Posts Tagged ‘ criminal defence advocates ’


A Stranger Danger

Written by admin
December 21st, 2018

Crown Courts will regularly have to consider whether a client is “dangerous”. In essence, the issue is whether they are somebody who has committed an offence of a particular gravity, either now or in the past, or an offence that has attracted a particular sort of sentence. Faced with their current charge, the court has to consider whether they impose a real threat of particularly unpleasant sorts of harm to individuals in the future.

In general, when found dangerous, defendants have to serve two thirds, rather than half of the sentence set down by the court and they can only be released with the consent of the Parole Board. Many people also face an extended period of licence supervision to ensure that they are closely monitored by the National Offender Management Service.

It ought to be remembered, however, that there are certain offenders who can be found to be “dangerous” but who can still be released at the halfway period without the involvement of the Parole Board, and who needn’t be subject to the extended licence provisions. The finding of “dangerousness” is entered on the defendant’s record, but no other step is taken. This flags up their position to a subsequent sentencing court, dealing with either a new offence or a breach, but ensures their return to the community at the earliest and most appropriate time.

As times goes by, it seems apparent that fewer and fewer sentencing tribunals are aware of this power, or have it at the forefront of their minds when passing sentence. This may be something that many defence advocates needed to consider bringing to attention of a court that may be passing a very significant sentence on a client who deserves better.

UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED…

Written by admin
October 25th, 2018

UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL!  It could be the hook line of a 1960’s chart hit.  It could be the slogan of any number of Trade Unions.  It could be part of the anthem of any number of variously successful football teams.  In truth, it is a fair synopsis of the early summer negotiations with the MOJ in relation to advocates graduated fees.

How clearly we remember the rallying cry for HCAs & Counsel to stand together in refusing new work with rep orders dated after the 1st April.  How clearly we remember the confident assurances of the Bar that if we “stood shoulder to shoulder” we would be unstoppable.  How fervently the Bar leaders applaud us to work with them for the same goals? And now what?

What was it that the arch negotiators of the Inns of Court were able to achieve? A £15m boast – derisory in itself – that in fact was worth less than £10m by the time that inflation had eaten into it, VAT had been removed and some more astute calculations had been worked through.  A 1% increase, which turned out to be less than almost anybody else in the public sector was due to get in 2019.  Adjustments that we are going to need, not only a consultation but also a statutory instrument.  As autumn presses forward, the consultation is extended further into the future.  The statutory instrument is unlikely to find its way before Parliament until the start of the New Year.

And so, why the heading to this piece?  What is all this talk about unity and division?  It is simply this! All of the negotiating regarding changes to the hated and diabolical AGFS alterations were carried out by members of the Bar.  That’s right, not solicitors, not solicitors and barristers working hand in hand, but members of the Bar.

Of course, when it came to taking action solicitors were right there not so much side by side as leading the charge.  They were easily identifiable.  They were from named firms.  They could be reported to the SRA.  They weren’t able to hide behind their clerks or their individual choices as self-employed professionals.  When, however, it came to sitting at the negotiating table, having meetings in smoked filled rooms, stalking the corridors of power, only one half of the profession were present.  There was no unity.  There was no sense of being “united”.  And now, viewed from the autumn end of the telescope it can only be concluded that those who chose to go into battle alone did indeed fall divided and unsuccessful.

Were the representatives of the solicitors half the profession in some way frightened?  Was there an unexpected timidity on their part?  Were they too busy looking after their members’ interests in the teeth of a ferocious SRA, stoked up by members of the judiciary who themselves came from the ranks of the Bar?  No, none of the above were true.  They simply weren’t invited.  The Bar simply chose to have covert cosy meetings with the MOJ without us.

What then for the future?  As new calls ring out for strike action, refusing new work, no returns!  The solicitors have to consider whether they should again go through the humiliating sham of being called to arms only to be left in the slit trenches; or whether they should simply say from the start that the only ally is one that you can trust and with the benefit of experience, there really don’t seem to be many of them around!

ADVERTISING PUFF!

Written by admin
August 15th, 2018

The relaxation of restrictions on solicitors’ advertising has led to a world of change.  There will be those who regard it as unseemly and demeaning, to see solicitors claim to be “The best”, “The Cheapest”, “The Fastest”, etc., etc.

In recent times solicitors have claimed to be “The Most Caring”, “Friendly and Discreet” and, although you might think it would go without saying, “Professional”.

At The Johnson Partnership we have spent a lot of time wondering exactly what we ought to be claiming for ourselves.  Perhaps we should emphasise that we are “Any time, any place, anywhere”, like a good Martini.  Perhaps we should claim to “Put the freshness back” into law, although that might make us sound like a 1980’s Shake & Vac advert.  You could imagine there being a great deal of hilarity among the marketing partners.

On balance, and all things considered, what we reckon we would like to be as a firm of solicitors, is what British Airways used to claim they were as an airline which is of course “The World’s Favourite”.  When all is said and done, it is hard to disprove!

STUMBLING CPS GIVEN A LEG UP BY MOJ

Written by Sian Hall
February 16th, 2018

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.

SARAH BROWN IS BACK IN TOWN!

Written by Sian Hall
February 13th, 2018

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.

NOTHING MEEK ABOUT THE NEW FORCE IN CHESTERFIELD

Written by Sian Hall
February 1st, 2018

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.

A TALE OF TWO RACHELS!

Written by Sian Hall
January 30th, 2018

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.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PRISON DEATHS?

Written by Sian Hall
November 10th, 2017

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.

 

 

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