• Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Jonathon Seed refused request for CPS to pay £35k legal fees

Byoxfordnewspaper

Oct 6, 2022

A JUDGE refused former Conservative election candidate Jonathon Seed’s bid to make the taxpayer pay his £35,000 legal fees.

Lawyers for the 2021 Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner candidate asked Judge Michael Gledhill KC to order the Crown Prosecution Service to pay the ‘wasted costs’, claiming the quango had acted ‘improperly’.

Seed, 64, had been charged with making a false declaration in his nomination papers for the 2021 police and crime commissioner election.

He claimed it was an ‘honest mistake’ that he confirmed on official paperwork that he had no previous convictions for an ‘imprisonable offence’ – and had not realised a 1993 drink driving conviction made him ineligible to stand.

The fact he was disbarred from standing in the election was discovered only after the polls closed last May. The election, in which he polled the most votes, had to be re-run – at an anticipated cost to the taxpayer of £1.5m.

The case was heard at Oxford Crown Court

After reviewing the case earlier this summer, the CPS dropped its prosecution in July. During the investigation into Seed by Thames Valley Police's fraud department, Green Party candidate Graham ‘Brig’ Oubridge contacted officials saying he had not realised he needed to declare a three-day prison sentence three decades earlier for refusing to pay a road tax fine. The CPS’s decision to drop the case came after Seed’s lawyers indicated they would rely on Mr Oubridge’s email and the obvious confusion about the eligibility criteria.

'Dropped like a hot potato'

On Thursday, Richard Wormald KC, for Seed, sought to persuade the judge that the CPS had acted improperly – and should therefore pay his client’s extensive legal fees.

The evidence that led them to review and drop the case ‘like a hot potato’ was in their possession before Seed was even charged, he said.

Mr Wormald told Oxford Crown Court: “It took seven to eight months for the penny to drop. At all times in those seven to eight months the prosecution had a duty to review its own case and the strength of its evidence.

“No new evidence ever emerged. All that happened was the light came on because a reviewing lawyer and counsel close to the day of the trial looked at what they’d got and realised this was a case that should never have been brought.

“There is a cost to that and the cost is significant.”

Seed had sought a wasted costs order in the sum of £35,000, excluding VAT.

Independent candidate and Raised Druid King of Britain Arthur Pendragon (left) and Green Party's Brig Oubridge photographed at an election count in 2017 Picture: Tom Gregory, Salisbury Journal

Prosecution

Max Hardy, for the CPS, argued that there was no impropriety and that there was ‘good and proper evidence forming the basis of the charge’ last year.

Following receipt of the defence statement in April, which was served around two months late, the case was reviewed by a barrister and a new CPS solicitor and the decision taken that there was no realistic prospect of conviction, he said.

Mr Hardy told Judge Gledhill: “Different lawyers bring to bear different analyses [of] evidence put in front of them.

“The question for your honour is whether the original lawyer’s analysis of the case and all of the evidence before her was so wholly unreasonable, so wholly irrational, that it amounts to that high threshold being an improper act for Mr Seed to be charged in the first place.”

He added: “This is a prosecution that the Crown submit Mr Seed brought upon himself.”

Judgement

Setting out the law, Judge Gledhill said he would have to be satisfied that one side incurred costs as a result of the other side acting ‘improperly’, ‘unreasonably or negligently’ or by ‘omission’.

Refusing to make a wasted costs order, the judge said: “The application is put on the basis of improper act. Clearly, it is not as a result of an unnecessary act.

“It could be argued that it was an omission by or on behalf of the prosecution namely the original reviewing lawyer not to weigh up properly the material in the Oubridge case.

“But it is not put on the basis of omission. Mr Wormald has pinned his colours firmly to the second of the three possible routes to a wasted costs order; improper act. That implies that there was some degree of negligence or impropriety.

“I’m afraid I cannot come to the conclusion that there was any negligence on behalf of that first reviewing lawyer.

“Nor can I come to the conclusion that she did anything improperly. There was no improper act. She made a decision, I’m satisfied, on material she had before her that there was sufficient evidence on which this man should be charged.

“If she had not weighed up to a nicety the weight of the Oubridge material, perhaps she could be forgiven for that because the facts are, as Mr Hardy has pointed out, quite different or different in part to Mr Seed’s case. Therefore I cannot come to the conclusion that test has been met in respect of the decision to charge.”

He said the Crown had acted ‘quite expeditiously’ in making its decision to drop the case.

“It would have been difficult to conduct that review any earlier and therefore I come to the conclusion there was no improper act either in January 2022 or later on when the decision was made not to prosecute,” Judge Gledhill said.

Seed and his barrister appeared in court over the video link.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward