A day in the life of a local authority lawyer: My First Day in Court:
By Wendi Batteson
As a trainee solicitor with local government you can be authorised under section 223 of the Local Government Act 1972 to appear on behalf of the authority to prosecute or defend on behalf of the local authority, or to appear in proceedings before a magistrates court and be entitled to prosecute or defend or to appear in any such proceedings, and conduct any such proceedings.
This power for local authorities gives trainee Solicitors or trainee Chartered Legal Executives an edge over colleagues in private practice who have to wait to qualify before they can appear in court.
At that time, there had been issues with stray dogs in the town where I worked for the local authority. We had a local byelaw which made it an offence for a dog to be off a lead, without reasonable excuse.
I’d been given a case to try in the Magistrates court of a lady who owned a border collie called Shep.
Shep was often found wandering the town at will, and his owner had been warned previously she could be prosecuted if Shep were to be found out and about on his own, not on a lead.
It was a cast iron case. Shep had been picked up by the dog warden running along the promenade on his own. He was by this time well known, and his owner had been warned several times. So to court we went.
The actus reus was Shep being out on the town without a lead on his own. The mens rea was “without reasonable excuse”. There was none as far as we the local authority were concerned. His owner had been warned several times previously about the offence of dogs not being on leads, and Shep was not on a lead.
The Owner spun this tale to the magistrates of Shep (if you know anything about border collies, being a highly intelligent breed and easily bored) being staked in his garden and being able to dig up the stake and slip the leash, and dig under the fence to escape. He was Houdini re-incarnated it seemed. The owner said she had tried everything.
I have to say she told a very compelling story, and consequently was given a conditional discharge meaning that provided no further offences of any nature were prosecuted within 6 months she would not have a record of this particular offence.
Funnily enough, she must have found a way to lock up Shep as he was not caught again after this. The lesson – not to get up tight if the result is not quite as you envisaged it. You win some, you lose some! That’s life.