Putting your foot down

Robert Verkaik says you don't have to be rich to avoid a speeding penalty

It's a fair cop. You're stuck in traffic and late for work. As soon as the road clears, you put your foot down and the next thing you know you're being pulled over by the boys in blue.

It may be three more points on the licence and a possible ban, but everyone knows it's hard to beat a speeding rap. So why is it that David Beckham, Colin Montgomerie and Dwight Yorke have paid thousands of pounds to contest their road traffic offences?

The answer is that money can sometimes buy you justice.

Nick Freeman, who has represented the three sportsmen, won about 200 speeding and drink-driving cases last year. "Choosing the right lawyer can make a big difference. You should select someone who not only knows the law but is a good advocate and can establish a rapport with the bench."

In 1999, Beckham was convicted of speeding and banned for eight months but Mr Freeman managed to overturn the conviction by arguing that the England captain was under duress because he was being chased by the paparazzi.

Beckham's former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, also instructed Mr Freeman when he was accused of illegally using the hard shoulder to escape a motorway traffic jam.Freeman claimed that an upset stomach had made him desperate to find a lavatory. The court ruled in Sir Alex's favour.

Cases such as these give the unsettling impression that there is one law for the rich and another for everyone else. But, of the 200 privately represented cases handled by Freeman last year, about 10 ended in guilty verdicts and half of those he won on appeal. "It's true that it may cost, but it also depends on the law and the circumstances of the case," says the lawyer, who charges a nominal fee to look at the merits of a defence before he agrees to accept instructions. "It's also true that you get what you pay for, and what you get is legal expertise."

How much Mr Freeman charges for this advice he won't say, but his free advice to motorists stopped by the police is: "Agree to produce your documents in seven days but don't sign anything. It's up to the prosecution to prove that you are the driver."

This is less of an issue when it comes to defending celebrities, but it can play a part. Mr Freeman managed to get Dwight Yorke off a dangerous-driving charge by reducing it to one of careless driving. Part of his argument was that the video that had recorded his speeding car had been left on because the officers knew who he was. "It was obvious it was him and there was no reason why they didn't pull him over," he said.

Iain Johnstone, head of road traffic at Tuckers solicitors, says you don't have to be rich to beat the rap. "We have represented a number of people on legal aid who have been acquitted on what many might consider a legal technicality," he says. In one recent case, a Manchester man who drank seven pints of lager before driving into the car in front managed to escape punishment after vomiting on the alcohol-reading equipment in the police station.

All this goes to prove is that ticking the guilty box and sending your cheque to the nearest court is not the only response to a road-traffic summons.