Members who are being “investigated” by Trading Standards are often invited in to have a formal interview under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).
It is important that you contact us at this early stage. The longer you leave it, the less influence we can have on how things will end up. For if you “go it alone” and receive a huge file of charges that you have to answer to in the Magistrates’ Court, the amount of assistance we can give is quite minimal. Not only will the timescale be very short – usually a week or two before having to go to court leaving us with very little time to consider the merits of the charges – the file will no longer be under control of Trading Standards but with the council’s legal department, who rarely wish to discuss the case in advance of the court case. Usually, a client will need to incur the significant expense of having a solicitor attend and either contest the charges or mitigate a guilty plea.
However, we find that Trading Standards Officers don’t always know their stuff as well as we do! For example, one of our clients was stranded in another country having suffered a bad accident. He was unable to attend a request to attend a PACE interview in person and so we asked Trading Standards to send the questions to us by e-mail so that our client could respond to them by the same method.
We were astounded to be told that this was not possible because the answers have to be given “under oath”. This is an example of utter incompetence. For whilst Trading Standards need to give their “you do not have to say anything… “ caution, it was complete nonsense to assert that the answers needed to be given under oath. We were also bemused to be told subsequently that the council would be continuing their investigation without any questions being asked – only for the client to then be asked to attend again!
So we wrote to the Chief Executive of the Council pointing out his colleagues’ ineptitude and inconsistencies. The result? PACE questions will now be sent to our client by e-mail.
What this now does is let Trading Standards know that we are watching them. Any toe that crosses the procedural line and we’ll be treading on it very hard indeed!