Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What A Waste Of Time

I decided that I would go off to one of my local Crown Courts this week to see if I could make some progress on a number of cases that had not been running particularly smoothly. On one case the Client had been granted bail at the Magistrates Court on his first appearance in custody, he had then failed to provide any instructions and he was not abiding by his bail conditions because his mail was being returned from his bail address. I thought that by attending at his preliminary hearing I could sit him down and get some instructions. On another case my Russian speaking Client had failed to provide any instructions and again I thought that the preliminary hearing would be a good chance to extract instructions from her. The last case was simply a hearing for no evidence to be offered against my Client as his case was to be dropped, I thought it would be nice to see the prosecution back down in person.

It all went wrong. The first Client failed to appear. The second Client's interpreter failed to attend Court. The third Client's case was called on when I was in Court with Client number one's case.

My best laid plans turned out to be a waste of time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Has the UK Criminal Justice Weblog Died?

When I set up a web site a few years ago I spent many days scouring the world wide web looking for some dynamic content to be displayed on the home page of the web site. I stumbled across the news feed that was produced by the UK Criminal Justice Weblog. This news feed was exactly what I had been looking for because it was topical and updated each working day. In this early days the idea of having dynamic content was that I could rely on the news feed changing so that the content of my web site would not look so stale.

I have been an avid reader of the UK Criminal Justice Weblog for a few years. I am aware that the author of the feed did originally start the project with some funding, and that in more recent times he continued with the blog as a matter of personal interest. The last time that I saw the UK Criminal Justice Weblog updated was on 15th March 2006. Has this news feed and the blog now come to an end?

I was rather saddened by the loss of regular updates in the UK Criminal Justice weblog so over the past few weeks I have been publishing my own newsfeed based on the same theme of the UK Criminal Justice Weblog. I scan the UK media looking for news reports on the criminal justice system. Clearly this is not a replacement for the work of Nick Page, but for my purposes it works. You can see the news feed in action being displayed on the Criminal Solicitor Dot Net web site towards the bottom of the page. To see fuller detail with more media stories displayed then follow this link. If you like what you see and would like to add the Criminal Solicitor Dot Net News feed to your RSS reader or website then follow this link.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Great Idea Charles

Charles Clarke announced last week that he wanted to reform the way in which miscarriages of justice were compensated. Slipped in to this announcement was a nugget of information that Charles Clarke was also planning a massive reform of the Court of Appeal by introducing a new verdict of 'not proven'. Charles Clarke's idea seemed to be that if a person had been convicted of a crime, and that had appealed to the Court of Appeal but had been given a 'not proven' as the result of the appeal he would not have to pay out so much money for miscarriages of justice.

I may have misunderstood Charles Clarke's plans as he has yet to publish how he intends to imnplement this 'not proven' verdict. The UK media have reported that he wants to introduce the 'not proven' verdict so I am assuming that they are probably reporting something similar to the truth that has escaped from the Home Office.

Hazel Keirle, Head of Case Research of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, expressed her views on this announcement, "Intersting that Charles Clarke wants to intorduce a 'not proven' verdict in the English COA (where the Court never pronounces a verdict in any event), when in the Scottish High Court, they can't use the 'not proven' at all, that particular verdict being a jury verdict only. What is far more worrying is his obvious want to interfere in the making and development of the law whilst demonstrating a total lack of knowledge of how our Appellate system works at all. Miscarriages of justice are a fact of life - not a figment of imagination. Whatever their cause, those affected by it have a right to redress through due process and any attempt to curtail or delete that right, will eventually end up in Strasbourg."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pro Bono

Since I moved firms three months ago I have been doing a lot more pro bono work. For anyone who does not know what the legal term pro bono means it is simply a latin phrase to say that the work is done for free. Most of my Magistrates Court work is now based in one Magistrates Court, I attend there up to four days out of the week, and as a frequent visitor I have started to recognise many of the regular faces.

The firm I currently work for has a policy that provided we are attending at the Magistrates Court anyway if there are Clients who require assistance but their case cannot be legally aided we should try to help them and usually will represent them in Court on a pro bono basis. Last week there was a particular day when I think I did more cases on a pro bono basis than I did under the terms of a representation order (the current technical phrase for a legal aid order).

Criminal defence solicitors often find themselves working with people who have fallen to the bottom of society's social order. Many people who are convicted in this country have mental health problems and low IQs. As such many Clients look to us criminal solicitors to sort out their problems even when they know that we are working for free. I enjoy my job, and I do not putting myself out to help another human being. I do wonder with more and more cuts planned to criminal legal aid where these people are going to get help when there are fewer and fewer criminal solicitors who are less willing to undertake cases on a pro bono basis. In criminal work word of mouth is generally the only way that you pick up good 'own Clients', pro bono work is essential to maintain a good Client base, but if legal aid budgets keep getting cut then ultimately pro bono work will become too expensive to do.

Doom and Gloom

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association recently published the results of a survey/questionnaire. This particular survey was asking how criminal practitioners view their future working with the changes that are likely to be implemented by the Carter review.

Here are a few snippets:

"Do you agree with the proposal to promote restructuring of suppliers to deliver fewer, larger, more efficient contractors ?" 84% Said no.

"In the light of the Carter report, do you anticipate for your firm expansion, shrinkage, or about the same?" 44% Said there would be shrinkage. 15% Said there would be expansion. 31% Said there would be no change. 10% Did not answer the question.

The last question which shows the uncertain future for criminal practitioners was:

"If when the figures come, the Review indicates that your firms income from criminal defence work will reduce, do you think that your firm will continue doing it?" 26% Said no. 37% Said probably not. 31% Said probably yes. 2% Did not answer. Amazingly only 2% answered this question with a straight yes.

My firm has departmental meeting every week, and for the past few weeks the theme of our meetings has been Carter. A small catch phrase has sprung up around the office of , "Work smarter, work with Carter". We are actually gearing up for the changes that we are sure that Carter is going to implement and we are trying to be leaner, meaner, and generally more efficient. It would seem that my firm fits in to the profile (if the CLSA questionnaire results are representative of all criminal practices) of 2% firms!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More Arrests

In my local area the gossip amongst the Police is that the Chief Constable is demanding that more arrests be made. As I was at my local Police Station today I was standing with a Client who had been arrested for a £100,000 fraud. I saw that an Officer came and spoke with the Detective Sergeant dealing with my Client and then they parted company. The Detective Sergeant then came over to me and said that his Detective Inspector had asked what type of case he wasdealingg with, he had told her that it was a high value fraud, and that her response was that the fraud case was only going to result in one statistical detection! It seems that despite the fact that a high value fraud case could be prosecuted the higher ranks of my local Police force are not happy unless they can get multiple detections from single offenders.

Name Calling

A few weeks ago one of my firm's Clients appeared in Court for a sentencing exercise. The Client was at the time in custody awaiting sentence and their prospects of receiving a custodial sentence were pretty good. One of my colleagues attended at Court and was fortunate enough to persuade the Court that the Client should not be sent to prison but should be made the subject of an onerous community penalty involving drug rehabilitation. When the District Judge passed sentence he decided to add to the Client's name by giving them the middle name of 'Last Chance'. This was not a particularly clever word play as the Client's last name rhymed with chance.

The news of this lenient and fortunate sentence got round my office and people were amused by the idea of the Client being given a moniker by the District Judge.

Unfortunately for the Client they were arrested some 36 hours after they had been released from Court for a new matter. I was given the task of dealing with the Client who faced overwhelming evidence on new charges. Around the office the Client's moniker was swiftly changed from 'Last Chance' to 'No Chance'. Despite my courageous efforts the Client was sent swiftly back to prison. Disappointingly the District Judge that sentenced the Client on the first occasion was not sitting for the second sentence hearing to change the name that he gave to the Client.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Judicial Influence, Or Judicial Interference

Whilst at my local Magistrates Court this week I had to deal with a Client who had been arrested for his third breach of bail in four months, he was also appearing in Court for a new offence. The scenario for this Client is not too dissimilar to that found in many Courts in the land. An allegation of domestic violence is made, an arrest is made, the Defendant is charged and usually is released with strict bail conditions to prevent any further contact with the Complainant. Usually the parties resolve their differences before the trial comes to Court and at some point the Defendant is arrested for breaching his bail conditions because he either commits a further offence, or an allegation is made that he has committed a further offence (there is a difference).

My Client claimed that he had reconciled his differences with his partner but she still used the threat of arrest for breach of bail to control him should they have an argument. Please note that I am making no comment on whether my Client's account was the truth or not, also I do not advocate or support domestic violence in any form.

My Client appeared in custody in Court and he accepted that he was in breach of his bail, but stated that he had breached his bail at the invitation of the Complainant because he had been living at her address for the past few weeks despite there being a bail condition that he have no contact with her. I decided that the only way that my Client might get bail after accepting a third breach of bail was to explain to the Court that the Defendant and Complainant were more or less reconciled. Upon hearing my submissions the District Judge shook his head and said words to the effect of, "Will someone please contact the victim and find out what she wants to do about this?" This was a rather bizarre course of action, but one that I was certainly not going to object to.

A few hours later and the Witness Liaison arm of the Crown Prosecution Service had telephoned the Complainant who said that she wanted the Defendant to be released on unconditional bail and that she was going to withdraw all allegations against him.

As a result of this judicial influence, or perhaps judicial interference, my Client was released on unconditional bail. Had it not been for the judge's words this would never have happened.