Sunday, July 31, 2005

If You Are Going To Lie Please Do It Properly

When I attend at the Police Station to deal with Clients I follow a set routine of explaining who I am and my role, taking down their details, providing them with all the information given to me by the Police, explaining the law, and then I ask them to provide me with their version. Once I have heard their account I will question them and play 'Devil's advocate' with the questions I know the Police will ask.

This process usually yields good results, but every now and then there is a Client who just does not listen, or cannot provide a very good account. Recently I dealt with a Client and his account was very, very poor. It did not agree with many of the points in the Police disclosure and fundamentally the account differed in one important respect - the Police claimed that an item that had been stolen fell out of the Client's clothing after he struggled when stopped by security guards, the Client said that he discarded the item before he even left the shop. I explained to the Client that I thought his account would not stand up to scrutiny in the Police interview (let alone a Court of law). I said in simple terms, "If you have a defence you should put it forward in the interview even if it does not agree with the Police evidence. But if you have nothing good to say then you are probably best not answering questions. I can only advise you, you must make the decision." The Client decided he wanted to answer questions in the interview.

In interview the Client started to add all kinds of rubbish to his account. I stopped the interview once to ask, "What are you playing at?" The Client said that he had remembered some 'stuff'. We then continued with the interview and the Client started to dig a large hole for himself by denying that events happened, and then a few seconds later agreeing that they did happen. Despite my best attempts to warn the Client that he was becoming a danger to himself he decided to ignore my 'learned' advice and carried on with his elaborate account.

The most horrifying part of the interview was at the end:

Police: "So you are saying that you did not steal the item?"
Client: "No".
Police: "So why was it found on you outside the shop?"
Client: "I don't know, oh, whatever."
Police: "So did you steal it".
Client: "Who knows?"

I was fortunate with this Client as he did not cause me any difficulties with professional ethics as his account always remained around the same themes. I did want to shout at the Client several times, "If you are going to lie, please, do it properly!" Of course I could not represent a Client whom I knew was lying so I could not say it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Grumpy Judge

This week I read a law report followed up by a newspaper report in the Telegraph about a well known grumpy Judge who is often found at Snaresbrook Crown Court. This situation does sound very amusing but in reality grumpy Judges and District Judges do affect cases. There is a District Judge who I am told is required to sit a number of days a year as a Recorder in one of my local Crown Courts, but the Crown Court does all they can to prevent the Judge sitting as a recorder because they are such a handful and have an attitude very much like the Judge in the Telegraph report. When I appear in front of the District Judge I have a general rule of thumb: 'If you cannot say what you need to say in three seconds then don't bother'. If you cannot spit it out before the District Judge intervenes and questions exactly what is going on and then rubbishes what you have to say then there is little point in saying it.


The government thinks that solicitors are psychic and will know that the law is changing without telling anyone!

On 22nd July 2005 government ministers signed off a piece of legislation that affects how prison days spent on remand are dealt with as part of a prison sentence. This legislation then came in to force on 23rd July 2005 (the following day). We all knew that this new law was going to come in to effect because it was buried deep within the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and that particular piece of legislation has been publicly available for quite some time now. What we did not know was when these provisions would come in to force.

The government brought these new provisions in to force, and several days later they publish a Home Office Circular on the provisions, and nearly a week later they actually publish the new regulations that have come in to force! Do I have to be psychic to keep up to date with the changes in the law? They say, "Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law," but is that really fair when laws are brought in to force that have not yet been made publicly available to read and digest?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Waiting Can Be So Frustrating

I find that waiting at the Police Station or Court is really frustrating. There are ways to combat waiting, such as doing more work on the case you are attending on, take more work to do in case you have to wait, read a book, or even just chat. What really does frustrate me is when I have to wait for no apparent reason and it is just not possible to do something else at the time I am waiting.

When I recently went to a Police Station I dealt with a number of Co-defendants. My Clients were interviewed in the very early hours of the morning but it was deemed too late for the Co-defendants to be interviewed so everyone went in to their sleep period. That same morning after the sleep period had expired I phoned the Police Station at regular intervals until I was told to attend for 4pm.

I went back to the Police Station at 4pm as requested but had to wait until 4.50pm before the Police were actually ready to deal with my Clients. I was informed that the delay was due to CPS advice arriving late. Whilst I was waiting outside of the Police Station I spoke with representatives of the other Co-defendants. There were a total of three solicitors, two professional appropriate adults from 'social services', and two parents all waiting from 4pm to deal with their particular youth.

From 4.50pm I stood in the custody suite with my Client advising them on the charging procedure, drug testing following charge, what happens at the first Court appearance, the likely length of time it could take to conclude their case, and how bail conditions would be imposed. Apart from the 10 minutes that we were in front of the Custody Sergeant for charging, and the 10 minutes we were in being drug tested, we stood around for the best part of an hour. By this time I was struggling to find something to advise my Client on. I could not leave the Client as a decision regarding bail had not been made and she was in danger of being kept in Police custody and produced at Court the following day.

At 5.50pm I had noticed that the three Custody Sergeants were in discussion with three new Custody Sergeants. When I asked why nothing appeared to be going on in the custody suite I was told that it was 'change over time'. For 20 minutes these discussions continued, and whilst 'change over' took place I counted that there were 28 people (including Police Officers, Defendants, Solicitors, and Appropriate Adults etc.) milling around in the Custody Suite waiting to be seen to.

This mighty backlog of people took quite some time to deal with. I was glad to have left the Police Station just after 7pm when my two Clients had both been charged and bailed to Court. It was unusual for the charge procedure to take so long, even where the Police Station was busy. I found the whole experience mind numbingly boring due to the frustration I experienced with waiting. As the Custody Suite was so busy I was unable to sit down and read some papers that I had with me, I did not have a book, I had taken all of the instructions that I possibly could have done, and there was nothing else I could do whilst waiting but stand there and vegetate! I felt sorry for the Co-defendant's representatives as they were waiting from 4pm to be seen and by 7pm they had not been dealt with.

Prison Population

The British prison population could rise substantially peaking at just under 91,000 in 2011 according to a Home Office statistical bulletin. The effects of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have yet to be felt or measured on the prison population. Reports are now circulating that senior Judges will state that reductions on prison sentences should be made of up to 15% to stop prison population going out of control.

I am not convinced that reducing the prison sentence that newly convicted defendants get by 15% is really the answer to the prison population problem. This really is a strange way for the government to advance it's criminal justice policies, particularly as they seem to be suggesting that they are 'hard on crime'.

A while ago the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, tried to initiate a movement along the same lines as is being suggested today. The prison population was at breaking point and arrangements had been made for prisoners to be held in Police Stations. He said that not all burglars should be sent to prison. That never went down well when I tactfully put that suggestion forward when mitigating for Clients at Court.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Are You Mistaken?

I recently sat in a Police interview where my Client was denying an offence. He was then read the relevant passages from the victim's statement and was asked to comment on the allegation. My Client continued to protest his innocence and then the Officer gave a summary of what my Client had said:

Him: "So are you calling him a liar".
Client: "Yes".
Me: "No, he is saying that the gentleman is mistaken. There is a big difference between lying and being mistaken - he is mistaken".
Client: "Yes, that's right. I am mistaken".

With the Crown Prosecution Service serving bad character applications at every available opportunity all I need is a Police Officer getting my Client to agree that he is calling someone a liar so I am then inundated with double the work for the case!

Monday, July 25, 2005

That Took Balls

I went off to my favourite Youth Court the other day to deal with a feisty Client. The Client was attending at Court to be sentenced. I read through the pre-sentence report with them and they expressed their discontent with the author of the report. The discontent was that they were not understood and no one listened to what they had to say.

When the case was called on the District Judge asked the feisty Client directly if she should pay compensation to a victim who had sustained a small cut. The answer was, "No way!" The Client was asked why they felt like that and were asked the question by the District Judge, "If you were the man would you not deserve compensation?". At first the adult accompanying the Defendant whispered, "Say yes", even though the Defendant had been convicted at trial they said, "No," and explained the basis of their unsuccessful defence. The District Judge listened and then said he would not order compensation for the reasons given by the Defendant.

The Defendant had some balls saying what they did, and it did the trick! No compensation was ordered on the basis of what the Defendant had said.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Youth Court

I really dislike attending at Youth Courts. One particular Youth Court that I go to fairly regularly is so awful that my heart sinks when I see the Court mentioned in my diary. Even if you attend early there are so many variable factors that can ruin the timeliness of the case due to the poor management of the Court that you have to expect to be at the Court all day even when you have a morning listing.

The real reason I dislike Youth Courts is because the proceedings are held in 'closed courts' meaning that unlike adult Courts you are not allowed to see what is happening unless you are in fact part of the Court hearing. In practical terms that means you cannot speak to the Court Clerk, the Prosecutor, or Usher unless they wander out of Court or the Court takes a break for a short period of time.

I am sitting on the Tube on the way to this particular Youth Court to deal with a Client who surrendered today to a warrant. I was only told that the Client was surrendering about 11.00 am. I will now suffer at the hands of the Court waiting to speak to anyone about the case who can help me progress it as I cannot walk in to a 'closed Court'.

Joy, oh joy.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Cost Drivers

As my profession seems to be obsessed with costs at the moment I have been considering ways to make the criminal justice system more efficient.

Today I attended at an Identification Suite to view a witness watching video identification parades of two of my Clients. I telephoned in the morning to check that the appointment was still going ahead - I was told that it was.

In the afternoon I attended at the Identification Suite promptly to discover that the viewing had now been cancelled because the witness was in France! Still seething with anger and frustration I said to the Inspector at the desk:

Me: "Why didn't you phone me?"
Him: "We didn't know who you were."
Me: "My name, office address and telephone number is on the form the Client signed when he consented to take part in this identification procedure".
Him: "Yes it is, isn't it. Erm, I'm not sure why we didn't phone you then."
Uniformed Officer: "We only found out about an hour ago".

If they had looked on their paperwork they would have found my telephone number. They could have telephoned my office to tell me the appointment had been cancelled, and even if I had already left the office could have called me on my mobile phone. If the call had been made it would have saved wasting my time, and it would have saved public funds.

My idea to reduce cost drivers is to get the Police to talk to solicitors more.

To Be Charged, Or Not To Be Charged?

Representing Clients at the Police Station can be a little bizarre at times. It is always rather challenging when you are representing a Client for a serious matter and you are representing the Client on your own whilst the Police Investigation team consists of a number of officers. There is also a certain sense of kudos when a news report or television report appears and it concerns your Client.

Whenever I am at the Police Station my priority is to do what I can to get my Client out of the Police Station as quickly as possible without them being prosecuted. But if I am trying to ensure that my Client is released without charge it means that I am trying to stop any of my Client from ever appearing in Court.

Sometimes I think of the money that could be made on serious cases when the Client's case is dropped - I sigh and then think that the Client will be happy they are not going to be prosecuted. Afterall my job is to act in the best interests of my Client and if that means business must suffer then so be it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lord Carter Gets A Website

Lord Carter of Coles is conducting a formal review, at the request of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, on the procurement of legal aid services.

Today a new website appeared for the purposes of this review. You will find the web site at

The web site even invites people to send in their views on this subject. I certainly shall waste no time in writing to Lord Carter - I would also invite others to do the same!

Is That The Right One?

I was at a Police Station last night dealing with a case where a Client had been accused of 'dipping'. This is otherwise known as pick pocketing.

My Client was alleged to have followed someone round a supermarket and taken their purse out of their handbag at an opportune moment and then concealed the purse in the freezer section.
I was given disclosure and I had a consultation. The Client was being cagey and did not want to give an account. That was fine. He decided to give a no comment interview, particularly because there was no statement from the victim, although the police said they had traced her and knew who she was.

The interview went as expected right up until the end. The Police asked their usual questions and the Client gave the stock response of "no comment". The Police then pulled out the purse in an evidence bag. One of the Police Officers then said, "We are showing Mr. Bloggs exhibit WLV/1, a grey purse". The Office then said, "The statement from the Security Guard says that he saw you walking with this black purse and that he recovered this black purse from the freezer".

My Client put his hand up like a small school child and asked to have a private consultation. He then said, "I have never seen that thing in my life". He was pointing to the grey purse that was supposed to be the crucial evidence.

The Police polished off the interview doubting that they had recovered the right purse. I guess the key question if this case turns in to a prosecution is, "Madam, was your purse black or grey?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Whilst attending at a North London Magistrates Court today I sat observing some of the other advocates whilst I was waiting for my case to be called on.

The first solicitor was representing a young female who was charged with stealing £76,000 from a firm of solicitors. The solicitor clearly did not realise theseriousnesss of the offence and the fact that it was ultimately going to result in a lengthy custodial sentence. The solicitor faffed around saying that the Client was not ready to enter a plea but venue could be dealt with. Don't they call it plea before venue? When the District Judge politely ordered the Solicitor to deal with plea the Defendant entered a guilty plea. The solicitor then gave the worst mitigation story I have ever heard. The Defendant claimed to have experienced a very bad break up with a boyfriend (the Defendant was only 18). As a consequence of the emotional distress the Defendant had sought the help of a spiritual healer who charged her fees of about £76,000 to cast a spell on the boyfriend. The spiritual healer certainly did well out of all of this!

When the District Judge indicated he was going to commit the case for sentence the Solicitor then suggested the case was better dealt with in the Magistrates Court with a PSR considering a community penalty.

I m not sure what planet this solicitor was from but they really should go home - they are going to give us all a bad name.

The second lunatic I saw was representing a Defendant who had pleaded guilty to failing to register his new addreswithrh the on the sex offenders register. The Defendant was in custody as he had no address and he had been produced seven days after his last remand to re-examine his bail position.

The Solicitor said that no bail hostel had been found and that she would therefore apply for bail again. She started off by saying that her Client had spent the last 10 years in prison after he served a sentence on a rape case and was returned to prison for breaching the terms of his licence conditions - not a good start in my opinion to highlight the Defendant's past and likely future failure to comply with Court orders etc. She then blamed his case on the Probation Service saying that they would not help him. Probation intervened and pointed out that he was returned to prison for not complying with their orders. Then the Solicitor said it was just unfair that her Client should stay in custody. During her address to the Court the Defendant had been trying to get her attention but she had simply waved at the Defendant saying, "Later".

The Defendant then asked to address the District Judge directly but he was told that he should make his comments through his solicitor or consider sacking her. I thought that the Defendant was going to follow the DJ's suggestion but unfortunately he bit hitongueue and kept quiet.

When the Defendant's case was adjourned for him to remain in custody for a full pre-sentence report the solicitor asked for a pre-trial review!? She wanted to check the progress on the case before it came back to Court properly for sentence. Her request was respectfully declined. When the hushed giggles around the Court stopped the Court Clerk called on the next case.

Cost Drivers

I defend people who are accused of, and who have defrauded the benefits system. Most of the cases are simply that a single mother has been on benefits and needed more money due to debts, they work for a number of weeks without declaring the extra income, and a year later they are investigated. Many of these cases are swiftly dealt with as a guilty plea because the evidence is usually overwhelming.

When a case is prosecuted by the Department for Work and Pensions they usually instruct Counsel. Counsel attends at Court and is usually assisted by the investigating officer from the DWP who also attends at Court. Recently I have noticed that the investigating officers have been attending in pairs. The DWP only usually ask for £75 in costs to cover their legal fees when someone pleads guilty.

Most cases involving prosecutions are farmed out to Counsel who are paid £100 to deal with the case from start to finish in the Magistrates Court if it is a guilty plea. I am sure that they get paid more for a trial. This fee in itself represents good value for money. What I do nounderstandbd is why does the DWP not come up with a policy where they ask for £100 for costs? That would then mean in some cases they recoup their money spent on instructing Counsel.

The instruction of Counsel seems to be a waste of time. Most of the time they simply read the half a page of typed A4 paper that is the case summary. If aquestionsoks arise that are not contained within this half a sheet of A4 paper they ask the investigating officer, who sometimes turns to his colleague and asks the same question!

I have an idea on how to save money. Pay Counsel more money to deal with the hearing, they will then think it is fair and reasonable to actually read the papers. If the investigating officer is not sent along Counsel will then have to read the papers. The investigating officer is quite clearsuperfluousous if Counsel has been instructed properly.

If most CPS cases are dealt with in this way where the investigating officer is not required until the day of trial why should DWP cases be different?

Get Off Your Backside

I went to a meeting for solicitors today that I talked about yesterday. The meeting was attended by up to 75 people. I spoke to a number of the people who attended and they included solicitors, partners, barristers and even barristers clerks.

The speakers at the meeting included Rob Brown from the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association and Greg Powell who was voted legal aid solicitor of the year. They addressed the group remindiing us that we have no trade union to represent solicitors and if we want to stand up to the government on it's latest set of reforms for legal aid and the criminal justice system then we need to get off of our own backsides and do something about it. I like comments like this because it has been said in plain English and in words that we can all understand.

I am now hoping that this message is spread far and wide so that other soilicitors take note. I wrote a long time ago about competitive tendering and said that the Legal Services Commission had issued a consultation paper and that there was a feeling amongst solicitors that there would be an amazing response. I offered to go out and buy a hat and eat it if 1,000 or more responses were sent in about the consultation. How many responses were sent in? 350.

I cannot remember how many solicitors there are working in crime but I do know that there are over ten times the amount that responded to that consultation.

If ever there was a time to get off a backside and do something then it is now. The only question is what should I do to encourage others?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Where Are They?!

I arrived at a North London Magistrates Court early this morning so I sat down and read through my Court file again and prepared my notes for a hearing. I sat down in a public area. Where I was sat I could not help over hearing the conversation from a group of three people.

At 9.55 am a phone call was made after the female defendant began to worry that her solicitor had not arrived yet. Clearly this was the defendant's first brush with the law because if she had been to Court before she would have known that solicitors rarely arrive at that particular Court that I was at before 10.15 am as the Court does not sit until 10.30 am, CPS and Probation do not come out of wherever they hide until 10.25 am, and they rarely open the internal doors to the Court rooms until 10.20 am.

The defendant then telephoned the solicitor's office at 10.00 am demanding to know where their solicitor was. They came off the phone complaining that they had been told that their legal representative was 'en route'. They wanted to know where the solicitor was at that very moment (I suppose GPS is an idea?).

The Solicitor arrived about 10.15 am to a volley of verbal abuse about not being on time and not caring. These comments were a little harsh.

I later discovered that the group of three had expanded to seven, and it appeared to be a family trip out to Court. They must have been a nightmare to deal with as a group as I am fairly sure that if one person raised a complaint or question for the solicitor that six other people would also say, "Yeah, what about that?"

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Campaigning Against The Enemy

I am off to a meeting on Monday evening. The meeting is going to be attended by solicitors who are trying to fend of challenges to the criminal legal aid system in terms of introducing price competitive tendering and generally reducing the scope of criminal legal aid so that less and less offences can considered serious enough to need a solicitor.

I am quite looking forward to the meeting. I rant and rave about changes to the system and criticisms that other people make of us criminal legal aid solicitors and meetings like this are an opportunity for me to get involved and actually try to make a difference.

I have been attending at meetings of the London Borough group of criminal firms where I am located in London. The meeting that I am going to on Monday is going to be attended by a number of these local Borough groups. I do hope that the meeting is more productive than a group of solicitors agreeing that proposed changes will be awful without agreeing a course of action to stop the proposed changes from coming in to effect. Perhaps I should start a slow and steady chant of, "Strike, strike, strike," and see if anyone else joins in?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Are You Mad?

Many of the Defendants in the criminal justice system have problems, such as mental health issues, or even just a fairly low IQ. Because Defendants come from different backgrounds a Client is usually unique, and part of the joy of my job is meeting these different characters.

Recently an appointment was made for me to see a chap about a harassment case. When the appointment was booked it was booked in the belief that the man was being prosecuted and that he wanted representation in the Magistrates Court. The chap attended at my office clutching a great wad of papers and proceeded to tell me that he had not even been arrested for harassment.

The chap’s account was very simple and amounted to little more than being warned by the Police not to contact someone who had complained about him. The chap was screaming blue murder and demanding to know how he could firstly, sue the Police for making such a rash decision on his case, and secondly, make contact with the complainant without being arrested! I tried to explain to the chap that he did not have a criminal conviction, and that if he harassed the person on two or more occasions he would be liable to arrest and prosecution.

The chap then said he was adamant that he wanted action taken against the Police so I decided to refer him to another firm who deal with actions against the Police. Although I am no expert I formed the opinion that this chap suffered with some kind of mental health problem, and most probably a personality disorder. The chap thought that where he had not spoken to the complainant for several months they might still think that he was in a relationship with them!

If you are wondering why I have referred to this person as a ‘chap’ it is because he was neither a Defendant as he was not being prosecuted for an offence and neither was he a Client as I did not take his case on.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All Good Things Come To He Who Waits

I read a report today, and this report brought a great big smile to my face. The report was on the subject of demand induced supply. I am no economist or statistician but I understand the concept of demand induced supply to mean that the suppliers create their own demand and artificially stimulate a market for their own ends. I often rant and rave about things and recently I have been banging on about the Department for Constitutional Affairs report 'A Fairer Deal for Legal Aid'. I took a particular dislike to this report because it suggested that solicitors had taken advantage over past years and that they had driven the cost of criminal cases up to such an extent that they had reduced the funds available for the legal aid budget for civil cases.

'Demand Induced Supply? Identifying Cost Drivers in Criminal Defence Work' is a report commissioned by the Legal Services Commission and written by Professor Ed Cape and Professor Richard Moorhead. This report rubbishes the idea that solicitors were in control of the cost of criminal cases. The report concludes:

"Understanding how the interplay of broad criminal justice policy, prosecution practice and defence response impacts on criminal defence costs is not easy, particularly on the limited statistical information available at the moment. There is a need for more research and modelling of costs drivers. This would almost certainly need to involve the detailed examination of historical case records of both prosecution and defence, more in-depth analysis of criminal justice statistics and costs data available to the DCA and LSC, and consideration and testing of predictive mechanisms for cost analysis. It also requires significant political will. It is easy to understand the desire of government to reform criminal justice policy, without properly funding the defence side of the equation. Supplier-induced demand provides a convenient political justification for so doing. But our analysis shows that the system itself creates significant demand: it has increased the number and seriousness of cases being processed through the police stations and the courts and it has probably increased the volume of work that needs to be done on those cases. At the moment those demands are being met out of the civil legal aid fund, reductions in profitability for private practitioners or, perhaps most worryingly, reductions in the quality of service being provided to defendants."

At last someone has been able to show that the cost of an average case is determined more by the government than it is by the solicitor doing the work. Wake up Lord Chancellor, this report shows that if you want a fairer deal for legal aid you need to tell your fellow politicians to stop playing with the criminal justice system.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Bar

I wrote about Lord Carter of Coles recently and the fundamental legal aid review that is being carried out by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Today I read on the Bar Council web site (the body that represents all barristers) that they have already met with Lord Carter of Coles! That was quick.

A round of applause goes to the Bar Council for acting so fast. What are us solicitors doing about the situation? As far as I know, and I may be wrong here, the Law Society, the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Legal Action Group, have not yet done anything. They may well have other issues to deal with at present, or they might still be formulating their action plan.

The Bar Council really has been on the ball with recent murmurings over changes to legal aid. They are currently leading the way showing up us solicitors!

I know of one strong minded solicitor who has decided to tackle the issues head on (you will need to scroll down the page to see the letter from Dennis Clarke). I have been sitting pondering the best way to deal with the issues raised in the DCA report. I have put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and will soon fire off a letter to the DCA.

I am of the opinion that if I do not get my voice and my objections heard then I have no right to whinge and complain. Perhaps I should get involved in some kind of practitioners group to take my objections to the next level?

Nice Place To Work

My office is based in a run down part of London. Over the past 12 months I have dealt with a number of cases where the Client was caught supplying class A drugs to undercover Police Officers in the immediate area where my office is based. One of the Clients was using my office doorway as his place of business. I guess if I am defending Clients accused of crimes then one way to pick up new Clients is to be based in an area where crime is rife.

Along the parade of shops where I work there are 'gangs' of beggars. Most are honest enough to say that they have just come out of prison and need some money for food. The problem is that most of them have not 'just' come out of prison that very day, and most of the money collected is undoubtedly going to be spent on crack and heroin otherwise they would not looked so 'spaced out'.

As I waited at the bus stop today I saw a number of drug deals going on. I am not talking about large men in Italian suits driving large four wheel drive vehicles trading briefcases of high purity cocaine for large sums of money. No, I watched regular exchanges of cash for drugs in what must have been £10 or £20 deals. What I do not understand about this scenario is if I can see the drug deal going on in front of me surely everyone else can too including the Police? Are the dealers so foolish that they think they will never be caught?

Monday, July 11, 2005


I went down to the Police Station today to deal with a Client accused of a domestic ABH. I arrived at the Police Station slightly later than planned and spoke with the Officer dealing with the case.

I was given disclosure and told that the victim had reported on Saturday that a nasty domestic assault had taken place back in April 2005. The allegation was nasty in that it was suggested that my Client had repeatedly kicked the victim in the leg causing her a permanent limp.

I asked various questions in disclosure:

Me: "Have you got a statement from the victim yet?".
Them: "No, not yet."
Me: "Do you have a statement from anyone who can corroborate the victim's version of events?"
Them: "No."
Me: "If this is such a nasty incident why has it taken two days to arrest my Client?".
Them: "Bombs, and a murder".
Me: "Fair point".

I then had a consultation with the Client who quite frankly did not say much, and what he did say did not sound very convincing. Whilst my eyes wandered around the interview room that I was having the consultation in I noticed that the Officer had left behind one page to a witness statement. I picked up the statement and then discovered that it was a one page statement from the victim. What luck I thought!

My next thought was, "You lying bas***ds". The victim's statement said that she did not want to pursue the allegation and that she was not going to attend at Court. So the Police did have a statement from the victim and had chosen to lie to me when I asked if they did have a statement. Also, and I am guessing here, it did not take two days to arrest my Client due to bombs and a murder. It took them two days because they were only going to prosecute my Client if he admitted to a crime.

I assess every case on it's own merits but generally speaking when it comes to domestic violence cases my Clients do not answer questions - today's case was a fine example why. I generally expect to be dealt with by the Police as the enemy but I do not expect them to lie to me - that is underhand and out of order. If they did not want to answer the question they could have answered it with a, "No comment".

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Expedited? It Might Be For You

The Probation Service in London continually struggles with resources and it is not uncommon for them to be unable to carry out all the work that the Courts demand from them. I regularly have cases where people plead guilty and the Court adjourns the case for a number of weeks for an interview to take place with the Probation Service to produce a pre-sentence report to assist the Court when it comes to sentencing the Client. Most of the time the report is produced on time, but regularly the report is not completed due to 'a lack of resources'.

The answer, and I am sure that this was an idea from the Home Office during Mr. Blunkett's reign, to the 'lack of resources' problem was to create a system of 'expedited reports'. Under this system Defendants plead guilty and the Court gives the Defendant an appointment to see the Probation Service at a particular time on a particular day (usually within seven days) at Court, and as soon as the report has been produced the case is put in to Court and dealt with. Good idea in theory, absolutely horrible idea in practice.

'Expedited reports' have become a real pain in the backside for me. I have grown wise to the problems associated with expedited reports and if an appointment for the interview is given to my Client in the morning on or after 11.00 am I refuse to attend at Court until the afternoon as the report is never available before that time - although in practice it should be. Quite often I will arrive at Court for the afternoon expected a report to be ready as a result of an interview that was to take place about 11 am 'ish to find that it is not ready until something like 3.30 pm or even 4.00 pm!

Expedited reports only seem to benefit the Court. No doubt the Court will be seen as efficient if the number of days between a first appearance and subsequent disposal is very short. Generally the Probation Service are put under strain with these reports because they devote time from the interviewing officer from the time of the interview until the time the report is produced - and in my experience that is about 4 hours.

Now my real issue with these reports is that as they take a long time to produce it means that I am often left waiting around at Court with nothing to do but wait. Waiting is boring but it is more importantly a waste of public money if it can be avoided.

The net result is that in a drive to make the Court system appear to be more efficient the case gets dealt with quicker, but only after sucking up more resources from the Probation Service and wasting solicitors time. Overall it must cost a great deal more to dispose of a case by way of an expedited report than it does using the old fashioned 'normal' system.

Lord Chancellor if you want to cut costs from the criminal legal aid budget then why don't you look at the external cost drivers that cause wastage in the system rather than suggest that all solicitors and barristers are 'fat cat lawyers'?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Is It Grim Up North?

I recently spoke to an old friend from University who is based up in Bradford and Leeds. Much like myself he left university with his law degree and went searching for a career in law and eventually started to do criminal defence work.

My friend decided about 15 months ago that he needed a career move and he decided to set up his own firm doing only crime. He employs a secretary and a clerk, and he is the only solicitor there in a sole practitioner set up. I am very glad that his venture has become a successful and profitable one - he has obviously worked very hard.

Whilst on the phone my friend said, "Hey, why don't you set up your own firm?" The idea is very nice and ideas of grandeur set in when I dream of the idea. I replied, "I can't set up a firm in London. Competitive tendering will wipe out the small firms within 2 to 3 years, there is a drive to reduce the number of firms in London, not increase it." We then got in to a conversation on the subject of competitive tendering. My friend then said, "Well why don't you move out of London?" Now that is an idea.

I spend a great deal of my time whinging about what happens to me at work, and how I work within a system that I see as flawed. Would moving make me any happier? I don't know. Going from an employee to an employer is a nice idea. I have decided to stay put for the immediate future and consider my position when the dust settles on competitive tendering. If it all goes 'belly up' I will withdraw to deepest darkest Essex and work from there, and I may even consider moving up North where it does not appear to be grim at all - at least not for criminal defence lawyers.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Late Listing

I discovered late last night that one of my cases had been listed at a London Crown Court for today. The system of scheduling cases in Crown Courts is generally very chaotic because they will usually warn you that a case will be heard for trial during a certain working week, but then you get notified the afternoon before the trial starts. So if I knew a case could come up for trial I might get a phone call from the Crown Court at 3.30 pm on one day, and the case will be scheduled to start the following day at 10.00 am.

Even worse is when your case just gets listed for a hearing the next day without any warning!
My office shut yesterday at 4.00 pm due to the bombs in London. I did not get a phone call telling me that the case I am talking about was to be scheduled for a mention hearing today. Being the conscientious soul that I am I checked the internet to see if the case had been listed - and it had. The time was about 8.00 pm. Fortunately the barrister whom I had instructed on this matter works in a chambers that I send a lot of work to, and I know one of the main Clerks mobile phone number. I gave him a call and fortunately he had seen the listing and had arranged for the barrister to be there. Phew I thought.

As I had no appointments for today I then decided I better attend at the hearing to assist Counsel as it would be very difficult to get someone else from my office to cover the hearing. So far so good.

Before I left my home early this morning I double checked the listing for the case and then noticed that the Defendant was required to attend. Now that was not a problem because the Client is currently in custody so he will be brought to Court by Premier Prison Services (now there is a contradiction if ever I have heard of one). The problem with this case is that the particular London Crown Court that I am talking about has a policy that they pay for, but solicitors must book, interpreters to attend at Court.

Where do I find a Vietnamese interpreter at 7.30 am in the morning? Well I haven't found one yet and my Client is not going to understand a word of the hearing.

The Drink Wheel

Whilst looking on the internet for a law report I stumbled across the Drink Wheel. This is a web page maintained by Intoximeters Inc. who are the company that provide most of the drink drive equipment to the UK Police. If you look at the Drink Wheel you can enter different bits of information about what types of drink you have had, over what period of time, and how much you weight to calculate your likely breath reading.

Personally I think anyone who is prepared to drink and drive, and base their calculations of whether they are safe to drive on web site are absolutely mad. My advice is don't do it - if you are going to drink then don't drive. Generally, anyone caught drink driving will get a minimum 12 month ban from driving in addition to another penalty that can be up to 6 months imprisonment (provided you have not killed someone on the road or caused another offence other than just drink driving). Get caught twice in ten years and the minimum ban from driving will be three years.

The best bit of information from the Drink Wheel is the section setting out what the result of a breath test actually means:
  • 0 µg/100 ml of breath - This is the only safe BAC level.
  • 10 µg/100 ml of breath - The BAC limit for drivers in some countries.
  • 24 µg/100 ml of breath - The BAC limit for many countries (approximate).
  • 38 µg/100 ml of breath - The BAC limit for most countries (approximate).
  • 48 µg/100 ml of breath - The BAC limit for drivers in almost every country is no higher than this.
  • 150 µg/100 ml of breath - At this level most people willconsciousnessusness.
  • 200 µg/100 ml of breath - At this level most people will become comatose and may die.

In Britian the drink drive limit is 38 µg/100 ml of breath. Bizarrely I have dealt with a number of people who have given a reading in excess of 150 µg/100 ml of breath who did not loose consciousness. I have even sat in Court and heard people being prosecuted for having readings over 200 µg/100 ml of breath who clearly did not fall in to a comatose state because ablewere abvle to give a breath reading!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

No Work Today?

The bombs in London today had a great affect on my working day. I was due to represent an existing Client who does not have a particularly good sense of time, and as they were appearing at a Magistrates Court that does not sit until 10.30 am I had decided that it would be unwise to attend at Court before 10.30 am.

I set off for work by train and was told almost immediately that the trains were not running in to London and that I should not travel unless my journey was strictly necessary. I made some phone calls and then found out my Client was unlikely to attend at Court due to health problems. I then sat for a while and tried to contact my office, and had little luck due to the mobile phone networks being so congested. Eventually I took the decision to go home and work from there.

I reached home and sent out a number of faxes to sort out my absences for today and then found out that the London trains had not been brought down by a power surge but that the bombs were real and had caused great carnage and death. This shocked me greatly. Working from home was slightly surreal with the events in London going on. I sat and observed more CCTV footage on a case and then put my computer skills to the test by editing and burning some of the CCTV footage on to a DVD for use in a trial.

I have heard from several Government agencies such as the Legal Services Commission and Her Majesty's Courts Service that Courts and other buildings may remain closed tomorrow. I will make the journey in to London tomorrow - thankfully I have no appointments until Monday. I had several phone conversations today about people who were unable to get to certain Courts and how people just abandoned their journey because of problems. I am hoping that 'normal service' is resumed as soon as possible.

I extend my deepest sympathies for anyone affected by today's bombs. The real scary thought for me is that I regularly travel through Liverpool Street and use the bus route that was blown up today. Perhaps my decision to arrive at Court for 10.30 am was one of the better decisions I have made recently?

Conference With Counsel

I received a telephone call yesterday lunchtime from a barrister who is dealing with a trial that is currently being heard in the Crown Court. He phoned me and said, "What are you doing later? I think we need to meet to discuss the case and view the CCTV as a witness has just dropped us in it".

The CCTV that the barrister is referring to is held by me and is subject to an undertaking that I keep it under lock and key. My barrister is not allowed to have a copy of the CCTV despite several applications being made to the Court and pleas made to the CPS. There is a total of 3,500 hours worth of CCTV.

I told Counsel that I was in Court that afternoon so would have to speak to him later. Things went 'belly up' at Court so I finished far later than planned. Eventually I had set up the CCTV and it was agreed that I would watch the CCTV and relay what I was seeing over the phone to Counsel.

After spending some considerable time speaking to Counsel about what he was hoping to achieve by looking at the CCTV I trawled through the mass of material. At 10pm I started a telephone conference with Counsel and by 11.30pm we had finished! During the one and a half hours conference Counsel told me that he was happy with the evidence and that the conference was useful. The CCTV seemed to partly vindicate the Client and gave Counsel some ammunition to fire at the witness for today.

My wife did not sound impressed at 10pm when I said I would only be 10 minutes on the phone. She asked why I could not have dealt with this issue in office hours. By the time I had finished at 11.30pm the wife was asleep in bed. Looks like I will be in the dog house tonight.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

More Doom and Gloom

The Lord Chancellor has written to the Law Society explaining that he is cutting £130m from the criminal legal aid budget. Apparently he is going to stop enhancement in fraud cases being claimed at 200% of the usual rate of pay. This is perhaps a sensible move in a cost cutting exercise as the money will be cut from the 1% of cases accounting for 50% of the criminal legal aidbudget. Soo where will the £130m of savings be redistributed? The answer is I am not sure at the moment, it will probably go in to the civil legal aid pot, but I am damn sure that it will not be seen again in the criminal legal aid budget.

To add to the doom and gloom the Lord Chancellor has also stated that competitive tendering in London is to go ahead with bids being invited no later than April 2006 and that contracts would be awarded no later than October 2006. This is all rather depressing as there is a concerted effort to pull out the smaller firmin Londonon and let the bigger firms run criminal legal aid cases on the basis that bigger means more efficient.

Personally I cannot see how this timetable can be achieved until the Legal Services Commission announces what the basis for tenders will be and how the tendering system is going to operate. Us criminal solicitors in London are waiting for the Legal Services Commission to publish the summary of responses that it received when it consulted on competitive tendering, and announce what it is going to do with competitive tendering. Perhaps it is the DCA who are going to do that instead of the LSC?- that is what today's announcement seems to be about. Afterall I am very confident that it is not the LSC who are worried about the cost of legal aid as all of these cuts seem to be led by the Treasury.

Answer The Phone

Part of my job involves going down to Police Stations to advise and assist people when they have been arrested, and now and then those people are bailed from the Police Station to go back there pending further enquiries by the Police.

I have a real dislike for going back to the Police Station for what I call bail to return appointments. The Legal Services Commission are my paymaster and I have to keep within their rules. Currently their rules state that I should not be paid for attending at the Police Station for a bail to return appointment unless I have made checks to ensure that something is happening that requires legal advice and assistance. I think that this caveat on payment is only fair.

What is not fair is that I have to run around and waste my time to see if the appointment is going to result in action that requires my attendance (such as a reinterview or the person being charged and informed they are to be prosecuted), or whether my attendance is not required because the Police have either dropped the case or have given the person an appointment even further off in the future. None of this work involved to check the case is paid for as the Legal Services Commission states that such work falls outside the scope of legal advice and assistance at the Police Station.

Here is an example of the lengths I have gone to for an appointment today.

  1. Phone call yesterday to the Officer's office. He is not on duty until today so I leave a message for him to call me.
  2. Phone call yesterday to the Police Station where my Client has to attend. The Custody Sergeant cannot help me as he knows nothing about the case and is not prepared to make an effort to find out.
  3. Today I have made 7 phone calls to various numbers to the Police Operator, the Officer, and the Custody Suite. None of these phone calls has been answered.

It is about 1 hour before the appointment and I still do not know what is happening. I must have spent 30 minutes of wasted time trying to find out what is happening. I am playing within the Legal Services Commission's rules so that if I am unable to find out what is happening I will still get paid for attending no matter what the outcome of the case is. Why am I forced to waste my time finding out what is happening when I cannot be paid for any of that wasted time? Even the cost of the phone calls at say £4.05 per phone call for the calls where I actually speak to someone would be nice.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Who is Lord Carter?

I need to get to know Lord Carter, and get an audience with him.

The Lord Chancellor, Charlie Thornton, made an announcement today that as part of his fundamental review of legal aid he has assigned the task of looking in to ways to sort out an ever expanding criminal legal aid budget to Lord Carter. The report or paper, or whatever it should be called, is called A Fairer Deal for Legal Aid. This report is scathing of solicitors suggesting where possible we 'maximize' cases by identifying where money can be made and exploiting legal aid so that our cases become profitable. Quite frankly I found this report somewhat offensive, it seems to miss the point.

The total legal aid budget costs taxpayers about £2.1 billion a year, and criminal legal aid takes up the vast majority of that budget. Out of the criminal legal aid budget 50% of the funds are spent on 1% of the cases. Basically the bigger fraud cases cream off 50% of the budget leaving the remaining 50% of the budget to be spread around 99% of the cases. Richard Collins from the Legal Services Commission said several months ago that there was no overspend in legal aid on Police Station or Magistrates Court work. The Lord Chancellor is getting upset because costs in the Crown Court are out of control.

This report makes little mention of the fact that since the Labour Government were voted in to power they have toyed andmeddledd with the Criminal Justice System. There have been successive Criminal Justice Acts creating new crimes and new sentences, and even the wonderful Anti-Social Behaviour Order. The Lord Chancellor is quick to complain that solicitors are spending the legal aid budget but he makes no mention that the solicitors are alsodealingg with more cases out of the same budget - he is getting value for money in ordinary cases.

The Lord Chancellor should point the finger at the solicitors creaming off 50% of the budget for 1% of the cases and address why those cases cost so much.

Now, I would like to meet Lord Carter or at least be given an opportunity to give evidence to him about the Lord Chancellor and his fanciful ideas that I am abusing the legal aid budget. Government and Treasury officials are clearly concerned that the criminal legal aid budget increases year on year but they should not be looking at solicitors as the culprits of causing the increase, they should perhaps look down the corridors of Westminster and tell Mr. Clarke to stop thinking up ideas such as ASBOs.

Rant over.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Reaccreditation... What A Cheek!

In order to become a Duty Solicitor you have to jump through many hoops and pass many tests. First of all you have to struggle through a degree for three years, then there is the Legal Practice Course for another year. Once you have got your academic qualifications you need to get a training contract for two years. If you get through your training contract you will qualify as a solicitor, and then you need 12 months experience before you can apply to be a Duty Solicitor. Then you have to pass the Police Station Qualification and Magistrates Court Qualification before you can become a fully qualified Duty Solicitor.

The Law Society does not call Duty Solicitors Duty Solicitors, they call them panel members to the Criminal Litigation Accreditation Scheme (CLAS). I think at one time the CLAS was going to be called the Criminal Litigation Accreditation Panel, but that would have spelt CLAP, and it would not go down well with solicitors saying that they have CLAP membership.

I have already been down this long journey and regularly end up at the Police Station and Magistrates Court dealing with cases as a Duty Solicitor.

When the Law Society dreamt up this idea of CLAS panel members it was changing the current system that had been in place for many years. Previously to become a duty solicitor you had to be a solicitor and then pass an interview at one of the local duty solicitor panels, if you passed the interview that was it you were in. Once you had passed the interview no one could take away your title of duty solicitor.

Now in 2001 the Law Society came up with the CLAS system. When it was introduced the Law Society said that in the future they will require CLAS panel members to go through some form of reaccreditation. The Law Society then came up with the idea that CLAS panel members could obtain stage 1 membership or stage 2 membership. To date the Law Society has not yet decided what stage 2 membership is and not one individual is a stage 2 member.

Why have I explained all of this? Well, it is because the Law Society has now decided that it is going to sort out how to reaccredit all of the CLAS panel members, and it is seeking views from the legal profession. The Law Society has issued a consultation paper. The Law Society is not seeking views on whether reaccreditation is necessary, no, it is seeking views on how to implement a system of reaccreditation.

This consultation paper is going to get a massive backlash from duty solicitors. The body in charge of legal aid payments, the Legal Services Commission, has never asked for duty solicitors to be reassessed, and apparently they are not pushing for reaccreditation. There are duty solicitors who passed their local duty solicitor interview several decades ago who will not be happy about reaccreditation. Personally I do not think that reaccreditation would be a problem for me as I had to go through the original accreditation system and I keep myself updated on law and procedural changes in criminal law anyway. Why will there be a backlash? Because the Law Society will make a lot of money from this process by charging solicitors upwards of £200 to obtain a new certificate to say that they are a CLAS member for another 5 years. That £200 would be for doing nothing but issuing a certificate. The training bodies that would be doing the reaccreditation assessments would collect hundreds of pounds for each solicitor undertaking the assessment course. So whilst the Law Society and training bodies collect money from us duty solicitors what do we get in return? A piece of bloody paper that has a new expiry date stamped on it!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Friday Night Phone Call

Here is an example of the random phone calls that I deal with 24 hours a day:

Ring, ring... ring, ring...

Me: "Hello, can I help?"
Him: "My wife has been arrested."


Me: "Oh, what has she been arrested for?"
Him: "I don't know"
Me: "Okay, where is she being held? What Police Station is she in?"
Him: "Money is no object".
Me: "That's very nice, and not necessary as legal aid would cover the costs. Where is your wife being held?"
Him: "I don't know. I can travel to you now if you like."
Me: "No, that's really not necessary. I need to know where your wife was arrested before I can help you. Where was she arrested?"
Him: "In London. She does not speak much English."
Me: "Have you spoken to her?"
Him: "Yes she phoned me".
Me: "Did she say where was?"
Him: "No".
Me: "What part of London was she arrested in? If you tell me I might be able to find her by phoning a few Police Stations?"
Him: "I don't know. Can you help?"
Me: "Erm, well not unless you can narrow down where she is otherwise it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I cannot phone every Police Station in London looking for your wife."
Him: "Oh".
Me: "Sorry".
Him: "I will wait for her to phone and then I will call you."
Me: "Okay, that's fine."

Did the caller phone me back after waking me up? No.