In recent times it has become apparent that many cases are either failing or being brought to court late as a result of difficulties and deficiencies within the Crown Prosecution Service.

This week, the Today programme was told that over 900 cases have failed in the course of last year because of lack of disclosure. Repeatedly, courts see charges being laid that do not match the facts leaving cases apparently under or over prosecuted. Time and again the Crown Prosecution Service rely on the courts to sort out the difficulties.

It has recently become apparent that a substantial budgetary increase has been afforded to the Crown Prosecution Service to enable them to recruit staff nationwide. Promises of rising pay scales and advantageous pensions are being dangled to lure lawyers on board.

The reality is of course is that most lawyers who are in a position to join the Crown Prosecution Service will either come from the independent bar or the defence community. By offering newly revamped salary packages, the Crown Prosecution Service inevitably put a strain on the defence community by drawing in-house some experienced defenders who are looking for a life without on-call commitments and day to day contact with some particularly difficult clients.

These defence services have struggled to recruit, fighting a losing battle against employers in the civil, commercial, private client, and even family areas, where instant fees can be significantly greater than those available to the average defence firm.

Whilst skewing the marketplace and slanting the playing field in the way that they are doing, the MOJ simply bring more stresses and problems to a different part of the criminal justice process. An equal distribution of funds between the Crown Prosecution Service and the defence community would obviously seem the more appropriate way of ensuring that the entire sector is well staffed. Instead of this, the MOJ have sought to impose a further legal aid cut on the very firms keeping the system afloat.

The only good news is that retention amongst Crown Prosecution Service staff, including those who have joined in the last three to six months, is poor. The lack of job satisfaction, the factory mentality, the lack of thanks and appreciation and the poor morale etc, within the Crown Prosecution Service have seen a number of new joiners leave forthwith, with some of them asking to return to their former posts.

We are delighted to welcome Sarah Brown to our Sheffield office. A skilled advocate in both the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court, Sarah has kindly agreed to augment our Sheffield office two days each week, whilst continuing to teach law and practice at Sheffield College.

The combination of practical fee-earning work and the understanding that comes with the need to impart knowledge to others, will benefit both the firm and Sarah’s students alike.

We are looking forward to the benefits that are bound to come from bringing somebody on board who has a wealth of experience and an independent and critical eye. Inevitably, benefits will not just flow to students and to members of staff, there is bound to be a real dividend for our growing Sheffield client base.

As of late February this year legal aid will again be available for prisoners facing certain types of adjudications and applications from which it had previously been withdrawn.

Life sentence prisoners and IPP prisoners facing pre-tariff review hearings will again be entitled to fully prepared representation at oral hearings. These are essential in assisting prisoners in working towards release and ensuring, for example, that they are moved to open conditions at the earliest opportunity. There is much to be considered, reports and other evidence to be obtained and representations not only to be put forward but argued most strenuously.

Legal aid will also be available to prisoners held in Category A conditions, who have the chance of re-categorisation. The extreme restriction on liberty involved in being a Cat A prisoner is now understood to be something that ought to be capable of challenge with the benefit of assistance in preparation and representation at any relevant hearings.

Finally, legal aid will also be available to those wishing to challenge detention in a closed supervision centre. These “prisons within prisons” are often used to house prisoners convicted of terrorist offences. The conditions within CSC’s and the general circumstances of the regime are thought now to be ones which should be capable of challenge with the benefit of a fully prepared representation.

The thought of any these categories of prisoners being dealt with without representation is startling abhorrent. It has to be good news that all of those, in these particular circumstances, can now be dealt with in a fair, just, and acceptable way. We are delighted to say that our Prison Law Department now has seven keen members, all are fully committed to embracing the challenges that the new legal aid regulations will inevitably bring.

Do not hesitate to contact us at any time on (0115) 941 9141 and ask either for Digby Johnson or the Prison Law Team.

For the second time in less than two years Dan Church returns to the East Midlands after a long stint on the West Coast.

In 2016 Dan was successful in securing an acquittal for a young lady charged with conspiracy to supply several kilos of controlled drugs. The case lasted for about six weeks and saw Dan make the acquaintance of a number of local hoteliers during his extended stay.

Between October 2017 and January 2018 Dan returned to his former stamping ground, this time as Junior, to the ever excellent Adrian Langdale from 7 Bedford Row.

With a considerable mountain of evidence to climb, many sceptics felt that the Langdale/Church team would come second. In fact, the two advocates, ably supported by arch litigator Rebecca Da Silva, returned home with first prize: an acquittal and considerable praise from the Trial Judge.

After an earlier six weeks and a more recent stay of twelve weeks, our only fear is that next time he heads to Liverpool we will not see Dan for six months.

Fantastic work by all concerned in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.

On 15th January 2018, after almost ten years with the firm, Karl Meakin stepped out on his own account in the Magistrates’ Court.  An experienced prison lawyer, Karl is now strengthening the team of Chesterfield advocates comprised of Bob Sowter, Kirsty Sargent, and the inestimable John Wilford.

Karl will also be continuing to carrying on preparation and advocacy work for the Prison Law Team throughout the country.

The Chesterfield advocates are ably backed up by Richard Pell, Lucy Hooper, Yasmin James-Birch, and Lynda Gilbert.

With John’s added qualities as a regulatory specialist, the team has not only depth but considerable breadth.

Bob Sowter brings with him not only massive expertise in terms of adult and youth crime, but also a history of work carried out on behalf of the road haulage sector, which has ably equipped him to deal with a broader than average range of road traffic and vehicle related issues.

The remarkable Kirsty Sargent is the beating heart of the team, an excellent advocate and a superb organiser and administrator.

Karl could hardly be joining a finer group of lawyers who should ease him to greatness at an early stage.

Clients contacting our Scunthorpe or Grimsby offices may well now face a new question: Would you like to speak to Rachel Hunter or Rachel Poma?”

Having long had the pleasure of the company of the experience, warm, caring, and ultimately capable Rachel Hunter, we now have a second Rachel in town.

In January we were fortunate enough to secure the services of Rachel Poma, nee Pullin. Rachel has previously worked on a qualified and non-qualified basis with at least two local firms, but we are delighted to say that she has agreed to join The Johnson Partnership, dividing her time between the Scunthorpe and Grimsby offices.

Rachel is an enthusiastic duty solicitor, with great ideas and a lovely court presence. We look forward to Rachel getting to know both us and our clients, as well as introducing us to many of her old friends and contacts. We count ourselves incredibly lucky to have secured Rachel’s services, in an area where there are relatively few enthusiastic, young and hardworking advocates.

In a time when more and more firms of solicitors are moving to sites outside of city centres with modern facilities and parking outside the front door, The Johnson Partnership has made a conscious decision to remain true to our inner city roots.

In recent times we have had to give consideration to whether or not we could better serve our clients by moving to locations on business parks or new developments anywhere between a mile or three miles from their local town or city centre.

Although the prospect of ample parking and high speed broadband are immensely tempting, we have always been left reflecting how inaccessible such premises would be to the vast majority of our clients. Even though they could travel to offices by private car they have still expressed the opinion that they would rather tie in a trip to the solicitors with a visit to other city centre locations, rather than having to make a special trip to the middle of somewhere approaching nowhere.

The proximity to courts, police stations, Crown Prosecution Service offices, and the like gives us an unassailable advantage when it comes to looking after clients arrested on warrants, requiring quick interviews or needing urgent conferences.

While it can be true that there is relatively little passing trade for criminal solicitors, it is equally true that many clients with current cases will want to call in for a quick but urgent reassurance.

As far as staff are concerned, the prospect of palatial premises with accountants and government departments as neighbours is tempting; but never quite as tempting as the stores, bars, cafes, and restaurants of a good old town or city centre.

There is of course an argument to suggest that our slightly unusually situated Sheffield office breaks the mould. While not in a new purpose built professional palace, it does occupy the singular and characterful premises of the old Banners Department store loved by thousands!

Digby Johnson is currently helping with a Nottingham Trent University research project into the law of evidence and the identification of the human voice.

In many cases a witness or victim will be called upon to describe a voice they overheard in the course of the commission of an offence or, perhaps someone talking about the planning of or the recent execution of such an offence. At the moment there are very few yardsticks to help measure that voice in a reasoned and logical way.

Since 2003 there has been provision for voice identification parades to take place, although as yet few, if any, have been successfully presented to a court in evidential form.

The current Trent project aims to develop questionnaires to assist witnesses in describing a voice. Further developments may include the provision of voice samples to witnesses to enable them to come up with the audible equivalent of an identikit picture.

Who knows, eventually, clips from previously taped interviews may be sampled into a databank similar to the current identification parade database to enable comparative samples to be put together to test whether a witness or victim is actually able to pick out the voice of someone in custody or a particular suspect.

As well as the major courts and police stations served by each office, there is inevitably a penumbra of places that each office will serve. The Nottingham office will serve Grantham, Loughborough, Leicester, and many points south. The Derby office will serve Burton, Cannock, Tamworth and the like. Staff from Chesterfield will be seen at the Buxton custody suite or attending voluntary interviews in Bakewell or Matlock. The Sheffield office can cover Rotherham almost as easily as it can Sheffield. The Barnsley office reaches out to Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Wakefield and all of the other West Yorkshire towns including the super custody suite at Normanton Top. The Doncaster office covers Goole, Thorne, York, and beyond. Our Scunthorpe and Grimsby offices will jointly look after cases in Goole, Hull, Bridlington, etc. The Lincoln office will happily pull in work in Gainsborough, Sleaford, Boston, and so on. The Mansfield office regularly services work in Newark, Retford, Worksop, and Sutton in Ashfield. All offices then have their own immediate courts and police stations and many more besides.

The question however is which office will service Skegness? Every summer clients stream out to the east coast for sun, sea, sand, and soggy chips. Every weekend in spring and autumn there are dance raves and party events as well as the Butlins weekenders to attract the hordes. Throughout the year there are people visiting friends and relatives who have retired to the coast or simply stepped that way in order to “get away” from who knows what. The custody suite at Skegness is a regular reporter to the DSCC.

Whatever the day of the week, whatever the month of the year, whatever the time of day, the questions always arises Who is going to go to Skegness?”  The Lincoln office remains a laborious hour away. The staff at the Scunthorpe office claim that it would take them at least an hour and a half to get there. The Grimsby solicitors, perhaps geographically closest, swear blind that the roads are so bad that they cannot get there in under two hours. So then, the question perpetuates. Yet for 27 years, one way or another, in spite of its apparent unfeasibility, The Johnson Partnership have been looking after clients in Skegness, be they in the court or the police station, whatever the season and whatever the time.

Inevitably, our hearts go out to those members of staff who have completed their tasks in Skegness in the wee small hours. For them, there isn’t even the solace of a stick of last year’s rock or a soggy slab of cod.

In recent weeks Doncaster police seem to have largely given up on the old practice of interviewing detainees in the custody suites. A quick note in a policeman’s notebook or an interview on camera in the back of a police car seem to be sufficing.

Rather than arresting people, the police are warning them to attend the police station for the sort of informal chat that might see them on their way to the Crown Court before they know it.

This sort of informal interviewing, coupled with an apparently casual approach to questioning, that can have dire consequences, is something to look out for.

If you find that there is an officer wanting to ask you questions please remember that somebody from The Johnson Partnership is constantly available. Whether the police are proposing to interview you at your home, at a neighbourhood police station, or in the back of a police car, you are still entitled to have somebody present and we would recommend that you do.

Please contact our Doncaster office as a matter of urgency if you find yourself in this position on (01302) 360606.

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