Robert Verkaik: Don't blame Mr Loophole. He's performing a service

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The Independent Online

The pattern is now very familiar. A celebrity, usually a well-known sportsman, is charged with a motoring offence. The prospects of beating the rap look bleak, so in desperation the celebrity spends thousands of pounds hiring the lawyer known as Mr Loophole, a solicitor who has built a reputation on securing acquittals for the rich and famous.

Against the odds the celebrity gets off, usually because a dozy policeman or prosecutor has failed to follow the correct procedure. This in turn causes Middle England to go into a lather about the parlous state of the justice system in England and Wales.

The latest example involves the England cricket star Andrew Flintoff, who was captured on camera allegedly driving at 87mph in a 50mph zone while driving a friend's car last July. Mr Loophole – or Nick Freeman to use his (very appropriate) real name, was soon on the case, arguing that because Mr Flintoff's notice of prosecution had arrived late, the allegation should be discharged. Conceding that the Crown had not followed correct procedures, the prosecution at Liverpool magistrates' court told the England and Lancashire all-rounder that it would offer no evidence.

Mr Flintoff, a father of three who lives in Altrincham, Cheshire duly left the court with his licence and his reputation unblemished. He joins a long list of celebrities and sportsmen who have cause to thank Mr Freeman. His clients, some of whom have benefited from his novel and creative way of looking at the law, include the Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson; footballers Wayne Rooney, Jonathan Woodgate and David Beckham; the television presenter Jeremy Clarkson; another Top Gear presenter, Tiff Needell; and snooker star of the moment Ronnie O'Sullivan. Some of these celebrities are so grateful to Mr Freeman that they are proud to count him among their personal friends – an honour not often bestowed on a criminal solicitor.

The rest of us, mostly those who can't afford Mr Freeman's rumoured £10,000 a day legal services, view him rather less affectionately. After all, isn't his success simply an illustration of one law for the rich and one law for the less well-off motorist. It's easy to see how his success rates might rankle.

But Mr Freeman has no qualms about what he does. In a recent interview with The Independent he said: "I'm perfectly comfortable with what I do ... I understand other people's arguments against what I do and I hope they understand my arguments." So comfortable is he about what he does that Mr Loophole recently felt it necessary to trademark his name. It was another cause for consternation among those who find the very idea of profiting from a loophole an offence to our long established principles of justice.

It is too easy to blame Mr Newman for simply helping clients, albeit very wealthy ones, to benefit from an imperfect legal system. If police officers remembered to serve documents on time or checked that they had issued summons under the correct legislation Mr Loophole would be out of a job. "People are always making mistakes," he has said of his technique. "They are very sloppy. People make critical mistakes that seem to go unnoticed right through the system. If you're acquitted, it's the judge or the three magistrates who will hear both sides of an argument and decide one way or the other. If my client is found not guilty, am I supposed to stand up and say, 'I'm terribly sorry, sir, but actually please convict my client'?"

The Flintoff case was just another example of how the law is only as good as those people in charge of administering it. Speaking after the prosecution decided to drop proceedings, Mr Freeman said it was "fundamental'' to any speeding case that the notice of prosecution was sent and received within 14 days of the offence, but the document only arrived on 19 July. "It happens a lot, if people care to look at it,'' he said.

What is not always understood is the added value that Mr Freeman brings to the criminal justice system. Every time a celebrity uses a technicality to get off a speeding or drink-driving charge, the public embarrassment and the ensuing internal police inquiry into what went wrong should ensure that standards are maintained.

It is also worth remembering that Mr Freeman doesn't win all his cases. Last year he failed to prevent the model Caprice Bourret from being banned from driving for 12 months on charges of drinking and driving. And two years ago it was Mr Loophole himself who found himself on the wrong end of the law when he was arrested for suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Then again it will come as little surprise that Gwent Police ended up dropping the case.