As another date for submission of CDS12 form disappears over the horizon we are left reflecting on how different it is now to recruit new duty solicitors.  In short, all the criteria has changed.

Under the new 2017 Contract it is no longer sufficient to have somebody who will turn up to perform the obligatory amount of court and police station appearances while primarily working as freelance on their own account or even, who knows, as Tesco shelf stacker.

The new way is to bring somebody in for two or three days a week to ensure that they have their 14 hours carefully logged and stashed away for checking.

The October submission date saw us involve ourselves in lengthy interviews with a number of people, who we all hoped would be suitable recruits.

The new system brings with it closer scrutiny and a real consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of a duty solicitor candidate.  On this occasion it would be fair and honest to say that we had interviewed and made offers to three people who decided not to join us, but stay where they were.  Equally, we interviewed another three people at considerable length, to whom we decided not to make an offer.  The time invested in the recruitment process was quite significant particularly when this entails ticking fee-earning Partners away from their day to day labours.

We are delighted to say, however, that we have been successful in recruiting two wholly new duty solicitors as well as the lovely Helen Nicholson who will be returning to the fold.  All in all, the process has been an interesting and very enlightening one on a great many levels.

As of the start of October Yvonne Wragg is mainly to be found at our burgeoning Sheffield office.

 

Having long served and loyal enthusiastic clientele in the Mansfield area, Yvonne is now to take on a new challenge at one of the largest urban Magistrates’ Courts in the country.

 

Joining up with Maz Sharif, Kevin O’Donovan, the gloriously efficient Pari Seeley and the new rejuvenated Sarah Staniland, Yvonne will be a hard-working, well-versed and enthusiastic addition to the Magistrates’ Court team.

 

Having spent more than ten years with The Johnson Partnership in Nottingham and Mansfield, Yvonne’s skills and personality should go a long way to ensure that any newcomers to the firm, be they clients or colleagues, rapidly feel at home.

 

In particular, Yvonne is looking forward to working in closer proximity to our high quality Higher Rights team. When it comes to knowledge about Sheffield people, places and courts, there can be no better teacher than the inestimable and highly regarded Andrew Swaby.

The Johnson Partnership’s HCA (Higher Court Advocate)  team must be one of the first in the country to have all received their vulnerable witness training.

 

The extensive course, which requires preparation and submission of written material seven days before the court is held, a full participatory workshop, and follow-up viewing is designed to equip advocates to deal with vulnerable witnesses in a humane, efficient, and just way.

 

The preparation of carefully crafted written questions, to be submitted to the court at a Ground Rules Hearing, is for many still a relatively new skill.

 

With the roll out of Section 28 cross-examination of witnesses in the New Year, it is highly likely that only advocates who have received the vulnerable witness training are going to be able to deal with cases of this sort.

 

HCA’s from The Johnson Partnership’s Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby Higher Rights advocate teams have all been fully trained to conduct cases involving vulnerable witnesses in the most appropriate way from day one.

Perhaps the hardest working Magistrates’ Court advocate in The Johnson Partnership is proving that 50 is the new 30. Tim Williamson, who has been with us since our rescue of the old Northern Briefs practice in November 2013, turned 50 at the start of October.

 

Tim’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Doncaster courts and clients means he is the go to guy whenever a new advocate is looking for some important background on a local lass or lad.

 

Tim’s work rate remains absolutely astounding, in spite of him moving into his sixth decade. In and out of office hours Tim is a force to be reckoned with and we wish him many happy returns and best wishes for many years to come.

On the day where Nottingham Prison announces that five inmates have died during the course of the last three months and when the governor of Liverpool jail has been removed forthwith, the question of prison conditions and particularly deaths in prison is a live one.

 

Recently, Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called for the Probation Service and CCRCs to be involved in reviews whenever a prisoner who has been known to either of the branches of the probation service prior to their admission to prison, takes their life.

 

Many advocates shrink from saying to the Court that they believe the client is in imminent danger if admitted to custody. Many regard it as bad fall and rather cheap; others believe it is wrong to be seen to be holding a gun to the head of the Court.

 

All of our advocates have been trained to bring sensitive and delicate information to the attention of the court in an appropriate and reasoned fashion. Everyone is taught how to bring mitigation together in a way that should, if at all possible, avoid a vulnerable client ever being sent into custody.

 

Where a Court takes a decision to remand or sentence to custody our advocates are trained to ensure that the right information is passed as quickly as possible to the relevant authorities within the prison to ensure that the prison staff can give timely and appropriate care. Sadly, all we can ever do is provide this information, there can be no say in what those in charge will do with it.  By keeping a record of those to whom we have spoken and the information that has been provided to them, we aim to be in a position to ensure that any reviewing body is able to have a real and proper understanding of what was known by whom at what time.

 

 

The recent success of our Derby office’s Mark Luckett in completing the Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 13 minutes has caused us to reflect on the ever present link between law and long distance running.

 

There is no doubting that the stamina and endurance called for in seeing a difficult case to its end is matched by the competitive persistence required of a successful distantness athlete.

 

For many, however, the long hours spent in training provide the perfect antidote to a hard day in the office. Over the years a number of our solicitors and Partners have either relaxed, or taken time to get their thoughts in order when pounding the streets of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and South Yorkshire.

 

As well as Mark, perhaps our best and most noteworthy performer was our sadly missed Partner David Graham, who could knock out half marathons in substantially less than an hour and a half. Jo Chadd is a successful conqueror of the London Marathon.  Emma Coverley regularly disappears to both road and fell running events throughout the North and Midlands.  In a slight bizarre but truly historical event Sean O’Brien, Dan Church, and Richard Davies then of our Doncaster office completed the Sheffield half marathon of 2014 which had officially been called off due to a lack of water; all survived and have their medals to prove it!

 

One of our hardest working runners in every sense must be the Mansfield office’s Chris Perry, who has completed more distance events than anyone else in the firm on courses far and near. Based on the edge of the Peak District, Chris is well placed to clock up some good looking miles whilst leaving Mansfield Magistrates’ Court at the back of the pack.

 

Good luck to all, including Sean O’Brien in this year’s Snowdonia Marathon and Emma Coverley and Digby Johnson in the 13 mile festive Turkey Trot around the Vale of Belvoir.

 

In recent months, the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court at Nottingham have been particularly heavily populated with Eastern European lorry drivers whose vehicles have been fitted with tachograph override systems.

 

The systems are capable of preventing a tachograph record from showing several hours of journey time each day.

 

The Trowell and Beeston Testing Centres have recently detected substantial numbers of wagons from Eastern Europe, whose drivers have been operating these devices.

 

Whilst the authorities always seek to prosecute the companies who own the vehicles, it is inevitably the drivers who are in the front line.

 

With Polish and Romanian speakers within our fee-earning team, we have been particularly well placed to look after drivers who found themselves before a court for the first time in their lives. Inevitably, we have had to come to terms with the various systems that are employed to override the tachograph.  Not all prosecutions result in guilty pleas and not all of the assertions made by the prosecuting authorities stand close examination.

 

If you know of somebody who finds themselves before the court for this sort of offence please do not hesitate to give us a call, whether the case is in the East Midlands or further afield. Our experienced staff will always be happy to help and are prepared to travel.

On 4th October 2017 an exclusive basement party in a renowned Nottingham restaurant was held to celebrate the 70th birthday of James Harrison Beck.

 

With Judges, QC’s, leading and junior counsel, solicitors, trainees, and clerks from within the firm and beyond, the guest list truly sparkled.

 

When Jimmy founded The Johnson Partnership’s Higher Rights team in April 2002 he was one of the very few members of the Bar to work in-house with a firm of Defence solicitors. Since that time he has suggested and helped us grow a substantial and successful White Collar Department as well as one of the most highly regarded teams of in-house advocates in the country.

 

All of this of course follows on a glittering career at the Independent Bar as well as huge success elsewhere within the Metropolitan area.

 

It was lovely to be able to spend an evening with Jimmy, Val, and so many close friends who were prepared to step out and party even though it was officially a school night!

 

Happy Birthday Jim! As you would say, “Whatever would we do without you!”

As the Government chases new headlines for planning to impose mandatory six month terms of imprisonment for those carrying acid in a public place, for the second time we have to reflect on the real worth of this kind of sentence.

 

Mandatory sentencing is often not what it seems. Three years for a third strike burglar often means three years less 20% for those who admit the offences in early stage and can mean a lot less if there are special circumstances relating to there more to the offence.  The same is true for third strike Class A drug dealers.  Those found carrying knives in public for the second time should face a mandatory sentence of six months, but in reality this is a sentence that can be reduced to meet the justice of the case, depending on the circumstances of the offence or the client.   Presumably, acid carriers are likely to find themselves in the same position as their knife-wielding brethren.

 

Does the mandatory sentence then serve any real purpose? Are there any mandatory sentences that are not regularly devalued?   The argument must of course run that it is hard for governments to send out a message to members of the public who are likely to offend.  The announcement of six months in a prison for anybody committing a certain offence is an easy message that may well get across to more than most.  Of course,  the mandatory term also provides a thinking point for sentencing courts who might otherwise find themselves in a sea of inconsistency.  Nevertheless, the same sort of thinking point has been established for many offences by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, whose guidelines can be varied dependant on the social and legal landscape, without recourse to legislation.

 

It is worth reflecting that over the years the only two sentences that have remained largely unadulterated are life imprisonment for murderers and the mandatory driving ban for drink drivers. Odd bookends for a growing shelf of non-discretionary sentencing decisions.

Ellie Gould, who has been with the firm for the last five years, has swept through her duty solicitor qualifications without a backwards glance. Having qualified in July of this year, after substantial Magistrates’ Court experience, Ellie completed all the stages of duty solicitor qualification in a matter of weeks.  Her 25 case portfolio, following by a rigorous face-to-face examination involving obtaining instructions, preparing and making a plea in mitigation as well as an application for bail, posed no problem for a women who has literally spent thousands of hours assisting in the Magistrates’ Court.

 

We look forward to Ellie finding her own niche among our diverse and well-experienced Nottingham Magistrates’ Court team.

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