Monthly Archives: July 2016
We have started to analyse the client feedback for the Nottingham office, and are again pleased by the positive comments about the individual lawyers and the firm generally. Although we could not set out all of the positve comments for all of the solicitors, a few comments properly reflect the general tone of those who replied to our request for client feedback.
One client commenting about a Magistrates’ Court case handled by Nick Walsh said ‘I found VHS solicitors more helpful than others. The solicitor I have is very good at his job. Very satisfied with the help and information throughout my case’.
Another commented that Nick was ‘understanding, non-judgemental and invaluable in [his] compassion’. Further clients said of him ‘used previously in a case, brilliant service both times’ and ‘you took time to listen’.
Finbarr Hennessey, a Magistrates’ Court Advocate known for making extra efforts on behalf of his clients, is described in similar terms by a number of clients – ‘The solicitor I have is very good at his job’, ‘A1 Service thank you’ and ‘Finbarr Hennessy is an excellent solicitor and needs no improvement’.
It is all the more pleasing to note that, despite moving firms to us when Campion & Co solicitors stopped undertaking criminal work that his clients found their way to us and continue to receive the high level of service from Finbarr that they had grown used to.
Senior Crown Court Litigator Caine Ward deals with a high volume of the most serious of cases where the stakes, in terms of outcome, are particularly high. A similar theme is revealed within the answers to our requests for client feedback – ‘You took the time to listen to us’ and ‘you listen to people and take time to understand even when people get mad’.
Caine is described as ‘Professional, courteous, informative and friendly’ and providing ‘great service, great experience and very professional and friendly’. As a result another client stated ‘I have recommended people to you’. The latter is perhaps the greatest compliment, that a client has been pleased with the level of service received and referred others to us.
Derek Brown deals with clients in the police station and before the Magistrates’ Court. He is described as being ‘comfortable to talk to and very supportive under the circumstances’. He ‘couldn’t get better’ and ‘helped me understand what was happening’.
In one particular case, Derek was unfortunately unable to provide the usual continuity of representation, but the client view was that the firm offered a ‘good legal team, it was a very good service’.
Finally, Julia Haywood has received feedback that would be unsurprising for all clients that met her. One client said ‘I thought you were fantastic from day one. You were very supportive to my family before and after sentence’. Another mentioned that he was ‘treated with respect and dignity at all times’.
Further clients found Julia ‘helpful and understanding’ and a solicitor who provided ‘a professional service’.
VHS Fletchers would hope that all of these comments demonstrate that we are a firm that you can trust with any matters relating to criminal defence. If you wish to speak with one of our experienced lawyers please contact your nearest office here or contact us by email here.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2003 (POCA) was introduced to ensure that convicted criminals were unable to have the benefit of their criminal activity after the conclusion of their cases through confiscation proceedings.
At the conclusion of certain types of proceedings, particularly drug trafficking offences and significant dishonesty offences, the prosecution are able to seek to recover what it alleges is the benefit from the criminal conduct.
Dependant upon the offence, the Crown are able to seek an explanation from the convicted person for all income, expenditure and assets acquired during a 6 year period prior to the commission of the offence. Absent a reasonable explanation the court is able to treat such items as the fruits of criminal conduct. The situation can be made even more complicated where the Crown allege that a person has hidden assets or has made inappropriate gifts to others.
Once a figure for this ‘benefit’ has been decided upon the court will then decide whether a person has sufficient assets to use to discharge this benefit figure. This can involve the sale of property, cars or other assets by a person who may be serving a lengthy prison sentence.
A period of imprisonment is fixed if the money is not paid. If the assets are not realised and the debt paid within 3 months then there is a risk that the period in default will be activated and the debt remain thereafter.
Understandably these are significant worries for our clients who face confiscation proceedings under POCA. We take great care in assisting our clients to make sure they comply with all of their obligations under this extremely complicated and potentially draconian legislation in an attempt to limit their liability and give them an opportunity to discharge any debt and rebuild their circumstances post-conviction.
Serena Simpson, from our Chesterfield office, has recently assisted as litigator in the case of a first time offender who pleaded guilty to supplying drugs. The supply was only to a close circle of friends in order to subsidise his own drug use.
The Prosecution decided to proceed under the Proceeds of Crime Act despite the fact he lived a lifestyle far removed from any drug dealing stereotype.
Serena set out with the client to undertake the potentially mammoth task of demonstrating how 6 years of income, assets and expenditure had been legally funded.
The client was helped to:
- Demonstrate lawful income he received as an employee
- Confirming what bank accounts he had and explain the payments in and out
- Catalogue assets that would be relevant to the proceedings
Serena drafted a Statement of Assets and Means which was served on the Crown Prosecution Service. The through preparation on behalf of the client led the Crown to decide that it was not worth pursuing the client under confiscation and the proceedings were discontinued.
Not only did the client have nothing to pay under confiscation proceedings, he also had the benefit of legal aid which means that our advice and representation was free of charge to him.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
A police interview as a suspect in a criminal investigation will be a daunting experience, even when you know that you are not guilty of the allegation being put.
Most people may not know what their rights are in this situation. o you have to speak to the police and answer questions? What happens if you don’t? What information do the police have to disclose before interview? What will happen if I don’t answer questions?
The image of what amounts to a formal police interview is now being blurred as police forces across the country are being encouraged to interview suspects by consent outside the police station. This can often be in a person’s own home. Although the aim is to make the process less time consuming for the police, voluntarily interviews in these circumstance have the potential effect of making those interviewed take the process less seriously, and the safeguards that are present in the custody suite on arrest are removed.
At a police station a person being interviewed voluntarily or under arrest may well think the instruction of a solicitor wise. The importance of legal advice if interviewed in your own home will be just as important.
What is said, or not said, in police interview will direct the course of the investigation and will have a significant effect on any Crown Prosecution Service review of the evidence. The final importance of any decision made to answer police questions may not be fully appreciated by a suspect until a matter proceeds to court and trial.
The importance of legal advice is illustrated by a recent case. The client was advised dealt by our experienced accredited police station representative Rob Lowe who is based at our Chesterfield Office.
Rob attended Chesterfield Police Station to deal with a client who had been arrested for allegedly breaching a court restraining order. This type of offence can be taken very seriously by the court, with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment for a single offence.
As the client was represented at interview, Rob was able to speak to the interviewing officer to obtain the details of the allegation. Such disclosure is not often given to an unrepresented suspect. Brief detail revealed that Rob’s client was said to have sent text messages to the victim and attended an address where he was not allowed to be in breach of the court order.
Rob was not satisfied with that limited information and was able to press the officer further about the evidence. The officer conceded that neither the alleged victim or the occupant of the address had confirmed in a statement that any offences had been committed. No mobile phone records existed to support the allegations either.
Rob then had the chance to speak to our client and take his instructions before advising him about his obligations in the police station and the strength of the evidence against him. In this case there was no admissible evidence that could be placed before a Court.
Rob was able to advise the client that in the absence of admissible evidence there would be no case for him to answer. As a result, the client was able, with confidence, to refuse to answer police questions. The advice was proved to be correct when the police chose to take no further action in relation to the allegation.
There are several advantages to seeking legal advice wherever the police interview:
- you have the benefit of an independent solicitor representing only your best interests
- this advice and representation will be free of charge under the legal aid scheme with our firm
- you are far more likely to receive disclosure of the evidence against you
- you have an opportunity to see an expert opinion of that evidence
- you have the benefit of ordering your thoughts and responses to police questions prior to interview if you have chosen to answer
- alternatively, you can be confident in any refusal to answer the questions following full advice
This firm operates an emergency call out scheme 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to provide representation in police interview.
- If the police contact you to speak to them please call us immediately.
- If they arrive at your address and want to speak to you there and then insist on our attendance.
- If you find yourself in the police station awaiting interview make sure you ask for us.
Our representation in all of those circumstances will be free of charge to you.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
We are beginning the process of analysing the client feedback questionnaires that we have received over the last 6 months and will have the full analysis soon. The comments will soon appear on a testimonials page, but we have taken the view that testimonials should be current and regularly updated.
Client satisfaction is important to us, and of course key to securing of repeat business or referrals onwards to family, friends or associates.
As a result, at the beginning of the process, it is gratifying to note some of the Feedback for the Chesterfield office. Kevin Tomlinson is described by one client as doing ‘the best for me as I’m sure you do others’. He describes contact being very easy to make, and previous dealing meant that the client and his family ‘knew we would get good service’. He offered a ‘big thank you’ for Kevin’s support and honesty.
A second client commented that Kevin provided a ‘courteous, professional service, [feeling] fully represented in a fair and honest way to obtain the best outcome’. This client has chosen Kevin as advocate on the basis of a favourable review from a neighbour.
Rob Lowe represents clients in the police station. A client who had chosen to use our firm following an internet search had this to say about Rob – ‘Your help was very good and informative…I have only good comments to make about your service’.
A client who met Rob when he asked for the Duty Solicitor gave the following client feedback: ‘Rob Lowe was excellent in advising me on everything’ and would be certain to recommend him to others.
David Gittins has only been working in Chesterfield for 15 months and as a result wouldn’t be known to clients who had previously dealt with the criminal department of Banner Jones solicitors who previously undertook criminal work from this office. As a result, it is pleasing to here that a client of Banner Jones made the following comment about David – ‘Your service to me was excellent and the outcome was better than expected. Thank you.’
Another client who used David through ‘word of mouth’ described ‘a very good service with no hassle’.
A Crown Court client made full use of the questionnaire to praise Ruth Campbell for the work that she and his in-house barrister Steve Gosnell undertook on his behalf. He describes the service as ‘excellent in all areas’ and described how he felt he was treated fairly and that the barrister ‘…was always direct and very professional’. He was pleased that he had the benefit of legal aid that was free to him, and he extended thanks to everyone involved.
Prospective clients will soon be able to read more client feedback once we have updated the website, in order to be assured of the high level of quality advice and representation that this firm provides across all five offices and nationwide.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Nottingham solicitor Lauren Fisher shows that instructing the right advocate to mitigate your drink drive case on your behalf can make a real difference to the outcome of your case.
The first case was one of driving with excess alcohol. The attention of the police was drawn to the car as it was being driven at speed and in an erratic manner and almost collided with the police vehicle. When breathalysed Lauren’s client gave a reading of over three times the legal limit.
The sentencing guidelines for this offence can be found here.
Despite a starting point for the driving ban of between 23 and 28 months. Following careful mitigation the disqualification was brought down to the minimum of 12 months. The client was offered the Drink Drivers Rehabilitation Course which, if successfully concluded, will reduce the disqualification to 9 months.
In a second case, Lauren represented a client who faced an allegation of failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis. This was against a background of three previous convictions for driving with excess alcohol.
The circumstances of this offence were that the defendant had been identified as the driver of the vehicle after a collision. He smelt of alcohol, had glazed eyes and slurred speech. Instead of providing a specimen at the scene he became verbally abusive and tried to leave the vehicle, eventually being restrained. He again refused to provide a specimen at the police station.
The sentencing guidelines are to the found here. Owing to the circumstances the client apparently fell into the most serious sentencing bracket with a starting point of 12 weeks custody. Lauren’s presentation of the mitigation available to her client persuaded the Magistrates to instead place the offending into the bottom category of sentence and, notwithstanding her record, her client received a £120 fine.
Legal aid is available for drink drive offences which means that Lauren’s representation was free of charge to these clients. We will advise you on your eligibility.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
The current Government definition of domestic violence is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:
Domestic violence allegations are understandably taken very seriously by the courts. Particular sentencing considerations are set out here.
David Gittins recently represented a client before Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court charged with an assault on his partner. The allegations, if true, were of a serious nature. David’s client was said to have head butted the complainant and then strangled her so that she nearly passed out on the bed. His partner had reported the matter almost immediately to a friend who visited the property and saw her in a distressed state.
David’s instructions, however, set out a different factual basis to the incident. He maintained that an argument had led to his partner hitting him leading to injury, and he had had to take steps to restrain her leading to a clash of heads.
At trial, David had to undertake careful cross-examination of a visibly distressed witness. His client then had the opportunity of giving his account to the Magistrates. Both accounts had elements in common, but as the client’s account was consistent, plausible and backed up by medical evidence from the hospital detailing his injuries the Magistrates found him not guilty after trial.
The client had successfully applied for legal aid to ensure that his representation was free of charge to him.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Two articles today raise concerns about the ability of Liz Truss to properly discharge her functions as Lord Chancellor.
A Times interview with Lord Faulks, ex-justice minister (who had served under the two previous Chancellors) seems less than enamoured with the appointment of Liz Truss as the first woman Lord Chancellor in 800 years.
Her promotion led to his resignation owing to her perceived inexperience and lack of the necessary ‘clout’ to stand up to the Prime Minister on behalf of Judges.
Truss’s appointment continues the pattern of appointment to the office of individuals who are not lawyers, leading to suggestions that this shows a low regard from Government of the justice system in general. The current trend began with the appointment of the hapless Chris Grayling in 2012. His successor Michael Gove appeared to spend much of his tenure undoing the mistakes of Grayling, while appearing to generate working relationships with sectors of the profession and setting out welcome plans for prison reform.
Lord Faulks expressed concerns that it fall to Truss to ensure that adequate funding was provided for the courts, and importantly that the rule of law is upheld across Government. The appointment appears to run counter to the conclusion of the Lords Constitution Committee who in 2014 stated that the Lord Chancellor should be a politician with significant ministerial or other relevant experience and with sufficient authority, and without an eye to a political career.
In that regard, while being pleased that the post has been awarded to a woman, Lord Falconer expressed concerns. He stated that it was worrying that Theresa May “has appointed an ambitious middle-ranking minister unlikely to challenge the PM if she thought it might damage her career.” Damningly he claimed ‘Liz Truss has not the experience or gravitas and gives every impression of only wanting to climb the greasy pole.”
An on-line article in the Legal Business Blog talks of the appointment being an ‘underwhelming one, given her track record in voting in favour of legal aid cuts [and] her perceived lack of intellectual rigour.” The final question posed is ‘How did Dominic Grieve not get the job?’
In an opinion piece in The Times today (behind a Pay Wall unfortunately) Lord Falconer goes further and sets out his view that the appointment of Liz Truss is unlawful. The relevant legislation is the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Part 2 sets out a prohibition against a recommendation for Lord Chancellor unless the nominee is qualified by experience. The experience listed on her website doesn’t seem to make the case very strongly. Is the appointment open to challenge?
The Tory chair of the Commons justice select committee has become the latest senior political figure to question the credentials of newly appointed lord chancellor and justice secretary Liz Truss. Story to be found here.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Chesterfield solicitor Kevin Tomlinson represented a client at trial charged with a breach of a restraining order protecting his ex-partner. The presentation of the case to the Magistrates was to be made potentially more difficult due to the following factors:
- that the client was contesting the trial from custody
- the witness would be giving evidence from behind a screen
- in the same proceedings the client had accepted being in breach of a restraining order on two separate occasions.
There is always a risk that such ‘bad character’ evidence or a witness behind a screen (‘special measures’) will be highly prejudicial.
In any event, the complainant and a second witness were confident that the person they had seen was Kevin’s client. Both knew him, and the complainant had been in a relationship with the complainant for several years. The quality of the identifications was apparently good.
Fortunately for the client, Kevin’s years of experience told him that you could not take the quality of the identification evidence for granted. Kevin knew the area and was able to demonstrate the the court through maps and on-line street views that the witnesses’ views were not as good as they pretended.
Kevin’s thorough cross-examination of the witnesses raised a doubt in the mind of the Magistrates and the client was acquitted of this allegation, much to his relief.
Kevin’s client also had the benefit of receiving legal aid which meant that the preparation and representation given by VHS Fletchers was free of charge to him.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
This morning the cat was put amongst the pigeons by an article in The Times dealing with the plans that Liz Truss will inherit from Michael Gove now she has taken up the reins in the Ministry of Justice. The full text of the article can be found here for those who don’t subscribe, but the worrying passage was:
“Next week she will have to sign off plans for an overhaul of the courts but whether that timetable will be met is in doubt. These included plans to cut the number of law firms awarded contracts to provide police station advice and to introduce a second round of cuts to legal aid fees.”
Bearing in mind all of the recent talk has been of constructive dialogue between the professional bodies and the Ministry of Justice the article would appear to be suggesting that new plans were afoot very similar to those that were abandoned earlier in the year. Perhaps they sounded too familiar?
Fortunately, clarity was to be found in The Brief which complements The Times’ legal content. The link to the full content is here, but this time the update makes it clear that the reduction in providers in combination with legal aid reductions was the brainchild of then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling. They were one of several initiatives scrapped by Michael Gove during his tenure in post.
So, early morning panic averted, although we wait with baited breath to see what is put forward by the Ministry of Justice as the year goes on.
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Chesterfield solicitor Ben Strelley was instructed by a 15 year old client appearing before Chesterfield Youth Court. The client faced an allegation of being drunk and disorderly in a public place. Upon being spoken to by the police it was said that he then assaulted two police officers. He had not been in trouble with the police before.
Ben’s client had chosen not to have a solicitor with him when he was interviewed by the police. As a result of not receiving early advice on the strength of the evidence he had not accepted the statements of the police when interviewed. He had therefore been charged rather than consideration be given to an out of court disposal.
Upon taking instructions at court, Ben identified that his client was not disputing the account given by the police. The reality was that he was so drunk that he could not remember what had happened and had no reason to challenge the allegations.
In those circumstance, Ben felt it appropriate to argue that the matter should be referred back to the police for consideration of an alternative disposal. Despite the pressure from the court and prosecution to make progress by way of a guilty plea, Ben was able to persuade the court that the adjournment should be granted and detailed written representations were made straight away.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, when the matter was back before the court the prosecution claimed that the client was not eligible for an alternative disposal, although no reasons why were give. Again, in the face of pressure from the prosecution, Ben made a compelling argument for a further adjournment which was granted.
Ben correctly identified the relevant issues and fought on behalf of his client in a climate where pressure is always on the solicitor and client to make progress and not delay matters. Ultimately his persistence paid off and the client was placed on an intervention program under the supervision of the Chesterfield Youth Offending Team and all of the charges were withdrawn.
Ben’s client also had the benefit of being represented under the legal aid scheme which means that the advice and representation received was free of charge to him. Had the client chosen to have Ben’s representation in the police station as well this outcome could have been achieved earlier, again with the benefit of free legal aid.