Sebastian was a returning client who had sought our assistance in 2012. He knew some of the staff by name and he was happy to tell others that he was returning to Salvos Legal Humanitarian because of the wonderful treatment he had received in 2012. This time, however, it was different. Sebastian had been caught driving 23 kilometres over the speed limit in an 80km/h zone. This matter would have been relatively easy to deal with were it not for the fact that Sebastian was also charged with driving unlicensed.
As wonderful as Sebastian is, he has his own difficulties. Sebastian disclosed that he had been stopped for a traffic offence some weeks earlier and believed that he had three more days before electing to pay a fine or pursue the matter in court. The problem with Sebastian’s reasoning was that his date for election had already passed. He was three days too late at the time he was stopped. He had misread the notice he received from the State authority. His failure to pay attention to detail was the cause.
Sebastian was fully prepared to “cop it sweet” but simply could not afford to lose his licence. It was his fault that he misread the information on the notice. It was his fault that he did not seek clarification from his partner. He accepted the blame. The one thing he could not accept was keeping his son at home and away from school.
Sebastian’s son is severely autistic and attends a special school some distance away from home. His son just had to get to school. It was a familiar place for Sebastian’s son and it allowed Sebastian some reprieve during the day. However, if Sebastian were to lose his licence, he would have to wake his son at 5.30am and leave the home by 7.00am in order to get to school for 9.00am. This would be a disaster for his son. Indeed, no sooner would Sebastian drop his son to school in the morning than he would return home and have to leave 2 hours later in order to collect his son from school. Taking his son to school would mean having to take 3 trains and 2 buses. Additionally, because Sebastian’s son’s school was outside his catchment, his son was not eligible for the school bus service. For a severely autistic child, the emotional toll on Sebastian’s son would be too great and it would mean that Sebastian’s son would not be able to attend school for the period of Sebastian’s licence suspension. This was not good at all.
By the time Sebastian came to us, we noticed, as with lots of our other clients, he was days away from returning to court, he had no documents to provide to us for review, and he wanted Salvos Legal Humanitarian to do something right away for him.
Without knowing all the facts in relation to his traffic history, we considered whether Sebastian would be eligible for a work licence. However, it became clear that he was ineligible once his traffic history was provided to our office. The decision was then made to find a way to have him hold on to his licence for the sake of his son.
Armed with this information, the decision was made to make submissions to the police prosecutor through a Case Conference request. We essentially argued the need for the child to be able to attend school and the impact a failure to attend school would have on Sebastian’s son. This was rejected by the prosecution, with the prosecution focusing on Sebastian being caught speeding while suspended. With the police proceeding with the charge, there was a mandatory 6-month disqualification with a fine of up to $4,721. Sebastian worried about the regression his son would go through if his son could not attend school. There had to be a way!
We then decided to modify our Case Conferencing request and this time we were instructed to seek a substitution of one charge for another instead of a withdrawal of the charge as was originally sought in the first Case Conference request. As the days rolled by, we heard nothing from the police prosecutor and we decided to prepare Sebastian for a certain loss of licence.
And then there was a breakthrough. Two days before the next court date, we received a telephone call from the Prosecutor advising that he was prepared to take another look at our client’s matter. However, he had no record of our Case Conference request. Instead of wondering what had happened to the two requests that were sent to the prosecutor, we thanked him for his telephone call and quickly emailed the second Case Conference request to the email provided. We waited but there was no return email or another telephone call.
Late in the day before the matter was listed for court, our office received a telephone call with great news: the charge would be substituted resulting in no loss of licence. However, Sebastian would have to pay a fine.
We attended court with Sebastian and he was beaming from ear to ear. He wanted to personally thank the police, the magistrate and perhaps anyone else who would listen. He was so happy when the Magistrate issued a fine of $400. It would be a struggle to pay $100. However, as far as Sebastian was concerned, he could continue to take his son to school. That was all that mattered.
Sometimes the facts on a page do not tell the full story. The issues our clients face are no different from those of any other citizen. The difference is that our clients now have access to legal services at a time when then need it most.