Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Why Barbara Knox reminds us to get it right at the start

Barbara Knox getting it right at the start of her career on Coronation Street

In the news recently was the case of Barbara Knox, the Coronation Street actress known for playing Rita Tanner in the soap, who pleaded guilty to drink driving on the day of her trial.

The prosecution alleged that she had travelled to a police station where her daughter was being held for drink driving.  Police officers formed the opinion that she had been drinking and advised her not to drive away from the police station.  Mrs Knox ignored that advice and was arrested, blood tested and charged with drink driving.

At court, she entered a not guilty plea, which she maintained until the day of her trial.  At the start of the trial, Mrs Knox changed her plea to guilty.  This late change did not impress the judge who had been due to hear the trial and who passed sentence on Mrs Knox.  She told Mrs Knox that her original guilty not plea and subsequent late change of heart had wasted court time and money.  Now it’s entirely possible that Mrs Knox had what at first glance appeared to be a good defence but that for one reason or another it was not possible to gather the evidence to proceed to trial, but her misfortune makes for a timely reminder for the rest of us.

Defendants appearing in the magistrates’ court are put at a disadvantage by the system.  The prosecution will not serve their evidence until the last minute meaning that defendants have almost no time to prepare, whereas the prosecution may well have had weeks to get their case in order.

At the first hearing, the court will expect you to have a detailed defence planned out and will expect you to explain what your defence is and give the names and addresses of any witnesses you plan to call to support your defence.

You will also be expected to tell the court which prosecution witnesses you agree with and which you disagree with.  If you disagree with the evidence of any prosecution witness you’ll be expected to say why you disagree and how that disagreement is relevant to your defence.  The court will expect you to have a clear idea whether any of the prosecution evidence should be ruled inadmissible and to put the court on notice of any application to exclude evidence immediately.

Failure to give the court the information it requires may result in you being prevented from calling witnesses, following a particular defence or making a legal argument that could otherwise result in your acquittal.  This is why it is so important to get it right at the very start of your case.

Getting it wrong at the first hearing and putting forward a defence that has no merit, which leads you to pleading guilty at trial will result in a harsher sentence than if you pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

So, in conclusion it is important to get your defence straight at the very first hearing of your case.  If you don’t then you may not be able to put forward your defence, may lose the right to challenge prosecution evidence and, like Mrs Knox, you may receive a harsher sentence if you are convicted.

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