NOT MANY CAN BEND THE RULES LIKE BECKHAM
$s tkousangs lose tkeir affess to legal aig 'ayig %EFNKAP Zalns azay Zitkout a sseeging fine ă it’s grossly unfair
The smug grin on the face of millionaire businessman David Beckham arriving in Paris the other day could turn out to be an own goal. The former footballing legend has just managed to avoid a conviction for speeding in London – even though he admitted driving his Bentley 19 miles over the limit in a 40mph zone.
Beckham said, “I am very relieved and very happy with my legal team.” Luckily, he was able to afford the services of Nick Freeman, the lawyer known as “Mr Loophole” (he’s trademarked the tag), who specialises in helping rich and famous clients exploit our legal system to minimise any driving convictions.
In this case, mr loop hole demonstrated that Beckham (having been photographed speeding on 23 january 2018) did not receive the notice of intention to prosecute within the statutory time period of 14 days – even though it was sent by irst class mail on February 2. An assistant at the ofice where the rented car was registered said “she was 100 per cent conident” the penalty notice did not arrive until February 7. We have to accept (as the judge did) that the letter did not arrive before and get mislaid on an untidy desk before it was stamped as received.
At this point, you might think, “Lucky b ****** ” and, “Good luck to Beckham for being able to afford Freeman” – after all, no one likes getting a speeding ticket or being photographed on a camera you’ve failed to register. But there’s another issue, which might not play so well with Beckham’s millions of fans: why should our widely respected legal system so blatantly favour the rich and famous?
Freeman says he has done nothing wrong except use his expensive skills to point out an anomaly in the law. He says the blame could rest with the postal service, who failed to deliver the letter on time. That might be true, but this was not a case of driving just ive miles over the limit – it was 19. Someone who drives like that is being totally arrogant.
Freeman has represented sporting igures such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Andrew Flintoff, and in 1999 he helped overturn a driving ban imposed on Beckham by claiming he was speeding to avoid a photographer. When asked on Radio 4’s Today programme if he was acting in the spirit of the law, Freeman replied that he was simply interpreting the current law, which stipulates that no one (rich or poor, by implication) can be prosecuted if more than 14 days have elapsed since a letter of intent has been issued. Fair enough.
British justice does not work so well if you aren’t famous or wealthy. On the other side of London, the victims and families of those affected by the contaminated blood scandal sit through harrowing evidence at the public inquiry. Earlier this year, the cabinet ofice said that their legal fees would not be meanstested and would be paid in full. That has turned out to be a hollow promise. The legal irm representing 800 of the victims and families says they have not been paid; instead, they have been told they will only receive about 16 per cent of the fees claimed.
Nearly 2,800 people have died after being given blood contaminated with HIV and hepatitis in the Seventies and Eighties, and thousands more have had their health destroyed. It has taken a long and painful battle by the survivors and their families to get this inquiry. I lost a friend, a talented architect named Nick, who was given some of the contaminated blood. Earlier this week, the government made an unequivocal apology for the scandal – but that’s too little, and insultingly late.
As for “justice for all”, since the huge cuts in legal aid imposed in 2013, ordinary people who ind themselves in debt – through rent arrears, for instance, usually because they’ve lost a job or split up with a partner – often have to conduct their own defence, stumbling through a mineield of jargon and incomprehensible paperwork.
Earlier this week, the Financial Times published a detailed survey of the impact of the cuts imposed on the justice system in 2013 (cuts of 40 per cent). Legal aid has been cut from £2.5bn to £1.55bn, and although there is a fund for those in greatest need (estimated to cover about 5,000 to 7,000 cases a year), the paperwork is so convoluted that only 954 people managed to access funds last year.
It stands to reason that if you are at the lowest income level, you may not possess the skills to navigate legal aid provision. No doubt the previous system was abused, but who can say that it’s working fairly for all now? Even Baroness Hale has said it might be a “false economy” as many people simply end up back in court, clogging up the legal system as they try to represent themselves.
Legal aid isn’t available for whole categories of offence, such as debt or housing or divorce, unless you are a victim of domestic abuse. And even if you are acquitted of all charges, it is extremely dificult to claim back your legal fees.
All of which David Beckham might like to ponder as he enjoys Paris in the autumn sunshine. I am not suggesting that legal aid be available for driving offences; I’m merely observing that if you are rich and famous in the UK, it’s easier to get justice than if you are an unemployed plumber, kitchen porter or waitress who can’t pay their rent or heating bills.