Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Day In The Life Of A Duty Solicitor

Here is a post from the Criminal Solicitor Dot Net web site from a Duty Solicitor recalling how she spent her days over the festive period. This is what I call dedication. In my younger days before I had a wife and children I might have considered doing this volume of work over a two national holidays:

This is the way my Christmas holidays have gone:

26th December - to court to deal with own client. Only 5 prisoners in the cells, 1 of whom had asked for the duty. (I am not on the duty rota for this court by the way.) When I arrived the duty had not arrived. Group 4 or whatever they call themselves now checked the rota and said that the duty had a client in the cells for breach of bail. The original charge was att rape x 2. When contacted the duty said they were not coming to Court. The clerk then said that he could simply bail the client who had asked for the duty but this left the breach prisoner and could I help. I spoke to the client and agreed to represent him. It was clear that he should be re-bailed. He was not a British national and his English was not sufficiently good to represent himself in Court. The prosecution were opposing him being re-bailed. I represented him and he was re-bailed. I cannot submit an agency bill because the firm did not know that I was going to represent him. I think that I can let them have a grad fee claim and ask them to submit it with their bill at the end of the case though. With regard to my own client who was on a warrant to another court as well, I could not even get him to enter his guilty plea because there was only one Magistrate. Come back on 30th when we should have 2 magistrates.

27th December - to court as duty solicitor - there should be 2 duty solicitors each day. The other duty did not turn up leaving me to deal with clients in two courtrooms. It is manageable unless it is simply a remand Court which this was. The Bench were kept waiting but did not seem to mind too much.

28th December - 24 hour duty from 6pm until 6pm 29th December - this led to problems on 29th December because....

29th December - contacted at 8am by police station to say own client in cells and not yet ready. Not going to be ready until about 11.30am. Thats OK because although I am Court Duty I should be finished for about then and will contact once I have finished. Arrive at Court and the other duty does not turn up AGAIN. This leaves me with 6 prisoners, in 2 courtrooms and 5 needed bail applications plus the prosecutor in one court was extremely gung ho and wanted pleas entering. I managed to resist that though.

As a result realise that I am not going to be able to deal with own client at police station. Speak to her on phone and she agrees to ask for the duty. Next thing I get a call from the Duty scheme referring my own client to me. I have to decline.

30th December 2005 - Back to the court from 28th where again there was only one Magistrate and the clerk and the prosecutor said that the clerk from 28th should have known that there would only be one Magistrate! No real progress there then.

31st December 2005 - Awoken at 6.10am by telephone call from Duty Scheme as they cannot raise either of the two 24 hour duty solicitors could I deal with a panel case? Allegation of digital penetration. Speak to Custody staff, client arrested at about 3am and when brought into custody stated he had had 15 bottles of WKD and also the complainant was extremely drunk and could not be medically examined until later in the morning. Also because I know that the police will offer the AP a video interview before taking her statement I think that it is very unlikely that there will be an interview before late afternoon and possibly early evening. Having agreed to take the case and written off my New Year's Eve I am delighted to deal with two of the nicest and most sensible officers I have met in a long time. They say that they will be ready at 11.30 and no we don't mind if you go to the bank first and get here for 12.00. They give me disclosure of the outline of the allegation and when I speak to client he denies offence categorically and in such a way that I am able to advise him to answer questions now without AP having been interviewed. After his interview the officers go off and do the video interview and then client is bailed for forensic results.

So in the space of 5 days 5 different duty solicitors either did not attend Court or did not answer their phone. Not good. If you are wondering why I was Court duty twice its because I agreed to cover both days for people who have children and wished to spend Christmas with them.

Finally, guess what I am 24 hour duty from 9am tomorrow until 9am 2nd Jan.


indigo said...

So in the space of 5 days 5 different duty solicitors either did not attend Court or did not answer their phone. And left you swinging in the breeze. I am not a lawyer (although one of my brothers is) but I would find some civilised but deadly way to - er - remonstrate with them.

Anonymous said...

Do these duty solicitors face any sanction for not turning up? It seems ridiculous that one person should have to deal with so much, does this really assist your clients? Still at least the courts had it sorted!
Happy New Year.

Gavin said...

The ultimate sanction is being thrown of a rota so that you do not get allocated any more Duty Solicitor slots. I have not heard of this happening to anyone so far.

A Duty Solicitor not turning up to Court is like an employee pulling a sickie. Fortunately if a Duty Solicitor does not turn up then usually there will be another Duty Solicitor in the building who was not due to be 'the' Duty Solicitor but who is able to stand in.

Bystander said...

Time was when a core of well known local briefs made up the duty rota. They never messed us about, and covered for each other when in difficulty.They knew that they would have to come back to court another day soon. Now there are so many on the rota that we hardly recognise any of them, and standards have undoubtedly dropped.

Katy Newton said...

That's a crazy, crazy week, Gavin. I hope that someone at court has expressed their appreciation. I have seen the chaos that ensues when a Duty Solicitor pulls a sickie at the last minute and it isn't pretty.

Gavin said...


It wasn't my week, but some other poor soul.

Katy Newton said...

Memo to self: read more carefully!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all above - I made the orginal post on Criminal Solicitor and that's the point I was trying to make. I did not want anyone to think that I was dedicated - you don't do this job for that, you do it because people need your help. I was absolutely fuming by the end of the week as I have been involved in a 2 year row with the LSC about people who don't do their duty slots but still keep the slots. The upside of this is that it kept me out of the shops for a while once the sales had started so some sort of domestic peace reigned.

Anonymous said...

Saw the same sort of thing when I worked in the Health Service, on call consultants failed to answer the phone or bleep & in one case went skiing in Switzerland.

Others on the list, but not on call, not willing to come in, but no one willing to do anthing about the transgressor....

Patients, if walking wounded asked to visit another casualty!!!!

If really ill blue lighted to another hospital...


Anonymous said...

Hey you private sector Criminal Solicitors are so hard done to. Rip up the pretence of looking after peoples rights and join the rest of us in 'The Game'. Go Public Defender and see your days drop to guaranteed hours and shifts.A guaranteed salary and pension. Plus you can retire at 60 or carry on to do pro bono work if your conscience bothers you. Any Performance Indicators you need can be manipulated to suit and everyone's happy. It's stat's that count, who's interested in anything else? Certainly not the Home Office.

Gavin said...

anon, you speak like you have experience of the PDS!

Anonymous said...

Dear Gavin, I am interested in doing what you do, can you tell us what is the best thing and the worst thing about your job and what is your work/life balance like??

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Anonymous said...



I have been reading someone online, who says he is a lawyer, but his writing though good, doesn't seem to be up to the level of what I'd imagine a lawyer or barrister would need or what would be demanded from him or her.

For many months I've been following a case, and this person writes on a blog but I cannot help feeling that though he seems to have the analyctical skills that would be usual for a lawyer, still he might be lying and have these skills through other means.

I am not afraid to think or feel these things because online you do get lots of people, for whatever assorted reasons, pretending to be someone that they are not.

One of the things that gets me with him, is the amount he swears in his writing, saying that the barrister swore (fu---k---g) when speaking to the client in the cell) and then saying things like; I remember one time with one burglar who was always getting caught, that the barrister said to him in the CELLS, "You need to take up another ‘f----ing’ career."

As far as I am aware a lawyer in a prison or at court does not go into the cells but will be allowed to meet a client in a room or location at either premises designed and meant specially for such meetings.

My question is then: Is this true, do solicitors and even barristers go to see their clients in court like before or after a session and then actually go into the CELLS instead of a room?

The idea that barristers go on down to the cells seems like a fallacy to me.

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