance that the prosecution may miss the mandatory six month deadline, but after four months guess what landed on the doorstep…
Charlie called me again, and whilst I was happy to represent him without a fee (because he is an old mate of mine) I advised a different route. Our learned editor asked me to spread the tricks of the trade to Fast Bikes’ readers as a whole. And he also wanted to photoshop Charlie walking onto a gallows. It seems a strange working environment at Fast Bikes Towers…
So if you had a brother or a mate who was a half decent lawyer,here is what he would tell you to do – and this is what I told Charlie. It worked.
1. Do not down play the offence. This is one of the worst things you can do. You are supposed to be sorry. Charlie could have said, “Fer Chrissakes. It was the M5. Everyone does at least 90 down there. Haven’t coppers got burglars to catch?” but what Charlie actually said was, “I appreciate I broke the law, I did so knowingly. I did the speed and I understand I will be punished.”
Don’t be a biff
2. This is a general catch all, but saying, “I had no idea what speed I was doing,” is an aggravating factor. They know what speed Charlie was doing. If he didn’t then he was speeding without even making basic observations. Acting as though you are stupid rarely pays off and if you had spent a day in the Magistrates Courts, the intellectual capacity of the usual repeat customers at the magistrates means their definition of being too stupid to know what you are doing is way lower than you would think. So forget playing dumb.
Man up and take it on the chin
3. Whining away about the unfairness or how much hardship a ban will cause you gets you exactly nowhere. The magistrates have been known to say ‘Well, we are supposed to punish you so a bit of inconvenience is, well, a punishment’.
4. Ensure that the Court knows what impact your ban will have on the innocent people around you. For Charlie, his job involves a fair bit of bike based travel. His employers confirmed this in writing on headed notepaper. I suggested Fast Bikes might not be the best idea for a speeding on a bike, so the parent group’s headed paper was used. They confirmed if the ban could be contained in Charlie’s holiday entitlement, then he could have a very dull holiday but he would keep his job. They did not say he would lose his job if the ban went on for more than four weeks, but they also noted that if he received another ban, they would be a lot less relaxed about rescheduling his work and a sudden request for holiday leave.
Charlie’s missus is a primary school teacher and between Charlie and his missus they have to get their kids to different schools. Mrs O’s work was subtly mentioned, as it is a respectable profession. The school run fell entirely upon Mrs O. Neither Mrs O nor his employers made any excuses for Charlie and both pointed out that Charlie’s speeding had already impacted directly on them. It was noted that he would miss his summer holidays with his young family because his annual leave entitlement was largely drained by being banned and off work. Both of them expressed some significant irritation with Charlie but not the Police. They blamed Charlie for his own thoughtlessness as to the consequences of a ton up speed.
Keep it clean
5. Charlie didn’t make heavy weather of his clean licence. The magistrates knew his licence was clean and he was not a serial speeder. I specifically advised him against raising his clean licence. If I’d have been in Court I would have noted it because it is expected of a solicitor. The magistrates already know all the standard points that lawyers make. Charlie was unrepresented so I let the magistrates make for themselves the obvious points.
They know the speeding took place on a motorway, and not outside a school. As I let the magistrates make Charlie’s best, obvious points, they were persuading themselves that Charlie was a decent chap who’d just gone a little throttle happy. I would have made the basic point, had I been in Court, but Charlie didn’t need to. It can also backfire as a magistrate can say ‘So you think exceeding the speed limit by over 30mph on the motorway is acceptable?’ The answer may be ‘yes’ but you don’t want to be put in that position at the same time. As ever in situations like this, caution is essential.
6. Charlie went to Court himself and handed up his letter. Every word of it was true. There were no fictional disabled relatives, but if Charlie were the carer for a disabled child, a dependant relative who needed to be driven or had a disabled spouse, it would have been in his letter and been backed up with evidence. The worst thing you can do in this situation is make stuff up. If there is no reasonable evidence the Court will ignore it. If you really overcook it, you leave yourself open to a potential prison sentence and that does happen. So be honest, even if you are spinning the story a touch – but never too much.
7. Stating something and providing evidence are two different things. Any Court decides a case or a punishment on evidence. Everything Charlie said was backed up, only by letters, but it was backed up.
Get a shave
8. Turn up in Court,and turn up looking respectable. Charlie wore a suit and tie and was shaved. Three day stubble and joggers makes you look like the Magistrates’ regulars. Charlie was also a bag of nerves. That helped. The magistrates did not have to scold him from the bench. He had already freely acknowledged he had broken the law and he was to be punished. Being cool, calm and collected, if anything, plays against you.
One of the best results I got in the Magistrates was for another bike journo who nearly passed out when he came to receiving his sentence. He was in such a state that he could barely confirm his name. By the end of it even the police felt sorry for the clearly terrified and very young man. Charlie will forgive me for saying he couldn’t pull off the little lost boy look in Court…
Don’t play act
9. The magistrates, contrary to some reports, are not stupid. The Chair Magistrate (the one in the middle) will have seen it all before. Don’t bullshit and do not ever say anything which can be shown to be a lie. You also need to be very clever and blessed with a fantastic memory to remember a false story. Honesty combined with contrition is absolutely the best recipe for a successful outcome on a speeding charge when you have decided to plead guilty.
10. Charlie took a bit of legal advice as to how best he should present his case. My firms advice to Charlie was that whilst I would go to Court to represent him as a friend and a colleague I thought he would be better off going alone. He made every point I would have made and let the magistrates make some of his obvious points for him. Whilst I’d have told the magistrates I was appearing without fee, if I hadn’t mentioned it the Exeter Bench would have been wondering how Charlie could pay for a fancy London lawyer like yours truly…
Back it up
11. Nearly forgot. Getting help with the letter if you are less skilled in the art of rhetoric is not a bad plan. I made very few changes to Charlie’s first draft. A little editing, and after Charlie had taken on board every point I made, he got the balance of the letter spot on. If he hadn’t sent it to me for editing he would have still been fine. The key point was he backed up his plea with evidence.
Andrew Dalton – Fast Bikes Magazine June 2014