Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Paperless Office

I am a big champion of the concept of a paperless office - a world where the is no necessity to use paper and pen every time something needs to be recorded on a file.

Over the past few years I have been using a laptop to attempt to work without paper when I am out and about at the Magistrates Court and Crown Court. A Court environment is easy to cope with a computer and the majority of the Courts that I visit are equipped with wifi networks. Working on a paperless basis has always been a problem when it comes to working in other environments such as Police Stations or Prisons.

A major problem with working in a paperless way is getting people to sign documents that have only just been generated, such as statements, proofs, and most importantly legal aid applications.

Prisons and Police Stations are now becoming more tolerant of computers and over the next few weeks I am going to attempt to work without paper when I am out and about. I have acquired an iPad and have managed to work out how to get a Client to use the touch screen interface of the iPad to sign a document with an image of their usual signature.

I am hoping that my life can be simplified without the need to constantly record information in paper.

The only downside to my paperless working concept is that for audit purposes all the computer records that I generate have to be printed off and kept on a file!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Solicitor Is Better Than Yours...

I had an unfortunate experience yesterday.

I went to a Police Station to represent an own Client, he arrived with two of his co-defendants, one of which was very "mouthy". When I attempted to speak to my Client in the waiting area of the Police Station the mouthy co-defendant kept interrupting and telling me that his solicitor was the best solicitor and that my Client should use his solicitor.

My conversation with him went something like this:

Mouthy: My solicitor is better than you.
Me: Really, where is he then?
Mouthy: He is busy.
Me: Ah, too busy to deal with you then?
Mouthy: No, he told me to come here by myself - he told me what to tell the Police.
Me: Okay, that's very nice.
Mouthy: My solicitor uses top barristers.
Me: That's nice for you - so he doesn't represent you in the Crown Court himself?
Mouthy: No, I have always had top barristers.
Me: Like who?
Mouthy: Mr X from X chambers.
Me: Oh, he is prosecuting a murder that my firm is dealing with at the moment.
Mouthy: No, he only defends - he is a QC.
Me: No, I assure you he is prosecuting.
Mouthy: No, my solicitor told me that he never prosecutes.
Me: Well, that can't be right - why don't you look at the local news reports that show that your barrister is prosecuting the trial [I reach for my phone to look up the case on the internet].
Mouthy: But my solicitor said...
Me: I am sure that your solicitor has told you many things.
Mouthy [now talking to my Client]: You should sack him and use my solicitor.
My Client: Why? Your solicitor is not even here. He doesn't sound very good anyway.
Me: Let me get this right. You think that my Client should be represented by your solicitor, so that he can act in your best interests, that may not be in my Client's best interests, even though he has not attended with you today?
Mouthy: Er...

I am glad to report that my Client remained my Client and did not listen to the powerful and persuasive arguments put forward by his co-defendant as to why he should not use my firms services.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where Has Court 6 Gone?

My local Magistrates Court has been rebuilt and now has a brand new building.

There are signs in the building to assist visitors and Court Users.

The sign has the obvious omission that there is no Court 6 in the building but there is a Court 5 and a Court 7.

Court 7 is in fact Court 7 from the Crown Court which is on the opposite side of the road in another building.

This sign must really confuse people who have no idea why there is no Court 6.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thank You for Your Hard Work

I had the joy of being on call again last night.

I was called to the Police Station to deal with a regular Client who is often involved in violent offences and can be an aggressive indivdual, even towards my colleagues.

After a brief consultation where the Client indicated he did not want to be interviewed I explained that he was likely to be charged with an offence and kept in custody until he could be put before a Magistrates Court. I then invited him to sign some legal aid forms to ensure funding was put in place for his imminent hearing his reply was:

"I'm not signing your f'ing legal aid forms so you can get f'ing paid."

Now the odd thing is that up to this point I had not fallen out with the Client at this point.

There was nothing wrong in principal for him to decline to sign the legal aid forms. Over the years of doing my job I have encountered many interesting individuals, including many people who are aggressive and unhappy at being detained at the Police Station. Some are rude, and some are ungrateful. None have refused to sign legal aid applications so far - that is probably if they do not want to sign the forms they will not be represented at Court.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Just My Luck

I had a busy weekend being "on call" for the Saturday and Sunday that have just passed.

Being on call means that you are often called upon to deal with cases of a varying nature. Some cases are quick and easy, others are more serious and often take longer to deal with. Whilst I was out and about I received a call from a local firm of solicitors who said that they were dealing with a 3 handed case (a case involving three suspects) and that they feared there would be conflict of interest in the future, and wanted to ensure that their conflicted defendant was still represented. After a brief discussion with the other firm, the Police Station and importantly the Client, I made arrangements and went down to the Police Station.

When I got to the Police Station I realised that the case was reasonably serious. An allegation had been made that my Client was in some way involved in the supply of a large quantity of cannabis. The case also seemed more serious than usual as the Serious Organised Crime Agency had been involved in the case.

After taking instructions from my Client it became clear that I was dealing with a person who had been manipulated by the others who had been arrested, and, that it was more than likely he was an innocent person who was in the "wrong place at the wrong time". After we had finished the interview the Officer dealing with the case hinted that they accepted my Client's innocent account and did not think that he would be prosecuted for any matters at all.

Criminal defence solicitors are increasingly paid for cases on the basis of a formula. The formula makes a basic payment for the seriousness of the offence, that payment depends on how the case proceeds (for example is there a guilty plea or a trial) and if the case proceeds to trial the basic payment is increased depending on the number of pages of evidence served by the Prosecution. In this particular case it seemed quite clear that SOCA had been following some of the people who were arrested and therefore the page count for such a case would normally be quite good.

Whilst I was very happy that my Client was not charged with an offence, it was rather unlucky that I had been dealing with a Client who was not going to be prosecuted. I have no doubt that the firm that referred the Client to me made a conscious decision to hold on to the Clients that they thought would generate the bigger fees.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Contempt of Court

Theresa May, the current Home Secretary, has been found guilty of contempt of court.

It must be quite embarrassing as the government's minister in charge of criminal matters to be found guilty of contempt of court for failing to comply with a court order.

If a government Minister does not comply with a court order then why should the rest of us?

Location, Location, Location

I have moved offices. About a year ago the firm that I worked for had a bit of a management disagreement and the Crime Department left my previous firm and joined another firm. After these two firms worked together for a year I was moved from my old office in sunny Southend-on-Sea to the new City of Chelmsford.

My new office location is very good. I am based in a small city that has within in it a "centralised remand" Magistrates Court, a Crown Court - and the local prison is also in the city. The Police Station for the city is currently closed for refurbishment but it should reopen in the next 12 months or so. All of the facilities that I need are right on my office doorstep and are all within walking distance.

Location is a very important part of crime work. A firms office post code will determine what rotas solicitors are eligible to get on for Duty Solicitor work. In the past 5 years, or so, firms have been moving their offices about, or opening up new satellite offices, in order to qualify their firm to get on to new Duty Solicitor rotas. There is a simple economic theory that the more rotas a firm can get on to the more crime work they are likely to do.

But, location can be a pain in the back side for some firms. I mentioned that my city now has a "centralised remand" Court. This means that over time some smaller Magistrates Courts have been closed as they were deemed inefficient and costly. Now there are some Magistrates Courts that are open on a daily basis but they no longer deal with "custody" cases - that is defendants who the Police have decided should be prosecuted for offences but have decided not to release those people on bail. Essex now has a system of centralised remand Courts so that defendants who are not granted bail by the Police are sent to a single Court in the North of the county, and a single Court in the South of the county.

The idea of a centralised remand Court is fine for my location. But there are firms which are based outside of Chelmsford that have to send one solicitor to the centralised remand Court to deal with any custody cases, and still send another solicitor to their local Magistrates Court to deal with defendant's who are on bail. It is a common occurrence for some firms not to send a Duty Solicitor to cover their allocated slots on the Court rota simply because they do not want that solicitor to be at a Court where they could be deployed to make more money elsewhere.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Deportation Issues

Apparently the Government has decided that it wants more foreign nationals to be deported if they are convicted. Whilst there is nothing wrong with a Government creating laws for the Courts to work with Theresa May's announcement is a little odd. She has suggested that if the Courts do not interpret the law in accordance with new guidelines for deportation of foreign nationals then she may have to resort to making new laws.

One of the basic concepts you learn on any law course is that there is a separation of powers between the Crown (i.e. the Monarchy), the Executive (i.e. the Government) and the Judiciary (i.e. the Courts). Whilst the role played by the Monarchy is less and less important the roles of the Judiciary and the Executive are very important.

The Executive create laws by passing laws which are usually in the form of primary legislation or Acts of Parliament. The Executive also make other laws using secondary legislation. When laws are made the Courts are duty bound to follow those laws and interpret them according to the will of Parliament. There are of course many times when the Courts have chosen to interpret the law in a way which seems to be the complete opposite of what Parliament intended.

Now, if Theresa May is unhappy with the way in which the Courts are currently interpreting human rights laws all she needs to do is to create new legislation which tells the Courts what to do and how to interpret the law? I have not read many articles on this subject but I am confused as to why she thinks she can simply give the Courts guidance on how to do their job and expect them to follow her guidance?