Archive for the ‘ Criminal Law ’ Category


YOU KNOW YOU ARE GETTING OLDER…..

Written by admin
September 23rd, 2019

They used to say you know you’re getting older when the police officers look younger.  Then they used to say you know you’re getting older when the magistrates start looking younger.  For those of us practising in Nottingham it’s going to be a question of you know you’re getting older when the police stations start looking younger.

Back in 1995 a brand new £28m custody facility opened on the banks of the Trent Canal in Nottingham.  It was linked to the new, all-singing, all-dancing Magistrates’ Court.  The Magistrates’ Court itself was something of which the city was so proud they decided to licence its foyer for wedding ceremonies.  Concerts took place on the paved area outside the police station and it was deemed to be “the police station of the future”.

The custody sergeants were housed on a raised platform, which resembled nothing more than the deck of the Starship Enterprise.  There were more computers in the custody suite than there had been on Apollo 11 and the entire facility was watched over by a “new-fangled” CCTV system.

24 years on and it has all changed.  The talk is the closure and the building of a new “all-singing-all-dancing” not to mention “new-fangled” police station on a wasteland in a part of the city which has been calculated to be closest to most of the incidents to which officers are called.  The fact that the new police station will not link to any court buildings and will necessitate hundreds of thousands of pounds per year being spent on transporting prisoners, is a mere incidental.

For those of us who saw the police move from The Guildhall cells and the old Central Police Station to the brand new Bridewell, we can only reflect on the passing of time and the arrival of yet another generation of both police stations and criminal solicitors in Nottingham.

SUCKED OFF BY CPS

Written by admin
September 8th, 2019

At a time when it is increasingly hard to persuade newly qualified solicitors to work in the criminal courts and offer their services as duty solicitors on a 24 hour rota basis.  At a time when experienced expert criminal solicitors are refusing to work on the 24 hour duty solicitor rota because they have done it for the last 15, 20, 25 or 30 years and cannot face it anymore. A new wound is opened up in the side of the Defence community.

Over the last three years there has been a steady flow of Defence solicitors to the Crown Prosecution Service.  The CPS offer a working life devoid of out of hours commitments.  There is no need to work in the decrepit and hostile environment of the police stations.  You will not meet with mentally unwell, drug addicted, or angry and antagonistic clients on a day to day basis.  Finally, you will benefit from all of the civil service benefits negotiated over a lengthy period of time by a skilled and experienced set of union negotiators.

21 years on from the last increase in legal aid rates, wages and conditions at the CPS seem increasingly attractive to the employees and Partners of criminal firms.

If Boris Johnson’s increase in policemen on the ground is to be accompanied by an increase in prosecutors to deal with the new prosecutions and arrests that must surely follow, we can expect more and more people to be sucked away from real or potential jobs within the Defence community.  Let’s face it, there are few enough people who want to work in crime overall.  If the Crown are to recruit more from this limited pool, the effect on Defence firms and duty solicitor rotas is likely to be catastrophic.

SLAUGHTER OF THOSE PROTECTING THE INNOCENT

Written by admin
September 3rd, 2019

Figures published by CLSA and The Law Society indicate a 29% drop in the number of duty solicitors since 2016.  This has caused us to review our own position and the position of duty solicitors in the areas that we serve.

As far as duty solicitors in Nottingham are concerned, there was a time when 104 names appeared on the duty solicitor rota.  In October there will be no more than 71.  Plainly, this fall is higher than the national average.

As far as duty solicitors in Derby are concerned, at the high tide there were 74 names on the rota, but as of October 2019 it will be down to 51.   A dramatic fall for a rota that has to provide duty solicitors for Derby, Ilkeston, Ripley, Alfreton and beyond.

In Sheffield, it is harder to compare numbers of duty solicitors as the closure of the Rotherham court has confused matters to some extent.  The simple reality however is that for a city of well over half a million people there are only 46 duty solicitors on the rota.  With three duty solicitors required to attend court Monday to Friday, this is a real problem area.

In Barnsley, the number of duty solicitors has fallen from 25 to 16.  Doncaster duty solicitors are down from 38 to 23.  In Grimsby there are now 19 duty solicitors to cover an area that used to have both a Scunthorpe and a Grimsby rota handling the work.

The Lincoln duty solicitor rota at current shows 19 names, but this substantial university town is likely to be by no more than 17.

There can be no doubt that the failure to increase rates for remuneration and the growing distance involved in travelling to service “local” clients are factors that are contributed to the disappearance of enthusiastic young solicitors and the early retirement of those who have been doing it for many years.  If ever there was a time for the government to address the factors that have seen this service cut to the bone, it must surely be now.

EAST IS EAST

Written by admin
August 22nd, 2019

As courts close and custody suites are mothballed, so firms of solicitors have to commit to one existing custody centre or another.

This has never been more starkly demonstrated than in the case of the lovely market town of Buxton.

For many years Buxton had a Magistrates’ Court which serviced the whole of the High Peak. As other courts closed in Matlock, Bakewell, Glossop and beyond, so the Buxton workload had grown.

The latest round of cuts saw the Magistrates’ Court close and its work be transferred either to Chesterfield or to Stockport.

In recent times, the custody suite has gone the same way, save for volunteers attending to be interviewed or arrests who will be dealt with in less than six hours.

Inevitably, this has forced local firms to make a decision about their futures. Firms have to look either east to Chesterfield or west to Stockport, committing particular individuals to a particular duty solicitor scheme which services a specific police station and a specific court.

Not surprisingly, a number have decided to look after clients who are going to be appearing before the magistrates of Stockport and the Crown Court in Manchester.

We are pleased to say that at The Johnson Partnership we are going to be committing ourselves wholeheartedly to service those North Derbyshire clients who will be appearing before the magistrates of Chesterfield and the Crown Court in Derby.

We believe it is important to be able to service the needs of clients at all levels and at all times. By having specialist police station advisors, Magistrates’ Court advocates and Crown Court litigators and advocates available in numbers, we believe we can provide a super service to our North Derbyshire clients, rather than spreading ourselves too thinly across the courts of North Derbyshire and South Manchester.

It goes without saying we will be happy to look after individual clients on a one-off basis, even arranging for transport, where funds are limited and clients will struggle to make it on their own. For the most part, however, our dedication is to our day to day Chesterfield clientele.

DEATH BY ONE AND A HALF THOUSAND CUTS

Written by admin
August 17th, 2019

The latest stealthy slice to be taken out of the criminal justice system comes in the form of a reduction of Crown Court hearing days.

We all know that to run a Crown Court is expensive.  We all know that to close a Crown Court will save money.  Unfortunately, closing a Crown Court means that cases are not heard, which has very little cost in financial terms but often huge costs in terms of the effect on defendants, complainants and witnesses, their emotions and their general wellbeing. It also means of course that neither Counsel nor solicitors are in a position to submit a bill, because a hearing has been postponed and the case has not been finished.  In some courts this means that the case will have to be put off for another eight or nine months, awaiting a trial slot. This inevitably means that the expense of prosecuting the case and defending it is moved skilfully into another tax year.

How many Crown Court hearing days do you think have been cut from the next Crown Court year?  Perhaps you think 1,000, or maybe 2,000, maybe as many as 5,000 – but surely not as that would obviously be unjust.  Perhaps you think 7,500 or even 10,000, but yet again, surely both of those figures are utterly unbelievable.  If you were to think 15,000, in short, you would be right.  Yes, 15,000 Crown Court hearing days have been cut from the next judicial year.

That’s 15,000 days when cases could be concluded, when witnesses could be put out of their misery, when complainants could get closure, when defendants could move on with their lives, be it in custody or as free people.  That’s 15,000 days when rehabilitation might have started or punishment might have been meted out.  Thanks to the Ministry of Justice and arguably the Treasury, all of these things have to be put on hold, whilst money is lavished on health, police, the armed forces, and who knows what else.

THE RISE AND RISE OF THE DEFERRED SENTENCE

Written by admin
May 27th, 2019

Some years ago both Magistrates’ and Crown Court judges were actively dissuaded from deferring sentence. A sentence that was deferred was thought to be a sentence that was taking a price as much of the court’s time as was really necessary. There was a sense that deferring was an indication of weakness or an inability to make a decision.

Happily, in recent times the deferred sentence has seen a considerable resurgence. A deferred sentence gives the courts an opportunity to see what a particular client is made of. By setting goals that the defendant can work towards over a three, four, five, or six month period, a court is able to get the true measure of an individual’s determination or present trajectory.

Sometimes the court will require that a client simply stays out of trouble, on other occasions they will look for appointments to be kept, negative drugs tests to be provided, employment to be found or opportunities to be taken up.

At the point when sentenced is passed, the court will have a very clear sense of whether a particular defendant is somebody with whom the court can work or whom the court can trust with a non-custodial sentencing option.

The return of the deferred sentence is an indication that courts are looking to reach the right decision, rather than just getting the case off their books at the earliest opportunity. There is nothing wrong with those who prefer to defer!

TECHNICALLY, THE COURTS ARE A JOKE!

Written by admin
May 24th, 2019

When, in the first decade of the 21st century, the Ministry of Justice decided to aim for a digital rather than a paper based justice system, there was a sense that they were moving towards a bright new future at pace.

The earliest signs of utilising technology to assist the court process were of course the early CCTV links either used for the benefit of vulnerable witnesses or to save prisoners having to make long and arduous journeys to court from prison.

Bearing in mind the frequently experienced practical problems that both of these systems have manifested over the years, the Ministry of Justice might well have thought it appropriate to proceed with caution.

In fact, a decision was taken that the Crown Prosecution Service would soon be serving almost all its evidence digitally in both the Crown Court and the Magistrates’ Court.

Inevitably, some teething problems were anticipated and everybody approached the scheme with an open if somewhat quizzical mind.

Four or so years down the line, teething problems have become entrenched rather than historic. The courts own digital systems regularly fail, the Digital Case System is often unavailable to judges and advocates alike. At the present time there is no way of allowing jurors access to video material served on the egress system, unless they come back into court to watch it. This means of course that jurors are not able to start and stop videos at will and they are not able to sit around a table and discuss exactly what they are seeing. The Click Share facility fails with monotonous regularity and so the problems pile up.

It is not just of course that there is a failure in software or server delivery, the truth of the matter is that the equipment provided is often incompatible and frequently broken.

Rather than the new digital world being one in which vast savings could be realised by all, it has simply been a world in which penny-pinching and shortcuts have been laid bare for all to see. There can be no doubt that law and technology should be capable of walking into the future hand in hand, but at the moment they barely seem to be walking in the same direction let alone along the same stretch of road.

QUEENS COUNSEL – AN ENDANGERED SPECIES

Written by admin
May 16th, 2019

“How is it that my boss can defend him on a drink-driving when I can’t get one to defend me on an attempt murder?” If you think that question is daft or extreme, unrealistic or some sort of misrepresentation, you are just simply misinformed or wrong.

We all know that, on balance, and whether we like it or not, those barristers who have achieved the rank of Her Majesty’s Counsel are generally speaking the best of the bunch. The process for appointment is transparent, robust, and designed to ensure that only candidates of true quality are put forward for appointment.

Every year significant numbers of applications are received, only for a relatively small number of candidates to be appointed.

Why is it then that the addition of two letters after the name of a successful barrister means that they will suddenly become beyond the reach of almost every individual appearing before a criminal court?

There was once a time, and in Northern Ireland that time is still now, when Queens Counsel would appear to represent a significant raft of people charged with serious offences. Rapes, armed robberies in the course of which firearms were discharged, gang-related Section 18 woundings, manslaughters, attempt murders, serious frauds, as well as cases that were likely to attract significant public attention, were all ones in which Queens Counsel might be expected to appear.

Now, despite a lifetime of paying taxes both indirect and direct, as well as massive National Insurance contributions, most people charged with the above list of offences will simply be told that their application for Queens Counsel has been rejected.

We live in times when someone accused of the rape and attempted murder of a stranger will routinely be told that their application for the barrister of their choice has been refused, even though they are likely to receive a substantial a life sentence. Young people, including those under 18, facing allegations of attempt murder or manslaughter are left knowing that when it comes to securing Queens Counsel, the best they can probably do is dream.

Even where the current regulations seem to allow for a certificate for Queens Counsel to be granted, many judges before whom the applications are placed will routinely refuse them on the basis that this makes them look strong, or fiscally aware, or perhaps just the sort of person who ought to be promoted to the High Court Bench.

What with restrictive regulations and over-zealous judges the sighting of Queens Counsel in many Crown Courts will be as noteworthy as hearing the first cuckoo of sprint.

NOTTINGHAM VIA ROTHERHAM AND SHEFFIELD

Written by admin
May 13th, 2019

The Johnson Partnership are delighted to announce the appointment of Annette Thomas to our Higher Courts Advocate Team.

Having started her legal career with Nottingham with Messrs Bhatia Best Annette has gained considerable experience with firms in Chesterfield, Rotherham and Sheffield. We are delighted to say that she has agreed to join us at The Johnson Partnership, being principally based at our Nottingham office.

Living in the Chesterfield area, Annette is perfectly positioned to help with cases in the Crown Courts at Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, Lincoln, and even, at a push, Hull and Grimsby. We are delighted to have been joined by an experienced advocate with skill, judgement and insight in abundance. Annette’s calm and considered approach puts colleagues and clients at ease, knowing that they are dealing with a consummate professional.

Sensitive Sentencing

Written by admin
January 6th, 2019

It’s a strange fact of legal life that scant regard is often paid to the wishes of the client at sentence.

For many, of course, sentence is the moment for punishment. To ask somebody what punishment they would like seems paradoxical and indeed it often is.

In other circumstances, it is a question of a court administering some “tough love”, which again might not be top of the defendant’s own wish list.

There are of course those occasions when a court can find itself in real difficulty! Some clients will say in terms that they know that they cannot cope with a particular sort of sentence at a particular point in time, however advantageous that sentence may seem to be. The client who needs to detoxify but knows that he or she can only do it behind bars. The client in a long term dispute with his or her partner or parents, who knows that things cannot change quickly enough under a community order to stop them re-offending. The client who just doesn’t want to be living in the only accommodation that is available to them right now and will do anything to get out of it.

There are times when a court just has to sit back and say on this occasion the client knows best. Where a court imposes its own paternalistic or maternalistic desires it can’t behold that court to then be angry and offended when the inevitable breach proceedings are brought.

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