Tag Archives: criminal defence

McKenzie friends – saving money can cost a fortune

Imagine the unimaginable – you have been convicted of a crime that you didn’t commit!

Your trial lawyers have told you that there is no hope of an appeal. You can’t afford more legal advice from a criminal law specialist so you decide to look for a cheaper alternative.

McKenzie friends – cheaper and just as effective?

mckenzie friendsSurely there must be someone who can help? Perhaps that friend from university who studied law? Or someone who’s website says they are “cheaper than a solicitor or barrister, but just as effective”?

Think very carefully before hiring someone legally unqualified to conduct your case. As Paul Wright recently found out, it can cost you dearly.

Mr Wright was injured in 2004 when three plastic bags were left inside him during an operation. He hired a “McKenzie Friend”, George Rusz, to support him during his claim.  He ended up with only £20,000 in damages from the NHS.

To make matters worse he had to pay £75,000 in costs to the NHS because of the incompetent way Mr Rusz had conducted the case.  This meant that despite winning he had to pay out £55,000.

Fortunately, Mr Wright recovered those costs and the damages he should have received had his case been dealt with properly after he sued Mr Rusz for giving negligent advice. He was awarded £336,759 in total. This finally came fifteen years after his injuries.

There is a risk that he may be out of pocket a lot longer.  If Mr Rusz can’t, or won’t, pay it could be years before he sees the money, if ever.

The consequences of poor and unregulated advice

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The Court of Appeal

If you were to use a McKenzie Friend, or any unqualified person, in conducting a criminal appeal the consequences might be worse than a financial loss. The Court of Appeal has the power to order, in appeals without merit, that some time already served should not count towards your sentence. You may also face a hefty claim for prosecution costs.

McKenzie Friends may have a legitimate and useful purpose when they stick to their original purpose and role – providing moral support, taking notes, and giving advice in court – and do it competently.

Before instructing a person to assist with your case you will want to ensure that they are properly regulated and insured to avoid the problems created for Mr Wright.  If in doubt, check it out.

Choose to instruct a specialist in criminal law and proceedings

A common misconception that may drive potential clients towards the use of McKenzie friends is publicity about legal costs and the availability of legal aid.

mckenzie friends
VHS Fletchers – Specialist criminal solicitors

We cannot stress enough that our legal advice and representation is always free to you if you are interviewed by the police.  This remains true whether you are under arrest or having a voluntary interview.

Our specialist criminal lawyers can advise you on whether you have a defence, and help you put that defence forward, advising on prospects of success and instructing experts to help along the way.

As a result, if you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about a criminal offence then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.

The advantages of such early legal advice can be found here.

If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we can still make a real difference to the outcome of your case.

Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.

In a case involving an advice on appeal from the Crown Court legal aid may be available to provide initial advice and take the matter forward where there are arguable grounds.

 You can find your nearest office here.

VHS Fletchers offices across the East Midlands

Alternatively you can use the contact form below:


Farewell to crime solicitor Finbarr Hennessy

Thursday 31 January 2019 was a notable date for the Nottingham legal community as local defence practitioner Finbarr Hennessy  retired from practice.

Keeping a low profile

Although having spoken of a wish to retire for some time, his boundless enthusiasm for the job and wish to continue to provide representation for his longstanding client base meant that he continued to delay the inevitable.

In typical fashion, Finbarr sought to keep a low profile, and sought to avoid the (usually) inevitable collection, cards and farewell do.  This he managed successfully.

Nottingham Magistrates’ Court

Some thoughts on the changes to the job

Finbarr offered some thoughts on his departure from a job that he still loved:

“It seemed weird walking out of Nottingham Magistrates’ Court this afternoon after spending 23 years of my life in that building.

Video killed the radio star. Technology killed this out-dated solicitor.”

He confessed that he had “struggled since the day that speedy summary justice was introduced at the Magistrates’ Courts”, offering the view that “justice has gone out of the window to be replaced by “progress” and statistics. To get an adjournment is harder than keeping somebody out of prison.”

Additionally he identified that his “lack of technical expertise means that I am now less efficient than I was in 1995.”

Finbarr’s intention had been to ‘go out with a bang’, perhaps collapsing when bail was refused by the Magistrates or when a client had been wrongly sent to prison.  Unfortunately for him “I have had good results recently, so my blood pressure has remained stable.”

His final assessment was “We are all replaceable. I only work 14 hours a week and I know that my position will easily be covered.”

Nottingham Bridewell police station

No doubt his clients will beg to differ, and will recognise the lengths that he went to on their behalf.  Clients and their families had his mobile number and he was effectively on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If families were distressed by the situation that, particularly, youth clients had found themselves in he would visit families at home in his spare time to try and help.

Client feedback on Finbarr Hennessy

Finbarr was described in glowing terms by any 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 was all the more pleasing to note that following his move to VHS Fletchers when Campion & Co solicitors stopped undertaking criminal work, his clients still found their way to us and continued to receive the high level of service that they would expect.

Here a Crown prosecutor offers an opinion on his integrity:

finbarr hennessy

Thoughts from colleagues

Following news of Finbarr’s retirement, partner Jon Hullis said:

“You will always be very fondly remembered by everyone who has had the pleasure to work with you, as well as everyone at court, and especially your clients. You are genuinely the nicest person, and this is proved by the fact that even the police like you.”

Andy Siddall, partner, told Finbarr:

“Some people cannot be replaced.

Your dedication and commitment to your clients should be something all young Solicitors (and indeed some older ones) aspire to. In this dull digital age you will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”

Solicitor advocate William Bennett offered:

“You are and always were a diamond.  I wish you weren’t retiring but as you are I wish you well. Rest assured your position will never be “easily covered”.  It is hard to cover one of life’s true one-offs. I am  grateful to have worked with you.”

A final thought is from partner Nick Walsh:

“Your gift is that you care about people and your colleagues and clients will miss you because of it. Enjoy retirement, it is truly well deserved.”

We will try to continue to provide Finbarr’s clients with the standard of service that they have come to expect, although they will agree that he is irreplaceable.

Nottingham Crown Court

Suspended Sentence Order Allowed to Continue

suspended sentence order chesterfield crime solicitor
Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court

Chesterfield Crime Solicitor David Gittins recently used all of his experience to identify a reason why it would be unjust for the Court to activate a Suspended Sentence Order.  His job was made all the more difficult as the new offence was an assault on the same victim.  David was successful in persuading the court that justice could be best served by his client receiving a further opportunity.

Offending during a suspended sentence order

David’s client had been arrested and charged with an allegation of common assault. It was said that whilst in drink he had punched his partner who was trying to get him to leave her car. This was witnessed by others at the scene and resulted in both police and ambulance staff being called.

suspended sentence order chesterfield crime solicitor
Chesterfield Police Station

David’s client was taken to the police station.  He chose not to answer questions in interview, instead providing a “no comment” interview.  He was, unsurprisingly, charged with the offence.  The case was initially listed for trial.  This was because our client initially wished to argue that he was acting in self-defence.  Further analysis of the evidence and legal advice from David meant that he changed his plea to guilty.

Legal advice leads to sensible guilty plea

This guilty plea put David’s client in breach of a suspended sentence.  That offence had also been committed in similar circumstance.  As a result, it appeared highly likely that the court would activate the suspended sentence.

David spent some time with his client so he could obtain any information that could be used in mitigation.  He also took the time to seek information from the probation officer at court.  The officer was able to confirm that his client was progressing well on the community elements that comprised the suspended sentence order.  This information gave our client an opportunity to argue that he ought to be given a further opportunity.  Instead risk was best addressed in the community.

David addressed the District Judge at length about the reasons behind the recent offending.  He offered forward the personal mitigation.  This was linked to  good progress that his client was making with both the probation  and mental health services.

He was able to outline how any period of imprisonment would be detrimental to his client’s rehabilitation because the support and treatment he was currently receiving would not be available in prison.  He was at risk of losing stable accommodation which is so important in an offender’s rehabilitation.

Suspended Sentence Order Allowed to Continue

The District Judge agreed that it would be unjust to activate the suspended sentence because of the detailed mitigation put forward by David. Instead he imposed a further suspended sentence order. The breach had to be marked so the operational period of the original suspended sentence order was extended by two months.

David’s client was obviously delighted with the opportunity to continue to turn his life around and receive treatment within the community.

Criminal Legal Aid Available

 Legal Aid is available for Magistrates’ Court proceedings, although it is dependent on a merits and means test being satisfied.  In this case, David’s client was able to receive legal aid for his representation.  As a result our advice and representation was free of charge to him.

 Contact a Chesterfield Crime Solicitor

Chesterfield criminal defence lawyer chesterfield
Chesterfield Crime Solicitor David Gittins

Whether you face a police investigation, Magistrates’ Court proceedings or a case before the Crown Court you will wish to instruct a criminal law specialist.  We provide advice and representation nationwide from out offices across the East Midlands.

If you wish to instruct David then please telephone him at our Chesterfield Office on 01246 283000 or use the contact form below.  Our other offices can be found here.


Good Character on Trial – Not Guilty Verdict

good character trial nottingham crime solicitor
Nottingham criminal defence solicitor Graham Heatchcote

Nottingham crime solicitor Graham Heathcote recently dealt with a trial arising out of a near accident involving a van for a client of good character.

It may have been surprising that two people of good character moving towards retirement should end up having to give evidence to a court about such a matter, but sometimes these things can allegedly get out of hand.

The complainant in the case maintained that when he had parked his van Graham’s client had approached him, claiming he had nearly been hit by the van.  He was said to have used abusive behaviour.  It was then alleged that Graham’s client had punched the complainant hard, causing his wife to step in and separate the two of them.

Although the complainant only alleged a single punch, his wife maintained that there had been not one but eight punches.

Free legal advice in police interview

Graham’s client had taken advantage of the free legal aid available to him to ensure advice and representation during interview.  This was available even though he was not under arrest.

He answered questions in interview, claiming that he had nearly been knocked down by the van.  Although words were exchanged no punched were thrown.

good character trial criminal defence lawyer
Nottingham Magistrates’ Court

All of the witnesses attended trial.  Both the complainant and his wife give evidence.  Their accounts were significantly different however, and these discrepancies were highlighted by Graham’s expert cross-examination.

In evidence Graham’s client repeated the account he gave in interview.  He maintained that while in the services he had received an injury that even years later meant that he was unable to deliver a blow with any force.

Not Guilty – Client keeps good character

Having heard all of the evidence and Graham’s submissions the Magistrates’ found his client not guilty.  As a result he kept his good character.  Although he was not entitled to legal aid for representation, Graham was able to ask for the return of a significant portion of his agreed affordable fixed-fee costs by way of a Defendant’s Costs Order.

Contact a Nottingham criminal solicitor

Although the facts of the case are perhaps not overly remarkable, the way the trial proceeded and the fact of the not guilty verdict demonstrates the value of solid expert representation by an experienced criminal defence lawyer where reputation is on the line.

It also shows the benefits of securing the services of a solicitor who will represent you for an affordable fee or criminal legal aid to ensure that you have representation to ensure you secure the best possible outcome in court.

If you are being investigated by the police or face court proceedings then Nottingham criminal defence lawyer Graham Heathcote can be contacted on 0115 9599550 or email him here.

Fixed Fee Representation at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court

nottingham criminal solicitor
Nottingham crime solicitor Martin Hadley

Nottingham criminal solicitor Martin Hadley recently represented a client who was jointly charged with allegations of production of cannabis and possessing it with intent to supply before Nottingham Magistrates’ Court.

Despite a relevant history of previous offences and very strong evidence, he was able to persuade the prosecution to accept a lesser charge.  As a result, committal to the Crown Court for sentence and a likely prison sentence was avoided.  Further, he represented her under an affordable fixed fee agreement.

Production of Cannabis

The police visited the address of her and her partner, the co-accused.  When the address is searched, the police discover significant amounts of cannabis in the kitchen cupboards.  There also cannabis growing in the loft.

In interview Martin’s client had accepted that she knew about the cannabis grow, but denied that she had been involved with the actual production of the cannabis.  In effect, she was accepting that she had permitted her premises to be used by her partner for cultivation of cannabis.

fixed fee criminal defence solicitor
Nottingham Magistrates’ Court

Although representations were made at an early stage that this would be an appropriate charge, the prosecution did not accept the plea that was offered.  This was perhaps unsurprising as Martin’s client had two previous convictions for production of cannabis, one of which had resulted in confiscation proceedings.  She had also failed to comply with a community order previously imposed.

As a result, Martin had advised her to plead not guilty to production of cannabis and the matter was adjourned for trial.

Plea to an alternative charge

Martin attended trial to represent his client. He renewed the representations to the prosecutor in court and this time they were received more favourably.  His client was able to plead guilty to the alternative charge.


Bearing in mind her record, Martin was unable to provide any guarantees that she would escape a prison sentence.  His experience and judgement, however, led him to believe that the lesser charge in combination with her personal mitigation would allow her to keep her liberty.

After hearing all about the case and listening to Martin’s expert mitigation aimed at avoiding custody, the Magistrates’ felt able to impose a Community Order.  The only elements were residence combined with an 8 week electronically monitored curfew.

Fixed Fee Funding

Martin’s client was not entitled to legal aid.  Her income was just outside the entitlement threshold.  As an experienced criminal defence lawyer, Martin was able to estimate how much preparation would be involved in the preparation and presentation of the case and agree affordable fixed fee representation.

Contact a Nottingham Criminal Defence Lawyer


If you are to be interviewed by the police or face court proceedings then please contact Martin Hadley on 0115 9599550 or email him here. He will advise you as to how best to fund your case, whether that be through legal aid, a fixed fee or hourly rate.


Chesterfield Criminal Defence Solicitor Secures Suspended Sentence

chesterfield criminal defence solicitor
Chesterfield Crime Solicitor Serena Simpson

Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Serena Simpson recently defended a client before Chesterfield Magistrates Court.  The charges were allegations of domestic violence directed to a former partner.

The offences included an allegation of assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) where she had stabbed the victim to the arm and chest with a knife. In addition it was alleged that Serena’s client had followed the male and further assaulted him by punching him to the face.

Serena first met her client when she had been refused bail by the police.  She was detained in the cells to be put before the court for a remand to prison custody.

On meeting the client, Serena immediately realised that she was a vulnerable adult herself.  She provided a history of domestic violence directed against her by the complainant in this case.

Offence on Bail

Serena’s client admitted that due to this prolonged abuse she had picked up a knife and stabbed her violent partner.  She had then turned herself in to the police.  She accepted that while on police bail she had seen the victim.  Although he had followed her, she had slapped him to the face.  There was a further minor public order offence that was denied.

The Prosecution suggested an alternative version in respect of the second allegation.  It was claimed that Serena’s client had followed the victim and punched him rather than slapped him.

Newton Hearing Listed

chesterfield criminal defence solicitor
Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court

Serena’s client pleaded guilty to both assaults.  As she disputed the extent of the allegations she put forward her account in a written ‘basis of plea’.  Her account was not accepted by the prosecution.  As the Court felt it would make a real difference to sentence the case was listed for a hearing to decide whether our client’s version of events was correct. This is a trial of issue or a ‘Newton Hearing’.

Serena successfully argued for bail for her client.  She then undertook the preparation for the contested hearing.  It became clear as the hearing the ex-partner did not want to attend court and give evidence.

Serena was keen to bring the case to an end as soon as possible as from meeting with her client it was clear that the ordeal of court proceedings was having an adverse effect on her.

Active Case Management

The case was listed for a case progression hearing at Serena’s request to ascertain whether the hearing was going to be effective in due course.  The prosecution was unable to make a decision until a week before the trial when it confirmed that a hearing was no longer sought and Serena’s client could be sentenced on her version of events.  Further, the public order allegation was dropped.

The case was not yet over, however.  Serena had to prepare for a difficult sentencing hearing as whatever the background her client had still admitted stabbing her ex-partner.

Starting Point of 18 Months?

Sentencing guidelines govern an allegation of ABH.  The prosecution argued that this case fell into the most serious band, and the starting point for any sentence ought to be 18 months imprisonment within a range of 1 to 3 years. Her case was likely to be committed to the Crown Court for sentence even with discount for plea.

Suspended Sentence

Serena provided mitigation to the court outlining the history of the relationship, including the violence directed at her client, and other elements of personal mitigation.  Serena persuaded the District Judge that the case did not fall into the top level of seriousness.  As a result, Serena’s client was able to receive a sentence of 16 weeks suspended for 2 years with a rehabilitation element.

The Judge made it clear that Serena’s mitigation had persuaded him to take this unusual course of action in a case involving knife crime.

Serena’s client was understandably delighted.

Legal Aid Funding

Our client had the benefit of legal aid.  This allowed her to instruct Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Serena Simpson.  This advice and representation was free of charge to her.  Further information about funding can be found here.

Contact a Chesterfield Criminal Defence Solicitor

If you are investigated by the police or are at court you may wish to instruct Chesterfield criminal defence solicitors VHS Fletchers. Please telephone us at our Chesterfield office 01246 283000 or use the contact form below.