Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Rubbish

I made a post a few weeks ago about what I would call very bad misinformation on the Attorney General's web site that referred to a case that I had been involved in. The press release that contained this misinformation was removed from the Attorney General's web site when I made a formal complaint about the content of the press release. I have been told many times by the Secretary to the Attorney General that my complaint is being dealt with and that I will receive a response soon - so far I have had nothing but empty promises.

Today I noticed that a speech delivered on 4th October 2005 by the Attorney General has appeared on the web site. Page 26 of this speech makes the same references to the case that were in the press release. Either this complaint has been resolved and my representations have been ignored, or whoever publishes the material on the Attorney General's web site is being somewhat foolish.

I shall make some phone calls today to see why the complaint has not been resolved and why the speech has been posted with the same misinformation in in.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


On Tuesday I went to Court for a video link hearing. My Client had been refused bail the week before but was due to appear in Court via a video link for a second bail application. Video link hearings are always a little bit strange because the Client appears on a television screen and is never physically present in Court. The thing that I find strange about the whole affair is that the client appears on the television screen sitting down with a sign, usually to their right, that says HMP Whatever - they look like news presenters they way that they are arranged.

I got to Court nice and early to have a private conference over the video link with my Client. Unfortunately the video link equipment was not working. After about an hour had passed the Usher told me another revelation - my Client had been lost in the prison system and he was not at the prison he should have been. It took about another hour to locate my Client, and it turned out that he was gone to a far flung South London prison instead of the usual remand prison when he had been refused bail last week.

My whole morning had been a waste of time and the case was simply adjourned to the next day. You would think with the modern technology at our disposal video link hearings would work without any problems?

Monday, November 21, 2005

I Can Shout Louder Than You

I had to deal with the trial from hell today. I attended at one of my local Magistrates Courts to deal with, amongst other things, an assault case where the Client had a problem with alcohol and had failed to provide any instructions prior to the trial date.

When I arrived at 9.30 am I hoped that the Client would not attend at Court because his case was so hopeless. After a series of phone calls I started to think that my client was not coming to Court but then he staggered in the door at about 10.35 am. When I introduced myself (I had not met the Client before) I was immediately greeted with a mouthful of verbal abuse where the Client was demanding to see his lawyer - after several attempts he finally worked out that I was in fact his solicitor.

I took the Client to an interview room and explained the matters for which he was being prosecuted, this also provoked the Client to demand to see his lawyer? Confused? I was too! Everytime I mentioned the charges my Client would shout out, "Are you not listening to me man, not guilty". The Client could not progress past the point of saying not guilty to explain why he was not guilty. Repeatedly through my delightful conversations with my Client he would shout, "Are you listening man?" to which I would reply, "Yes Mr. X, I am listening to your every word. That is the ?th time you have said that. Please do explain your case to me as so far you have provided no instructions at all". After 20 minutes of this experience I told my Client that due to the aggressive behaviour that he was displaying towards me I was going to leave the room and consider if I was going to continue to represent him. I was then called in to Court and told the district Judge that I was minded to withdraw from the case, the District Judge stated that he could not compel me to stay but did request that I remain to assist the Court. I do not know why but I remained.

After a further 20 minute shouting match with my Client I finally had some instructions. I discovered that if I shouted louder than my Client he was forced to listen to me, so I spent much of my time obtaining instructions by aggressively shouting at my Client.

The trial turned out to be an absolute nightmare. The Client would not contain himself and was removed from the Court for contempt of Court before lunchtime. I then represented the Client in his absence. After lunch the District Judge agreed to allow the Client to remain in the Court for the remainder of the hearing, but after about 15 minutes the Client because abusive towards the witnesses and was removed again. Eventually we got round to the Client giving evidence from the dock.

The Client was amazingly poor when giving evidence. He announced to the world that he had no convictions for assaulting Police Officers despite his antecedents showing four such convictions! He was crossed examined on that point and when the District Judge explained the reasons behind his findings of fact he commented that the Client was clearly a liar.

To my credit I managed to get one of the four charges dismissed on the basis that the prosecution evidence was weak, and for the three other matters the District Judge found the Client guilty but on a limited basis. This was a case where I expected to, and did, go down in flames.

To top the afternoon off the Client was remanded in custody, having previously been on bail, due to his late arrival.

This is another notable 'drunk' case where I have had no choice but to proceed to trial with a drunk Client. These cases always go wrong because the Client is always so unpredictable.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Are You Counsel?

I went off to a Magistrates Court that is a little off my usual path.

I spoke with the Prosecutor first of all about the case. As the case was listed for a first appearance today I collected the advance information from the Prosecutor who then wanted to know what firm of solicitors was representing the Client. The conversation went a little like this:

Her: Who instructs you?
Me: I do.
Her: Sorry?
Me: I am dealing with the case.
Her: Are you Counsel?
No: I am a solicitor.
Her: Sorry.

After finding and speaking to my Client I spoke with the Usher to let her know that my Client and I had attended at Court and that her case was ready to be called on. The conversation went like this:

Me: Hello, I am here representing Mrs X.
Her: Is your Client here?
Me: Yes.
Her: Are you ready to be called on.
Me: Yes.
Her: Who has instructed you?
Me: No, I am a solicitor.
Her: Oh sorry, you look like Counsel.

At some point during the morning I was approached by one of the duty solicitors local to the Court I was at, they spoke with me:

Him: Hello, what are you doing here.
Me: I am just waiting to be called on for a first appearance.
Him: I don't know if you can help me. I am the duty solicitor today and I have a Client who has a co-defendant. They are both in custody and the co-defendant has legal aid with a firm but they have not turned up. Would you accept a brief from the solicitors to represent the other chap?
Me: Erm, I'm not Counsel.
Him: Sorry, you look like Counsel.

It turned out the reason people kept mistaking me for a barrister was because I was smartly dressed in a pin striped suit. I dress smartly every day and do think that there are some shabbily dressed solicitors out there who have clearly grown to be too comfortable in their usual surroundings and dress pretty poorly. I did not mind being mistaken for Counsel on the basis that I was well dressed but I do think that people have the wrong idea when they suggest that in the general heirachy of things that barristers come above solicitors in terms of dress sense!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I had an unpleasant experience over the weekend trying to restore a computer that had been hacked. As far as I could tell a hacker from Holland had exploited a hole in my usually tight firewall and destroyed my mail server. I did consider investigating the matter further by exploring security logs, trying to trace IP address and the like - but what's the point?

The Computer Misuse Act 1990 has been somewhat battered by a recent decision made by District Judge Kenneth Grant. Although I may be able to use the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to deal with my case I am fairly sure that the legislation is so outdated that further holes will be punched in it to prevent further convictions. I have been a little surprised by the media coverage that this case has received, afterall it was a first instance decision of a Magistrates Court.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Chinese Government Comes To Town

I spoke with a colleague recently whom I worked with when I was completing my training contract. I usually speak with this particular person about once a week and we often discuss what we have both been doing during the week. When I spoke to this colleague I asked him if he had been up to anything interesting and he told me that he had been to Bow Street Magistrates Court to apply for an arrest warrant for a Chinese Minister. I found this to be rather surprising as the usual reply would have been that he had been stuck at a Magistrates Court, or had spent half the night at the Police Station.

Our conversation continued and he explained that a request had been made at his office to apply for an arrest warrant, and the partners at his firm thought it would be high profile pro bono work worth doing. I said to him, "What on earth are you doing making frivolous applications like that?" My colleague did not believe in the merits of the application but said that it had been a pleasant day out of the office as the application was made in the morning and the District Judge that heard the application delivered a reasoned judgment at 4.00 pm that day. He was even interviewed by Channel 4 news, but unfortunately they did not play the footage of the interview.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

CDS Direct Rumours

I talked a few days ago about the new pilot scheme being run by the Legal Services Commission to provide telephone advice to people detained at the Police Station in certain circumstances called CDS Direct. During the past week I have been listening to comments made by solicitors across the country and it seems that the CDS Direct pilot is not running as smoothly as it should be. All of my comments here are based on rumours or accounts given to me by colleagues - I have yet to have my own experience with CDS Direct. Here are some of the things that I have heard:
  1. CDS Direct employs 15 'advisors', so at any one time there are up to 5 advisors at the CDS Direct call centre. This means that the Legal Services Commission have replaced the services of hundreds of solicitors available to deal with telephone advice calls at any point in the day with 5 advisors. It seems that calls that should be dealt with by CDS Direct are being put through to solicitors in the way they were prior to the CDS Direct pilot because the CDS Direct call centre is under staffed. On this same point the man who has trained the advisors is apparently Tony Edwards from the solicitors firm TV Edwards. A colleague has stated that Mr. Edwards advice to the advisors was that they must complete their telephone advice call and complete their notes before moving on to the next call and if that means not picking up an incoming call then so be it.
  2. Of all the Custody Sergeants asked none are aware of the CDS Direct pilot. This snap shot view has been obtained by solicitors asking in an ad hoc way when they attend at the Police Station.
  3. CDS Direct are not sticking to their operational procedures as they are advising people for cases that fall outside of their remit.
  4. The Legal Services Commission press office (it has been suggested that Richard Shand has made this comment) is stating that the CDS Direct pilot has dealt with all eligible cases. 90% Being dealt with (i.e. advice given) within 15 minutes, 99% within 30 minutes (these times are less than the target times set down). The experiences of solicitors attending at the Police Station, and other solicitors picking up calls because CDS Direct has not dealt with the call for some reason, suggests that the comment by the Legal Services Commission press office may not be correct.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Billing Time Again

Billing time has come round again. It is that time of the month when the management in my firm tell all of the fee earners to bill all of the files that are possible to bill.

I do not mind billing. It is a time consuming activity but it is nice to understand how my hard work can translate in to money for my employer.

An e-mail was sent to me today suggesting that I should perhaps bill a little bit more this month. It is exactly this kind of attitude that has driven me from the firm I currently work for to find employment elsewhere. I am being told to bill more, was the £50,000 worth of bills I submitted last month not enough? I had a glut of Crown Court cases finish last month which hopefully will be paid in the next few months. I am going to bill no where near the £50,000 of last month, the firm will probably get something like £10,000 out of me for this month. The management fails to understand that to earn large fees on Crown Court cases I have to ease off the Police Station and Magistrates Court work.

Never mind, I shall submit my billing and keep on smiling knowing that my days are numbered as I start my new job in the new year.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Why Call It CDS Direct?

A pilot being run by the Legal Services Commission will begin on 31st October 2005. The pilot is designed to examine whether it is feasible for legal advice to be given by a call centre in less serious cases to people arrested and detained at the Police Station.

The Legal Services Commission has called it's call centre CDS Direct. I strongly object to this name as it is misleading.

CDS Direct stands for Criminal Defence Service Direct. Solicitors firms who do legally aided criminal defence work form the Criminal Defence Service. The Legal Services Commission is also running a pilot called the Public Defender Service which has a handful of offices dotted around the country. These offices are staffed by employees who are paid by the Legal Services Commission. They are public defenders.

Although the Public Defender Services comes under the umbrella of the Criminal Defence Service the vast majority of the CDS is made up of firms who hold a General Criminal Contract - people who are paid legal aid fees instead of being paid directly by the Legal Services Commission.

Most solicitors in private practice objected to the idea of the CDS Direct Pilot. The Legal Services Commission ignored our objections and decided to set up the pilot anyway. When the Legal Services Commission realised that they would not be able to employ duty solicitors from private practice to work in the call centre on a part time basis because it would conflict with their existing work commitments members of the PDS were drafted in. When the Legal Services Commission realised that they may be breaking the rules by using non-solicitors to advise detained people over the telephone where the detained people had been asked if they wanted to speak to a solicitor the LSC simply changed the rules.

I do not know why the Legal Services Commission are still calling this pilot CDS Direct. It perhaps should be called PDS Direct or LSC Direct because it has more to do with those organisations than it does with the majority of the Criminal Defence Service.

So if you are arrested after 31st October 2005 for a very simple matter where legal representatives usually only give legal advice over the telephone your advice will come from the CDS Direct call centre. You will be advised by a person who holds a qualification called the Police Station Qualification but they may or may not be a solicitor. You will probably only get to speak to a solicitor at the CDS Direct call centre if you specifically ask for one.

How Rude

I was the Police Station Duty Solicitor for a busy scheme on Saturday afternoon. Between the hours of 3pm and 11pm I had 12 cases referred to me. One of the cases was a female who had been accused of harassment.

It was slightly problematic contacting the Police Station after 9.30pm because 15 people were brought in for football violence following the Arsenal v Tottenham match. As the Police in the custody suite seemed to ignore the phone when I tried to phone them I had to rely on the Police phoning me.

I got a call about this female about 10.30 pm. The Officer told me that he was going to conduct the interview in the morning. I explained that I would speak to the Client and see whether she opposed that course of action. I then spoke to the Client and she was rather feisty straight away. At one point our conversation went like this:

Her: Are you coming down to the Police Station now?
Me: No. You are receiving free legal advice and assistance under legal aid. The government has seen fit to refuse to pay me to do work that is deemed unnecessary and at present the Officer in the case cannot provide me with disclosure, he has further investigations to carry out - therefore legal aid would not extend to me coming to see you unless there is a real issue to be dealt with.
Her: What?
Me: Are you a vulnerable person with mental health or learning difficulties?
Her: No.
Me: Are you a juvenile?
Her: No.
Me: Have the Police mistreated you?
Her: No, but I am still here.
Me: The Officer is not going to be in a position to interview you tonight. I need to discuss...
Her: [Shouting in the background] He aint coming down, what f***ing good is that. He can f*** off.
Me: Hello, hello... Is anyone there?

I tried to phone the Police Station back several times but they simply would not pick up the telephone. Due to the comments made by the Client I considered her to have dispensed with my services. I do not need to put up with comments like that. The Client was obviously upset that they were going to spend the night in a Police cell but if they were not going to listen to what I was going to say what was the point in acting for the Client?

The next day I received another phone call about the Client. The Police were ready to interview and the Client had asked for me to attend at the Police Station. I told the Police that she had dispensed with my services last night, so she would have to find another solicitor. The clever Client kicking off complaining about having to stay at the Police Station had ensured that she would be at the Police Station even longer as she had to find another solicitor. The moral to this story is do not bite the hand that feeds you .i.e. be nice to your solicitor.