Part four – a day at the magistrates court

After nearly ten months, I was finally about to attend court to give evidence against the driver.

Up until now, it had been a case of chasing the road justice unit, the magistrates court and the CPS to find out what was going on. Any civil claim was effectively on hold, because as is well known, the standard of proof in a civil claim is much lower than in a criminal case. Ergo, if he was found guilty at magistrates court, then my civil claim should, in the words of a legal friend, be a “slam dunk”.

I got to the court nice and early and once I had been through the metal detector, I was ushered into a side room with the other witnesses. We were looked after by volunteers who kept us up to date with how things were proceeding, when we would be likely to give evidence (as this apparently doesn’t run as smoothly as you would expect). We were also given a copy of our witness statement, I gave it a cursory glance as I could still remember what happened reasonably well.

We were obviously not allowed to talk about the case, but were informed that we would be first in our allocated courtroom, so didn’t have long to wait. We were all offered a tour of the courtroom first to make sure we were comfortable with the environment. I declined. I had been told that the accused would be representing himself.

As the “victim”, I had the honour of being the first witness called into court. So walking into the courtroom was the first time that I had seen the driver and, if he is to be believed, the first time he saw me. Along with the driver, was the prosecution barrister, three magistrates and a Justices’ clerk. Who, as well as logging proceedings is there to confirm the law to the magistrates and also acted to advise the defendant.

After swearing my oath, I was first questioned by the prosecution barrister. One tip, if you ever have to give evidence in court, remember the date the incident happened. This question stumped me when asked as I had completely forgotten. It was a Wednesday in mid-January is all I could remember. Thankfully this didn’t count against me.

The prosecution and magistrates proceeded to ask all the standard questions, what was visibility like (starting to get dark, but street lights on) what were the road conditions like (dry), was I wearing a helmet (yes, although I don’t know if they would have found him not guilty were I not), did I have lights (yes), was I wearing high visibility clothing (yes). They even allowed me to submit some informal evidence as I had bought my reflective jacket with me. Informing them that in the eyes of an oncoming driver, I would be “lit up like a Christmas tree”, yes, those were my exact words.

Finally, they asked me about the car and driver. I explained that I did not see the driver when I was hit and didn’t see him when he stopped, just the number plate. At this point, I was able to submit informal exhibit B to proceedings, which was my phone, which I had to turn on so that they could see the Evernote note I had made including his full registration number and time stamped to prove I took it within a minute of being hit. Cue scrambling from the “defence barrister” who for some reason only thought that the prosecution had a partial registration. I won’t lie, I felt a bit smug then, as he had clearly been building his “case” on casting doubt on whether he hit me or not.

Then, the defence. His questioning seemed to centre on where on my body I was hit by the vehicle his vehicle. For some reason he seemed to focus on this quite intently and even asked me to draw a picture of where I thought the impact occurred (I am very poor at drawing). I couldn’t for the life of me work out where this “line of questioning” was going, but I answered everything he asked.

Finally, he asked me to confirm whether the car that had hit me and subsequently stopped could have stalled their engine (I am guessing his defence was, if it were his car, which he says it wasn’t) could have somehow been in the area without hitting me and whilst driving along stalled his engine. Rather than stop to make sure I had got up and then drove off which was quite clearly the case. I said what happened, that the lights didn’t flicker like you would expect a vehicle that had stalled would do (e.g. when you restart the engine, the lights usually flick off and on). He then confirmed he had no further questions (about ten minutes to late in my book).

With my stint in the witness box over, I took a seat at the back of the court to see how this unfolded. I was certain he had no way of winning, so spent most of the time staring at the back of his head thinking “just give up, so we can go home”.

The next witness was the van driver who was alongside me and braked before I was hit. He forgot the date of the incident (which made me feel like less of a dick) but then went on to confirm what happened. He only had a partial number-plate, but was able to confirm everything else. He was cross examined by the world’s worst defence lawyer who continued with the stalled theme (?). After giving his evidence, he gave me a sly wink on the way out which cheered me up.

The final witness was the lady who was in the car behind me (she remembered the date, so I assumed she had experience in appearing in court), again she confirmed all the facts and also that I was wearing an exceptionally reflective jacket. The cross examination went the same way again and she was off.

The last person to give evidence for the prosecution was the police officer who had taken statements from us both as well as all the other witnesses. Again, this was a pretty straightforward affair (I am guessing the magistrates court is like a second home to him). This time, the statement he took from the driver was gone through and this was the first time I had heard much about this.

It turns out that the statement and declarations from the driver were about his return journey (after he hit me) so where he declared he hadn’t hit me, technically it was true as the journey he gave his statement on was about ten minutes after the actual event. When cross examining, the driver also stated that the damage to his bumper was minimal to which the police officer couldn’t formally dispute. If he were to do so, then without the forensic report (not sent and no forensic officer available because of the failure to notify anyone until three weeks before) then the case could have collapsed.

There was then a break in proceedings and I mentioned to the police office and the barrister about the statement, to which the barrister was already aware. I then had a good chat with the police officer about the case and his views. The officer believed that the driver did not remember what he had done (I thought the driver was a liar, but I didn’t argue). The officer was also surprised about how long the case was taking, but like me, wanted to stay to the end to see how things went.

The last person to take the stand was the defendant. He was lead through his statement (which was technically about a different journey) and also peppered his answer about how he was going out to get tea for “his kids” and how his mother had been hit by a car when he was younger, so he couldn’t possibly have done this as he would have admitted it if he had. He also confirmed that he only passed his test three months before and because of this was unlikely to drive again. Based on my experience, this was a positive for other road users, but also based on my experience, he was a liar, so I half expect to see him out and about on the road.

Without sounding like an arsehole, at the time of the accident, I had a four month old daughter and a two year old so my sympathy for his plight was somewhat limited. If I had known that making a big deal out of these things would make a difference, I could have gone to town when I was giving evidence.

Finally, after what seemed like hours (which it was). The magistrates retired to deliberate. Cue hanging about for about half an hour to wait for their verdict.

We were called back in and although I cannot remember the full speech, the chair of the magistrates effectively said that they believed the evidence against him and that he had hit me and then driven away. They charged him with the following (which the police kindly confirmed in writing and which I forwarded to Leigh Day on receipt).

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