Fare evasion charges and Law Society president election reform: your letters to the editor
Unfair charges for fare evasion
I write following an apparent change in policy by Transport for London (TFL) in relation to fare evasion cases, with the adoption of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach.
In the past, a system of penalty fares operated similar to a fixed penalty system. However, the courts service has now introduced the Single Justice Procedure, which allows a case to be dealt with in the absence of both the prosecution and the defence. A simple, online ‘fill in the boxes’ form is used by both.
The effect of this has been to close down the need for (and cost of) representation – in my view deliberately. But a side-effect is a much greater willingness to take a case to court on the part of TFL. That does not appear to be a difficult decision for the body to make. Unqualified staff fill in the online form and do not need to attend court. They ask for £225 in prosecution costs and compensation at the level of the unpaid fare. In short, it appears to me that TFL makes money from the prosecution costs and the court takes on the ‘debt collection’ along with the fine.
I suspect that there will not be much sympathy for those who would previously have paid a penalty fare and are now prosecuted. But the biggest worry among clients is the potential impact of a criminal conviction on their employment.
I am concerned that law firms are exploiting this fear by offering to make written submissions with a view to the offer of a penalty fare and no conviction. I have heard of a figure of £780 being quoted for this service.
This troubles me. First, it is quite apparent that TFL has a zero tolerance policy and such letters have limited effect where it is a strict liability offence. Second, the vast majority of fare evasion prosecutions are for failing to produce a ticket or pass, which does not allege dishonesty and is not a recordable offence. This does not carry a term of imprisonment as a maximum, only a fine at level 2 or 3. Nor is it on the list of offences in the schedule to the National Police Records (Recordable Offences) Regulations 2000, which defines what goes on a record.
The Disclosure and Barring Service report on the content of the record (which is held on the Police National Computer) and on records held by police for arrests of relevant offences, such as sexual offences, will be reported if relevant to the application for employment.
In short, ‘failing to produce a ticket’ is not going to give you a criminal record which will show on a DBS check. It is therefore difficult to conclude that it is in the client’s interest to charge them more for writing a letter than they are likely to be fined.
Solicitor, Bloomsbury Law, London W1
April signals the start of annual competition among the hundred or so Council members for the election of the next (but two) president of the Law Society.
As usual, we have the spectacle of the good and the true lining up with their manifestos proclaiming how they are going to protect the Society, promote the profession and make the world a better place. But the truth is none of the candidates will do any of the things they promise to do, as they will not have the power.
The recent governance reforms have made the president no more than a token ceremonial figure and turned the Council into a glorified talking shop. The real power lies with those selected for the main board and its chair.
This has left the Law Society’s president standing out in the cold, with nothing but a grand-sounding title.
How much better it would be to have a president of real standing, with proven leadership skills and an impressive public profile who can be given the time, power and opportunity to reinvent the Law Society as the leading national institution it deserves to be.
So, let us have the confidence to open up the election of the president to the whole profession.
Not every president has had a charisma bypass. There have been exceptions, such as Christina Blacklaws, our current president, who has shown that the rotary club system of selection we have now sometimes throws up a gem.
Lawyers are important. Lawyers are everywhere in our society. Lawyers deserve the best. Let us give the job of president to the best of our profession, rather than the best of the 100 Council members. Let us pay them properly, and give them a three-year term of office in which to modernise and refocus the organisation to become a potent force in the life of this country and an effective champion of our profession.
Law Society Council member (City of London)