You’ve waited for your day in traffic court and it’s finally drawing near. The trouble is, something unforeseen has occurred and you can’t be there in person. What to do now? Send an agent of course.
The Offence Act provides for appearance by an agent, who is not a lawyer, instead of the driver who was issued the traffic ticket. This is at the discretion of the judicial justice presiding, who could choose to require the driver to appear instead of allowing the agent to conduct the defence. In general, I have seen the justice allow the agent to enter a plea. The agent’s advice was accepted for a guilty plea but the matter was usually adjourned if the plea was not guilty. I have also seen the justice flatly refuse to hear from an agent and set the matter over for a new date.
The most common difficulty with having an agent represent you seems to be with assuring the justice that this person does have the authority to act on your behalf. It would be prudent to send written instructions to court with the agent that can be shown to the justice. If you chose to sign the violation ticket, the justice can compare the signature and details in your authorization with their copy and more easily satisfy themselves of your intentions.
Using an agent is not the same as appearing for the trial yourself. The agent will be able to enter your plea of not guilty, cross examine any prosecution witnesses, examine any defence witnesses, summarize the defence position and if you are found guilty, speak to the penalty. What they cannot do is give your evidence to the court. You are the only one that can do that and must appear in person to do so.
This is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly if granted by the court. You and your agent should work together prior to the trial so that the agent has a complete picture of the incident, your exact wishes for the conduct of the trial and have a good idea of the applicable law. Ideally, they should also attend a traffic court session as a spectator so that they know what to expect. Proper preparation is always critical to doing anything well.
Unfortunately, there is no way to check ahead of time to see if a judicial justice will accept an agent acting in place of a defendant. The court registries that I contacted did say that it was much more common to see an agent attend with the defendant to provide advice but not participate otherwise in the trial.
Unless your agent is also a lawyer qualified to practice law in B.C. you cannot pay them “a fee, gain or reward, direct or indirect” for helping you. To do so would mean that they are conducting the practice of law and could face consequences from the Law Society of BC for the unauthorized practice of law.
Is it a wise decision to be represented by an agent instead of asking for an adjournment and conducting your own trial? You will have to decide that for yourself before the fact because after the verdict has been made it will be very difficult to change the outcome.
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Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)
DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.