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.

We are delighted to announce that Vicki Clayton, the Partner who has founded and inspired the firm’s Lincoln office, is now to be available to clients on a full time basis.

In recent years Vicki has worked four days a week, devoting the extra day to her young family.  We are delighted that Vicki will now be able to provide a full time continuous service for all of her clients, albeit she will always have the support of colleagues who have filled in for her over the months.

The firm’s canal side Lincoln office goes from strength to strength.  The firm is a constant presence in the Lincoln Magistrates’ Court and increasingly be called on to assist with cases with hearings over before the Boston magistrates.

For years now the DSCC has been run out of call centres in South Yorkshire.  Operations to the east of Sheffield started back in the last decade with staff employed by Ventura.  The contract then passed to Capita with many of the same staff continuing in-post.  As of August 2019 the DSCC will cease to be operated by Capita and will now move under the wing of HGS.  Hinduja Global Solutions will be running the DSCC out of premises in Chiswick and Preston.

We wish all at HGS the very best for the years to come but want to take this opportunity to thank our friends at Capita.  There are many familiar voices who, during the last five years, have joined us at breakfast, dinner and tea, in bed in the middle of the night, and occasionally, when things get really busy, in the shower!  We thank you all and wish all of you the very best for the future.

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.

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.

For some the letters AA will always conjure up memories of motorbiking repairmen who would salute whenever they saw a car with the Automobile Association badge.  For others AA will conjure up the mysterious world of the recovering alcoholic.  For those of us who have worked at or with the staff from The Johnson Partnership’s Barnsley office, AA will forever be Amanda Armitage.

Amanda Armitage first worked with our colleague Eric Bray over twenty years ago.  Eric took her under his wing and helped her to become one of the most respected Crown Court litigators in South Yorkshire.

Colleagues, Counsel, clients and friends have all spoken of Amanda’s sharp-eyed insight and down to earth practical skill.  No-one saw more clearly, no-one understood better.

We are sad to say that Amanda has decided to step away from the law to spend time with her family.  Our loss is their gain, but we could never begrudge the unquestionable delight of spending more time in the company of one of our favourite folk.

We wish you good luck in all that you do Amanda and hope you won’t forget us.

It is with some regret that we find ourselves having to say farewell to Michael Little.  Michael Little has been one of our Mansfield Magistrates’ Court solicitors team for a number of very happy years.

Arriving with many years’ experience in the Sutton in Ashfield area, and a substantial following, Michael has always been a popular and well-liked member of the Mansfield team.

Well-renowned in the police stations of North and South Nottinghamshire and a great favourite of all Mansfield Magistrates’ Court, Michael is now to ply his trade with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Her Majesty’s gain is The Johnson Partnership’s loss, but we wish Michael well in all he does, so long as it’s not prosecuting our clients!!!

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.

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.

It is now 10 years since the sad and early death of our Partner David Graham.  David was a lyrical and persuasive advocate who everyone loved to hear.  He encouraged and supported younger staff who were struggling to find their feet and a consummate manager at both our Nottingham and Derby offices.

Those of us who were lucky enough to work with David regularly talk of him with immense fondness.  There are more stories about David than anyone else who has ever worked with us and the telling of those stories always results in gales of laughter.  Inevitably, we always speculate as to things he might have done or said as new challenges come our way.

Rest in peace David, ten years on you’re still much missed.

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