fare evasion, and that they intend to prosecute and will seek the maximum penalties, which they list as including a criminal record, a fine up to £1000, or a prison sentence, plus compensation and costs. I am now fearful for his whole future career.
What should we do? Juliet, one of the joys for me in writing this column is that I get to research a host of legal problems which do not normally come my way, certainly at this stage of my career. I am rather more familiar, I confess, with defending alleged murderers than alleged fare dodgers. However, I think you can assume there is a good deal of hype in this standard and heavy-handed letter from the railway company, which was carefully designed to strike just such fear into the hearts of its recipients. Your son’s solicitor should write a full letter back, setting out the facts of his defence, and inviting them not to prosecute. It should go on to warn that if they do prosecute, he will seek costs against them if and when he is acquitted. To resolve the matter amicably and cheaply, it might be worth offering to pay the £20 penalty at this stage, but stating this is without any admission of liability and purely to be rid of the matter.
I find that he does undoubtedly have a good defence in law, if the facts are as you have said. Under something called Railway Byelaw 17, made under Section 219 of the Transport Act 2000, it is a defence to travelling without a valid ticket if “there were no facilities in working order for the issue or validation of any ticket at the time when, and the station where, he began his journey… or an authorised person gave him permission to travel without a valid ticket”. Happily, your son appears to qualify under both heads , Juliet. The above is not formal legal advice and is given without liability. Jonathan Goldberg QC is a leading London barrister. Visit www.goldbergqc.com