Pam Douglas is a solicitor with local firm Wainwright and Cummins. Each month, her column takes a common legal issue and explains it for readers
I worry that they will struggle to find fulfilling work and secure homes. Or that they’ll be sucked into the vortex of social media that encourages them to measure their self-worth by what they own, how they look and how much money they make, which can exacerbate the pressure they feel and lead to some very poor decision-making.
Public transport fare evasion is a very common example. Frequently, it’s the result of a foolish, snap decision to use somebody else’s pass in an “emergency” or jump onto a train without a valid ticket rather than wait 20 minutes for the next one.
But such a simple error of judgement can result in a criminal record that could blight anyone’s future prospects. For young people with ambitions of entering professions like law, accountancy, banking, teaching and medicine, there can be life-changing consequences.
Fare evasion is categorised as an offence of dishonesty.
In my experience, most employers would look sympathetically at a conviction for one-off fare evasion, but the very idea of having to undergo a DBS (criminal record) check or make a declaration might be enough to put some worthy candidates off, so that they do not even bother to apply.
A criminal conviction can also cause problems with obtaining travel visas to some countries.
So how can all this be avoided? Obviously, the first thing is to plan ahead and allow plenty of time to get to your destination.
Public transport operators now expect you to buy tickets online, where necessary, so there is little excuse for boarding a train without one.
Also ensure that you keep your Oyster card or other travel pass secure and topped up and touch in and out, as required.
If you are a student or apprentice on a tight budget, check if you are eligible for free or discounted fares.
Finally, take extra money with you, in case of unforeseen circumstances that might force you to take a different, more expensive route.
If it all goes wrong here are some information you might find useful:
1If you are charged with evading a TfL fare, it is a “strict liability” offence. That means that it makes no difference if you say you made a mistake and that you intended to pay. If you plead guilty or are found guilty it will result in a criminal record.
2TfL charges offenders under railway bye-laws made pursuant to the Transport Act 2000. Convictions under bye-laws are not recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) and so will not normally show up on a standard DBS disclosure. However, they may still show on an enhanced disclosure. Don’t take a chance.
3If you were traveling on a non-TfL rail service, you are likely to be prosecuted under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889, as amended by the Transport Act of 1962 and the British Railways Act 1970. To successfully prosecute you, the rail company will need to prove that you intended to avoid paying the fare. So, if you have a ticket for at least part of your journey or offered to pay the fare when you were stopped, it would help your case. But, some rail companies also prosecute under railway bye-laws, so it’s important to read the summons carefully.
4A conviction, warning or caution under the Regulation of Railways Act is a recordable criminal offence and will therefore show up on any DBS disclosure, which many employers and professional bodies insist on. It will remain on your record for at least six years if you’re over 18 and at least two years if you are not, after which it is considered “spent”.
5In either case, if you plead guilty, the matter can be dealt with by filling in the summons form and paying the fine. If you plead “not guilty” you’ll have to go to court. You won’t be eligible for legal aid, but you can take someone with you for support or ask a lawyer to speak on your behalf.
6You are legally obliged to declare any criminal convictions if explicitly requested to do so on a job application form. If you do not, you could lose your job and/or face prosecution if you are later found out. The good news In many cases, defendants have managed to successfully negotiate an out of court settlement that allows them to pay a fine and avoid a criminal record. It is therefore vital to act quickly and not to ignore legal proceedings and hope they will go away. They won’t.
If you’re being prosecuted for fare evasion and don’t feel able to handle it yourself, consider instructing an experienced criminal lawyer.