Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Carter Review Progress

Lord Carter of Coles is currently conducting a review in to the procurement of legal aid services. This review was announced in July 2005 and is expected to be complete by early 2006.
Lord Carter recently published a press release setting out what progress he has made during the two months of his review. You can view his progress report by following this link.

I try to keep myself informed of 'criminal justice current affairs' (if there is such a subject) and know that Lord Carter has been in talks with the Bar Council. It would not surprise me if Lord Carter had met with representatives from the Law Society and other organisations such as the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association. Lord Carter states that he and his team have met, "...with a number of figures from the legal professions..." What is that supposed to mean? Who has he met with and what did they say to him?

I might be a little dismissive when I say this but the only progress that I have seen myself by the review is the small flowchart that they have produced:

This review is going to change the way my work is done, and so far I have seen nothing happen. I have heard no news from 'Solicitor' representative groups and now I am getting concerned. Maybe a lot of work has been carried out on my behalf that has not been publicly announced? I think that it is now time to put pen to paper, or even fingers to the keyboard to express my views to the Carter Review.


I keep looking at job adverts thinking should I change my job? I am happy working as a criminal solicitor but I am having some doubts about the firm that I am working for.

My father is a solicitor and he is a sole practitioner dealing exclusively with personal injury work. His firm has suffered over the past decade with various claims companies destroying the market for personal injury work but he is still in business and still pulling in a profit.

My brother is a solicitor dealing with wills and probate. He was made a salaried partner a while ago.

Me, well I am an employed solicitor working in the world of criminal legal aid. I have no interest in working in personal injury or in wills and probate - I have got to where I am today on my own and refuse to exploit family ties to move in to a cushier job.

I am very happy with the type of work I do, and even though my Clients are a mixture of society's unfortunates I enjoy their stories. I cannot even complain about my salary as it seems okay compard to most of my peers.

But am I working for the right firm? And, do I want to continue to work in London? I do not actually live in London as I commute. I keep asking myself these questions and the more I ask these questions the more I think that I am bored in my current job.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Do I Really Own A House?

I had a Client who appeared for sentencing in a Crown Court recently on a benefit fraud case for a substantial sum of money over a long period of time. The case appeared to be simple and straight forward until the prosecuting authority made some enquiries and discovered that my Client has a share in a property that they did not know about.

Between the guilty plea being entered and what was expected to be the sentence hearing the facts of the case have changed quite dramatically making the prospect of a custodial sentence more likely.

My Client seems to be oblivious to the fact that they have a share in a property because as far as they are concerned they own nothing. Owning a share in a property is going to be a little bit difficult to explain away! But, I am already thinking that occupational rent, or something like that, might be able to explain this one away?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Basis of Plea

I heard a great basis of plea to a charge of possession with intent to supply cannabis recently.

The facts of the case were that the Defendant had been with a group of other youths, they had approached a second group of youths on a bus and offered to sell them cannabis. The Defendant had not been seen with any actual drugs but was nonetheless part of the group offering to sell drugs. The first group of youths left whereupon the second group of youths phoned the Police. The Defendant was the only one of the first group of youths arrested, but when he was he was in possession of 8 grammes of herbal cannabis.

The Defendant's basis of plea was that he had spoken with a drug dealer earlier that day and been told he could make a lot of money selling drugs so had decided to take a small quantity of cannabis on a credit basis. The Defendant had then been out with his friends who had also taken advantage of this new career but the Defendant had then had a change of heart. He thought of the consequences of drug dealing and decided that he would return the cannabis to the dealer. He had made a conscious decision to not to sell drugs to the second group of youths but accepted that he was guilty of possession with intent to supply by way of joint enterprise.

The reason that this basis of plea was so great was because the solicitor had the gaul to try to run the basis of plea in Court. The result was that with no previous convictions the Defendant went to prison for four months.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Court Buildings

I have spent most of this week at one of the most inefficient Courts that I have the displeasure of attending at on a regular basis. Whilst sitting around this week for files to be located, or waiting to get my case called in to Court simply because the lists are generally congested I considered what alternative uses a Court building can have.

Firstly Courts are the usual meeting place for drunks who have nothing better to do than see what their friends are up to. Many 'red faced' people turn up outside Court when a colleague has a Court appearance.

Secondly Courts have toilets that can be used and abused. When I went in to the male toilet today I heard loud snoring and could see the feet of a person who was in a cubicle. Another less regular use for toilets is for drug users to smoke heroin or whatever other substance takes their fancy. One use of a toilet that a Client once boasted to me about was to have conjugal relations with his girlfriend before he was sent to prison.

Thirdly some Courts try to entertain their 'guests' whilst they are waiting. The particular Court that I am talking about has several televisions. Depending on what part of the building you stand in you can watch daytime television on either BBC 1 or ITV 1. Unfortunately they do not have cable or satellite television installed. Today the fourth test of the Ashes was on the television where I was sat.

Fourthly members of the public can not only observe Court proceedings but interact. One gentleman today sat in the public gallery that actually extends to behind the secure custody dock. He joined in the proceedings today despite not having his own case by randomly shouting, "F*** off," and, "Piss off", to the District Judge. Initially the District Judge thought that it was the Defendant who was making the comments because the man making the comments was sat behind the Defendant and was out of the view of the District Judge. Eventually the District Judge worked out that the Defendant was not a ventriloquist and sent the 'interactive participant' to the cells.

The fifth use of the Court building that I thought of was to display a fashion parade. The different Court users dress in different ways when attending at Court. Normally you would expect people to display some respect and to attend Court in formal dress such as a suit and tie for males. Unfortunately it is only the lawyers and Court staff that seem to stick to this dress code. Defendants wear what they like and I have seen male Defendants get away with wearing shorts and a tee shirt before. The latest addition to the Court room in terms of personnel are the drug workers. Some of these are pretty poorly presented and one chap was wearing a red England football away tee shirt, scruffy jeans, and trainers today. He was dressed worse than most Defendants.

So there you go a Court building has many uses other than the administration of justice.

My Favourite District Judge

There is one District Judge that I am quite happy to sit and observe if I am waiting for cases to become 'ready' at the Magistrates Court. Today I had the misfortune of having to wait most of the day for my case to be dealt with, but I did have the good fortune to see this particular District Judge.

Victim number one was an unrepresented Defendant who had a strong Italian accent. He was on conditional bail and had turned up to Court to ask to vary the hours of his curfew. Unfortunately as the Defendant spoke with a strong Italian accent the District Judge had difficulty in understanding him. During his particular Court hearing the Clerk acted as an interpreter and after his curfew was varied twice he asked for a third time when the District Judge snapped, "No, I have made my mind up. Now just get out of my Court.... Go!"

Victim number two was the solicitor acting for a Defendant who had pleaded guilty to excess alcohol. The foolish solicitor had not done her homework and started to argue that the Defendant should not be disqualified from driving as he would suffer exceptional hardship. The District Judge rolled their eyes and made it clear on three occasions that exceptional hardship could not prevent the Defendant from being disqualified - then the District Judge pronounced, "Don't you get it, exceptional hardship won't work". Then they moved on with the mitigation with the District Judge asking questions that the solicitor could only answer by taking further instructions from her Client. At one point the solicitor asked for permission to take instructions from the Defendant in the dock, the District Judge replied, "I wish you had taken some instructions in the first place". The solicitor in my opinion was asking for a hard time when they were asked how much Defendant earned and the solicitor replied, "He earns £8.75 per hour before tax". Eventually the case was disposed of with the Client being disqualified from driving for 18 months and generally given a sentence that bore noresemblancee to the mitigation put forward.

The third victim really was asking for trouble. The Defendant was an overnight custody case. When the Defendant was brought up to the Court not guilty pleas were entered and then the following dialogue took place:

District Judge: What do you say about venue?
Solicitor: You have jurisdiction.
Prosecutor: High value deception. Not suitable Ma'am.
District Judge: Sorry?
Solicitor: You have jurisdiction.
District Judge: I know, but what do you have to say about venue?
Solicitor: The Defendant wants her trial to take place here.
District Judge: I haven't heard your representations on mode of trial yet. Is this suitable for summary trial. What do you have to say?
Solicitor: Yes.
District Judge: Oh, I am declining jurisdiction. Are you making a bail application?
Solicitor: No.
Prosecutor: Objections are fail to surrender, commit further offences. The Defendant has no immigration status and no way of financing a legitimate lifestyle.
District Judge: Okay, I am remanding the Defendant in custody for four weeks for committal. Does your Client want to come back here next week?
Solicitor: Yes.
District Judge: Why?
Solicitor: Yes.
District Judge: Take instructions from your Client would you, her bail situation is hopeless.
Solicitor: [Takes instructions] She wants to come back next week.
District Judge: Are you sure?
Solicitor: Yes
District Judge: Will you be making a further bail application?
Solicitor: No.
District Judge: So why does she want to come back?
Probation Officer: What she [referring to the District Judge] means is does your Client want to come back next week and make a bail application, not, does she want to come back for committal.
Solicitor: Oh, no, she does not want to come back.

At this point I was sniggering and had to leave the Court. I should also mention that at one point the Prosecutor was dealing with objecting to bail on a firearms case, she finished her objections and sat down. The Defence Solicitor stood up and was about to make his bail application when the Prosecutor stood up again, held her hand up in the air and waited until the District Judge looked at her so she could put her hand down and said, "Ma'am I do have one further objection to make". It seemed like I was back at school at that point.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How Will These Applications Ever Work?

I sat waiting at Court for about two hours today. That really got up my nose. I was asked to attend at a hearing early instead of the appointed 3.30 pm time. I attended promptly for a 2.00 pm afternoon hearing to discover hat the Co-defendant's solicitor who had also agreed to attend early had not bothered to do so, in fact he had the cheek to turn up late and deny that he had ever had a phone conversation agreeing to attend at 2.00 pm - it was very unlucky for him that the very person who he spoke to at the Court was sitting in Court and put the Court record right.

During my unpleasant two hour wait in the pre-trial review Court I watched a case that had been called on where the Defence wanted to make an application to adduce evidence of bad character of the victim. The Defence had gone through the proper statutory procedure to make an application for bad character and during a previous hearing the Court had adjourned the application to adduce bad character because the Defence were required to provide further information about the previous conviction. It was not enough for the Defence to serve details of a previous conviction, they also had to provide background information to that previous conviction such as the facts of the case. I have to agree that as the case law currently stands the a prosecuting authority would not be allowed to adduce evidence of bad character on the basis of a previous conviction alone, they would also need to provide background information on that conviction.

Since the last hearing the Defence had asked the Prosecution to provide details of the previous conviction. The Prosecution had not responded before today's hearing, and today they refused to provide the background information. The Clerk of the Court said that without the background information the Defence application was bound to fail so should not be made.

The Defence Solicitor was rather enraged by the CPS response to his simple request, but what can he do? I sat in the back of the Court trying to think how the CPS could be forced to give disclosure of information held on their computers and held in their files that would assist the Defence application. If the usual disclosure process was followed under the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996 I am unsure what attitude the Courts would apply to requests for information to assist Defence applications - I guess I will have to wait for a Court of Appeal or Administrative Court ruling.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I Want To Go To Prison

Whilst dealing with a number of other cases at a Magistrates Court today I bumped in to one of my Clients. I was a little surprised to see him at Court as the cases that I had already been instructed on were not back in Court until about one months time. My Client explained that he was due to stand trial today for a matter of shoplifting but he was going to change his plea to guilty. He asked if I could represent him, and I said that I would.

My Client then told me that he wanted to be sent to prison today, and that he wanted all of his three outstanding cases dealt with today. Then he held up his bag and told me that he had packed his possessions and was ready for prison, and he pointed over to his partner and said that she had come to see him off. I was a little surprised by this Client's instructions and I sat down and discussed his proposal for quite some time. My Client basically had a drug problem and no matter what he did he could not solve his addiction - he believed his only cure was cold turkey whilst detained at one of Her Majesty's Prisons.

When the Client's case was called on I found myself acting like a prosecutor. I had to suggest that my Client was likely to receive a custodial sentence for the matter listed for trial - and to be fair the Client does have a long list of antecedents. The bench then wanted to get a pre-sentence report considering custody, but they wanted to bail my Client to return to Court in three weeks. I then argued and explained that they had sufficient grounds to revoke his bail on the basis of committing further offences on bail etc., etc. Eventually after I managed to convince the Magistrates to remand my Client in custody the Client turned to me, waved, and mouthed, "Thank you".

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Go On Lord Woolf

There was an interesting report in the Independent today stating that Lord Woolf will continue to be a 'pain in the backside' for the government when he retires as the Lord Chief Justice. Apparently he intends to sit as a Judge in the House of Lords and take part in Lord's debates.

I am looking forward to Lord Woolf's continuing sensible views to strike down the intolerable rubbish that the government spews out as criminal justice legislation.

Get Me Off Of Google

A Client came to see me today about a possible Criminal Cases Review Commission referral. The CCRC are a body set up to look in to possible miscarriages of justice. I have known this particular Client for some time now and they have decided after their case was turned down by the Court of Appeal at the first hurdle that they now want to refer their case to the CCRC. I sat discussing the merits of the appeal when the Client suddenly started telling me that they were on Google. I was a bit confused by what the Client was saying until they said that if I typed in their name in to Google it would lead the 'Googler' to a police web site with a warning about the Client. Being the curious chap that I am I decided to look in to this. The Client was right when you entered their name as a search term for Google it referred me to a police web site giving a warning about the Client on the basis of their previous convictions. Thankfully my name has yet to appear on any police web sites.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Get Me Out Of Here

I received a phone call on Sunday night about one of my Client's being arrested on a no bail warrant. I took down details of the failure to appear at Court and then looked in my diary. I could quite clearly see that I had been at the Court that had issued the warrant with the Client when they had appeared for a trial. I spoke with the Custody Sergeant and explained that the warrant must have been issued by mistake and I was given the standard response that the matter was out of the hands of the Police as they were acting on the instructions of the Court and if the Court had got it wrong then my Client could seek compensation from the Court.

So I went off to Court to deal with this warrant. My Client was most upset about having to spend time at the Police Station overnight - the idea of being compensated for wrongful arrest/false imprisonment did seem to cheer them up. This should have been a relatively simple matter to clear up, but no. It took two hours of waiting before the CPS papers turned up, and after a lot of searching the Court conceded that it could not find it's files on this matter. What had happened was rather silly. My Client had two sets of cases being dealt with by the same Court. The Court foolishly listed both cases on the same day to be dealt with in different Courtrooms in the same Court, neither the Client nor I knew that they had listed the two cases in different Courts. As one set of proceedings was for a trial that went part heard we had expected to deal with the other matter that was for sentencing after the trial had been concluded. So whilst my Client was stood in one Court room dealing with a trial another Court room issued a warrant for her arrest for failing to surrender to that Court!

When the case finally got in to Court the Court accepted that they had erroneously issued the warrant. My Client is now pursuing a civil claim to compensate them for their night in a Police cell.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Local Legal aid Campaign

I am the representative of my firm on the Hackney Solicitors Group which is very simply a collection of firms in the London Borough of Hackney that have contracts with the Legal Services Commission to do criminal defence work. We have been brought together by a chap called Tim Walker to ensure that we stand up to changes that are proposed that we feel will threaten the scope of legal aid to Clients accused of crimes.

I might have mentioned this before but about 6 weeks ago I attended a meeting with several other local solicitors groups. Today I found that a local newspaper had reported on this meeting. Although it is rather bizarre the press report coming some six weeks after the meeting at least the campaign to save criminal legal aid is starting to reach the minds of normal, non legal people.

Here is a link to the press report. You cannot see me in the picture as I was in fact stood right behind the photographer when he took the picture.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Crime Scene Investigation

I have clearly had too much time on my hands recently as I have begun to watch television on a regular basis. I have been watching the American production Crime Scene Investigation.

I do not know why I have become drawn to this programme but it is immensely fascinating. If you have never seen the programme it is about a group of forensic scientists who solve entire cases on simply the forensic evidence.

What I have yet to understand is how do this forensic detectives solve the crimes on forensic analysis alone when in most of my cases the forensic evidence is persuasive as opposed to being the evidence that convicts. The programmes often show incremental developments being made in the forensic investigation that are then used to assist the detectives investigating the crime. The programmes are all fictional and are clearly designed to entertain rather than show a realistic scenario.

In most of my cases involving forensics my Client gets arrested and is told that the evidence or crime scene is being forensicated. After being interviewed they are asked to give a sample for forensic comparison and then they are bailed from the Police Station to come back in about three months time as it takes nearly three months to get any kind of a result out of the UK Forensic Science Service. Perhaps they should commission a new version of the programme: Forensic Science Service: The UK shambles?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Would You Like To Complain?

I came across a most bizarre web site today

There is not much content on this site but it makes for interesting reading. Presumably the person who set the web site up has gone to some considerable effort to make a point.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Pet Hates

Here is a list of my current ten pet hates about my job (not in any particular order):
  1. Calls from the Police Station at 3.23 am to inform you that as previously thought your Client will not be interviewed until the morning because he is now in his sleep period.
  2. Police Officers and Custody Sergeants not being available to say what is happening when a Client has been bailed to return to a Police Station.
  3. First appearances in the Magistrates Court where the Court and Crown Prosecution Service have no papers!
  4. People who phone up asking for legal advice on issues such as driving with no insurance who just do not understand that they cannot get legal aid to be represented in Court.
  5. Clients who simply fail to provide instructions who then turn up to their trial expecting their case to be fully prepared and expect to win their case.
  6. The fact that the Home Office continues to create more and more absurd offences, more procedural rules, and generally change the law when they feel like it.
  7. In order to try to defend my profession against adverse change I have to spend my own personal time in responding to the countless number of consultations thrown at Solicitors. Even when the consultation receives a sharp response from others and myself they still implement the change!
  8. That I have no certainty that in a years time I will still have a job due to Lord Carter's Legal Aid Procurement Review.
  9. That the District Judges at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court prefer to barter, rather than listen, when dealing with custody cases on a Saturday morning.
  10. And, just recently all of my decent trial cases have been discontinued meaning I am now burdened with more time to deal with administrative tasks.

Home Office Ideas

As I was wandering through the world wide web recently I came across an article on ideas dreampt up by the Home Office to assist Police Officers dealing with troublesome crowds. This article is well worth a good read.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Discontinuing Cases

Upon my return to the office I spoke with my colleagues who had been babysitting my cases whilst I was away. A Youth Court robbery case that I had done rather a lot of work on had been discontinued. Two other Magistrates Court cases had also been discontinued. As I sat at my desk fishing through my e-mail inbox I saw that I had received a fax today stating that my rather poor representations had been accepted on a benefit fraud case and that it was to be discontinued.

Finally, I sat perusing a file that a colleague had left me as he had now left the office for a summer break. I then decided to phone the CPS to clear up a few disclosure issues prior to the trial and during the course of the telephone call the Prosecutor told me that he was discontinuing the case due to a lack of victim support.

Now that all of these cases have been discontinued I have very little work in the Magistrates Court to do next week.

More Waiting

Where does the logic for this scenario come from? My office receives a phone call from one of our Client's mum who says her son has attended at the Police Station for an interview by appointment. We receive the phone call half an hour after the appointment time. I run off the Police Station where the Client (who is an adult) is waiting. We then go through to the Custody Suite where it takes just under an hour to book him in, take his samples etc. The Police knew that it would take me about 30 minutes to get to the Police Station, and they are well aware of the time that it takes to process a Client until he can be seen by a solicitor in consultation, so why did they not book in my Client whilst I traveled to the Police Station? Would it not have been more logical to go through the arduous process of booking him in whilst I was en route to save their time and my time?

Back To Work

Today was my first day back at work after a summer break. Despite being on holiday I still received numerous telephone calls whilst I was away from my office so I have kept up pretty much with what is going on with my cases whilst I have been out of the office.

Perhaps one of the most important things that happened whilst I was away was the not guilty verdict one of my Clients received for his multi handed trial for riot and violent disorder. I have mentioned this particular case before as it involved viewing thousands of hours of CCTV footage.
During the course of this case the Prosecution produced various DVDs of the various defendants involved in various nefarious acts. One defendant, who was found to be unfit to plead and subsequently no evidence was offered against him, was seen to pull CCTV cameras from the ceilings and then run around a court yard swinging the camera in to various windows thereby destroying them. He was also seen to run about mooning at the cameras. My Client was not seen to do much other than go in to a meeting room with other defendants who were convicted of riot, and wander around by a gate holding a piece of wood for a few seconds. He certainly was not seen to get involved in any violence or damage any property.

In order to present my Client in the best light I took the Prosecution footage and edited it, and my edited footage was played to the jury. Despite spending what might have been close to half a million pounds (possibly more) the Prosecution did not notice my edits, even though they were served with a copy of my edited footage, and the jury seemed to think that my Client was innocent.

Seven defendants were put on trial and only my Client and another walked away with not guilty verdicts. I am glad to say that after 12 months of work including an 8 week trial my efforts and Counsel's efforts paid off. I am still not convinced that my Client did nothing wrong, he always had a certain look in his eye when I questioned him about events.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

New Laws

I have been enjoying my time off from work and recently a thought popped in to my head - if I could create a new law then what law would I create? Our current Government has created something like over 600 new criminal offences since coming in to power, so one more offence would not cause any more trouble! This posting is supposed to be an attempt at humour so please bear with me.

I have thought fairly long about my choice of new crime, and after much thought I have come up with the offence of 'scuffling'. Of course there could be an aggravated version of the offence as well.

Drunk people, or youths, often get arrested for public order offences where it is suggested that their behaviour either constituted an affray or threatening words and behaviour. There is then another offence called disorderly conduct. In my opinion we need an offence that fits in the existing hierarchy between disorderly conduct and threatening words and behaviour, and perhaps 'scuffling' is just the right offence?

Scuffling could be committed either as a single individual or as a group whereby the actus reus was simply to be in a public place shouting and acting aggressively to cause another person concern - but not to think that immediate unlawful violence would be used. Instead the other person could be concerned that 'chav' like behaviour was going to erupt with loud swearing, jeering or just generally bad behaviour. The mens rea could be simply 'knowing that you were acting like a twat'.

I have not made up my mind what the maximum penalty should be, but considering it would sit between disorderly conduct that can only be fined, and threatening words and behaviour that can carry a prison sentenced perhaps scuffling could carry a maximum penalty of a community penalty.

Maybe all of this time off is getting to me?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On Holiday

It is holiday time again. I have two weeks off although I doubt that they will be free of any work related phone calls. It is a shame that solicitors get such little time as holiday. HM Courts Service have issued a vacation notice. The High Courts of Justice are now shut between 1st August 2005 up to and including 30th September 2005 for non urgent business. Perhaps I should change my career path and work towards being a High Court Judge with extended holidays eacvh year!