The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is investigating allegations that a company employed by a large number of police forces to assist with road traffic prosecutions has been carrying out reserved activities without authorisation.
The question of whether Road Safety Support Ltd (RSS) acted as a law firm by delivering advocacy and litigation services, was raised by Emma Patterson, principal solicitor at Patterson Law, a specialist road traffic defence law firm based in Devon.
The issue has received significant media coverage, with the Mail on Sunday speculating at the weekend that thousands of motorists could see their speeding convictions overturned if RSS were found to have been acting unlawfully.
The firm has detailed its concerns at length on its website, saying recent cases had led it to “think about the way RSS Ltd are able to take over prosecutions brought by the police in the name of the state from the Crown Prosecution Service…
“As part of our investigations we have ascertained as a result of freedom of information request sent out that in the region of 85% of police forces across England and Wales pay an annual subscription to RSS Ltd, which for the year 2017 totals over £400,000.”
The blog said: “We are concerned that from inception RSS Ltd may have been selling reserved legal services to the police forces of England and Wales for the last 10 years… RSS Ltd is not a law firm, nor is it regulated by the SRA.” However, RSS did employ a solicitor-advocate, the firm claimed.
It also raised the possibility of a conflict of interest, as RSS might have a financial interest in the successful prosecution of cases.
The website said: “We find it difficult to understand how the advocate could abide by his professional conduct core principles when he is prosecuting on behalf of the company that pays his wage and where the success or failure of the business seems to depend on helping to successfully convict those accused…
“A Crown prosecutor does not have a vested financial interest in the outcome. They act on behalf of the state and they get paid no matter what.”
RSS’s website says it is a “not-for-profit company that provides a unique range of specialist services to safer roads partnerships, the police and highway authorities in the UK and overseas, helping them to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads.
“We employ a team of leading specialists to build effective road safety enforcement strategies; provide casualty data analysis; assist in the effective operation of speed and red-light enforcement technology; enhance road safety marketing; and provide independent expert evidence and legal advice in road traffic prosecutions.”
It says its legal team is led “by an acknowledged leading expert in motoring law who assists prosecutors and police in ensuring prosecutions are successful. Assisting this role are expert witnesses and report writers”.
In a statement responding to the Mail on Sunday article, RSS said: “Everyone at [RSS] is fully committed to saving lives on the road and supporting the judicial processes. Nobody receives bonus payments or incentives to secure convictions. All our expert staff fully comply with the law and any regulatory requirements.
“We are not aware of any formal investigation into our colleagues.
“As increasingly so-called ‘legal loopholes’ have been shown to be non-existent, attacks on the judicial processes have been more common, with cameras being obstructed and road safety partnership staff being harassed.
“Fatalities on the road have in fact increased. [RSS] is more determined than ever to ensure that all road users get justice and that where a prosecution is necessary, it is robust and legally sound.”
An SRA spokesperson told Legal Futures: “We have received information on this matter and are looking into it. However, we cannot comment on any details of work while matters are ongoing.”