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!

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.

The last time that The Johnson Partnership were joined by a fully-fledged, time-served, paid up member of the English Bar was back in 2002 when we were both honoured and amazed to be approached by Jimmy Beck of Counsel. Jimmy had enjoyed tenancy with chambers at South Square, Pump Court, Tudor Street, and finally with Mark King at Carmelite.

There can be no doubt that Jimmy’s recruitment has been a huge benefit to the firm during the past 17 years. He has been a constant source of both legal and tactical expertise, a recent example of which was a successful appeal against conviction before the Court of Appeal in a matter where Jimmy had not been Counsel instructed before the Crown Court.

In 2019 we are very flattered indeed to have been joined by Jasmine Kumar, who comes to the firm from King Charles House Chambers.

Jasmine’s sophisticated style, thorough preparation and persuasive presentation are an object lesson to us all.

As both a Trial and Plea advocate it will be great to have first call on Jasmine’s expertise. We hope that she will find a happy home with The Johnson Partnership and we look forward to a long, friendly and fruitful association with someone that we hold in the highest esteem.

“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.

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.

The Johnson Partnership are delighted to confirm the appointment of Emma Coverley as a Deputy District Judge in the Civil Division.

Emma joined us in 2001 as a clerk in the Magistrates’ Court Department. Since then she has qualified as a solicitor, worked in our Mansfield office, qualified as a Higher Rights Advocate and gone on to enjoy many notable victories in the Crown Courts of the East Midlands and South Yorkshire as well as in the Court of Appeal.

Emma has never wanted to stand still. Developing the firm’s Higher Rights Advocacy Department was an indication that she was somebody wanting to break new ground in a positive and sustainable way.

Her application to become a Deputy District Judge is an indication that she is someone who will always look for the next horizon and try to push herself further and further in terms of her knowledge of the law and practice.

We all wish you well Emma and hope that you enjoy as much success as our only other appointment to the Bench: District Judge Gerald Chalk who has judged the people of Cumbria with a gentle, fair and even hand for the past fifteen years.

Yet again, we are sorry to have to announce the departure of Dan Church. Dan was one of our keenest and most successful young Higher Rights Advocates, who for the last two years has delivered a super service to our clients in Derby and beyond.

It would be wrong to think that Dan only worked in Derbyshire. During his most recent stint with us Dan has had some superb results, including a hard-fought victory after more than two months in Liverpool Crown Court.

In 2016 Dan left to have a short spell at the Bar with Bank House Chambers. We were delighted to have him return to us as the start of 2017, but regrettably the New Year has brought new challenges for Dan who will now be ensconced with the Crown Prosecution Service in the East Midlands.

Dan, we wish you well and want you to know that there is always an open door and a ready desk for you if you decide that our needs are more deserving than those of Her Majesty.

Little could give us greater pleasure that to welcome Helen Brough as a brand new solicitor with The Johnson Partnership.  This much anticipated qualification comes about eighteen years after we welcomed Helen as a brand new clerk.

Having gained considerable skills for many years, Helen decided that the time was right to push things to the next level.  Equipped with a history degree, Helen had to undertake courses part time whilst continuing to shoulder a particularly heavy caseload.

There is no saying when any individual will feel that their time has come to blossom.  For Helen that time is now and we are all delighted to be around to see it. 

The experience, skill and understanding that Helen has gathered over the last couple of decades mean that she will be one of the best placed and best qualified new solicitors ever to work for The Johnson Partnership. 

Helen, we are honoured to have you.

Within the area of the country covered by The Johnson Partnership offices we have noticed an interesting if worrying phenomenon.

In the town of Buxton there used to be a thriving Magistrates’ Court and a custody suite which covered the entirety of the northwest of Derbyshire from Matlock to Glossop and from Hartington over to Baslow. This is a huge area of land and a good number of people in its radius.

In the second round of cuts, the Magistrates’ Court, which has long since served this thriving market town was closed. Work was transferred to Chesterfield stage by stage. Initially custody cases were transferred to Chesterfield and then there was a total closure leading to all matters being heard in a court over thirty miles away, with no train link between the two and a somewhat ponderous bus service.

The next step was for the custody suite to be downgraded. Increasingly, prisoners who were likely to be in custody for more than six hours, were being dealt with at Chesterfield rather than Buxton. Inevitably, it soon became a police station where a vast majority of interviewees were those attending on a voluntary basis.

The Duty Solicitor Scheme for Buxton has slowly been wound down. Solicitors have to choose their slots on either the Chesterfield or Stockport rotas.

We now therefore have a town with no court, no meaningful custody suite, no Duty Solicitor Scheme, and very very few solicitors serving that entire region.

How many times do you hear lawyers refer to cases “Only motoring” or “Some motoring rubbish”? This shows the lack of regard that many practising in the Crown and Magistrates’ Courts have for cases that arise out of road traffic legislation. Only when it is themselves, a close friend, or a family member, do they suddenly realise the devastating effect that some extra points or a six month ban can actually have. Then, and sadly, only then, is it time for some lawyers to put on their thinking caps and start to look for those famous “loopholes”.

At The Johnson Partnership I am pleased to say that all our lawyers are well-versed in all aspects of road traffic law. This is easy to claim, but it is something on which we are happy to be put to the test.

Not only are there the complexities that arise when the Prosecution fail to prove the necessary elements of a particular offence, but there are also questions that surround a court not imposing any points on someone’s licence because they found “special reasons not to endorse”. On a separate level, the whole issue of being allowed to continue driving with twelve points because the court have found the loss of a licence will cause “exceptional hardship” is an area of the law that is far too easily taken for granted and actually needs to have some serious thought and preparation applied on behalf of those who want to make this claim.

Matters can get even more complicated when a driver has two potential claims for “exceptional hardship” in two separate courts at the same time, but can only advance the same mitigation once in any three year period.

Move aside of course the question of what is and isn’t worth taking to the Crown Court on appeal.

Do not assume that every lawyer must be a road traffic expert, simply because it is the sort of area of law where very few people go to prison. In some respects, the opposite is true, because there isn’t the potential clang of the prison gates to focus the lawyer’s mind.

If you have road traffic or motoring issues that are going to see you appearing before a court anywhere in England or Wales you are most welcome to get in touch with The Johnson Partnership either by phone or by email to get proper assistance with what is when all is said and done a proper problem.

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