Tag Archives: Crown Court

Should you consider instructing a QC?

We are often asked questions about Queen’s Counsel, or QC’s.  This is most probably because the image of leading barristers has been epitomised over the years in leading television dramas such as Silk and Kavanagh QC.  As a result it is not surprising that many initially wish to investigate the possibility of instructing a QC to defend their case.

So, first, what is a Queen’s Counsel or QC?

A QC, to put it somewhat grandly, is ‘one of Her Majesty’s Counsel, learned in the law.’

instructing a qcThe first thing to know is that there is no actual connection to Her Majesty.  Queen’s Counsel, while appointed with the final authority of the Queen, are in fact selected by an independent appointments commission.

In practical terms, QCs are barristers or solicitors who have been able to evidence the highest courtroom skills.  It is an award for excellence in advocacy.

While the figures vary year on year, about 10% of the bar (the barristers’ profession) are Queen’s Counsel, so it is a pretty select group. There are very few solicitor QCs.  The ability of solicitors to apply was only extended to them quite recently and the number of solicitors who specialise in advocacy is relatively low.

There are also honorary Queen’s Counsel who in most instances do not practice at all (such as legal academics), or if they do are not allowed to use the title for that purpose.

Do I need a QC?

There are some things to consider before instructing a QC. The first is that the QC may not be the best person for the job.  For example, in many cases, before the magistrates’ court, it is often better to instruct a highly experienced local solicitor who knows the court and this type of court procedure.

instructing a qcIt may be that a Queen’s Counsel who is accustomed to defending fraud cases at the Old Bailey may be quite useless appearing on a drink-driving accusation at Mansfield Magistrates’ Court.

Generally speaking, in a perfect world, it makes sense to have the best available advocate, if you can. The ‘best’ may not always mean a Queen’s Counsel though.

If the case is not the most complex, it may well be that a highly experienced junior advocate can more than adequately deal with it. There are also some specialist areas where a junior advocate may be more experienced.  This is seen most often in regulatory work, for example.

It is also essential that the advocate works seamlessly as a team with your Crown Court litigator to ensure the best case preparation possible.  This is something that we value particularly highly as it can significantly affect the overall outcome of your case.

Where liberty is at risk, it is, however, understandable that some people will wish to leave nothing to chance.  They might  feel a particular level of comfort in instructing a QC.

So, for most people, the issue is not ‘should I?’, it becomes one of ‘can I?’.

Instructing a QC in privately funded cases?

If you are funding your own defence costs, the crucial question is whether you can afford to engage in instructing a QC. In some instances, it may be possible to instruct a QC alone to defend.  In other cases, Queen’s Counsel and a junior advocate will be needed.  Ironically this might be more cost-effective.

It is impossible in this article to give indicative costs.  These will vary greatly depending on

  • the type of case
  • the volume of papers
  • whether it is a guilty plea or contested trial
  • if a trial, the likely length.

In all but the most straightforward guilty plea cases the cost of instructing a QC can easily reach into the tens of thousands.  As a result, for all but the very wealthy, there will need to be a considered decision.  It is not one that should not be made lightly.  We will, of course, carefully navigate you through all of the available options and provide you with the necessary advice.

Can I instruct a QC in a legally aided case?

If your case is legally aided, then it is very unlikely that we can instruct a QC unless the case is one of particular gravity or the utmost complexity.

Most people would assume, for example, that instructing a QC would be permitted in all murder cases.  Surprisingly that is not the case. If the option of Queen’s Counsel is available, we will make the application for you and advise of the outcome.

instructing a QCMany people ask whether they or someone on their behalf can pay privately for a QC while receiving legal aid funding for the other elements of the case. If that is something that you wish to discuss, then please speak to us at the earliest opportunity.

In conclusion, there are many cases where instructing a QC is desirable if it can be achieved.  However, the vast majority of cases will nor merit a QC, and you can be assured that we will ensure that your representation will be designed to bring about the best possible outcome.  This might be through a Solicitor Advocate employed by this firm or through the use of independent counsel.

As a firm, we are immensely proud of the strong working relationship that we have with all of the advocates we regularly instruct. It is probably this close relationship more than anything else which affects case outcomes, so even if you cannot secure a QC to represent you, you should not feel that you are not getting the very best service.

How we can assist

To discuss any aspect of a case before the Crown Court then please contact your nearest office.  We will advise you about representation.  This will include the pros and cons of proceeding privately.

For example, there is likely to be a bar on claiming back the costs of your defence if you would have been entitled to legal aid but chose not to take advantage of the scheme.

The details can be found here.

instructing a QC

Alternatively you can use the contact from below:


What will happen if you don’t pay your court fine

In the crown court, while a fine is not the most common punishment meted out, when they are imposed they tend to be very large.  Before the Magistrates, any court fine imposed will still be a substantial share of weekly income.

payment of court fine

Do I have to pay the court fine all at once?

Sometimes a court will order full payment (and may give a period of time for this to be completed), but in many cases, the court can order that you pay in instalments, usually weekly or monthly.

You will not be given time to pay your court fine (and therefore may be sent to prison forthwith if a fine isn’t paid) if:

  • in the case of an offence punishable by imprisonment, you appear to the judge to have sufficient means to pay forthwith;
  • it appears to the judge that you are unlikely to remain long enough at a place of abode in the UK to enable the payment of the fine to be enforced by other methods; or
  • on the occasion when the fine is imposed, the judge sentences you to an immediate prison sentence, custody for life, or detention in a young offender institution for that or another offence, or so sentences you for an offence in addition to forfeiting his recognisance, or you are already serving a sentence of custody for life or a term of imprisonment or detention.

Setting a default period

Section 139 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 requires a court to fix a period of imprisonment in default.

Imprisonment in default is an extra term of imprisonment that you might receive if a fine is not paid:

“…the purpose of ordering a sentence of imprisonment in default is designed to ensure, so far as possible, that the defendant found to have realisable assets in the amount […] ordered, should pay that amount and should obtain no advantage by refusing to do so. That authority stems not only from previous cases but also from the statutory provisions themselves.” (R v Smith [2009] EWCA Crim 344).

The maximum term is dependent on the size of the fine imposed:

An amount not exceeding £200 7 days
An amount exceeding £200 but not exceeding £500 14 days
An amount exceeding £500 but not exceeding £1,000 28 days
An amount exceeding £1,000 but not exceeding £2,500 45 days
An amount exceeding £2,500 but not exceeding £5,000 3 months
An amount exceeding £5,000 but not exceeding £10,000 6 months
An amount exceeding £10,000 but not exceeding £20,000 12 months
An amount exceeding £20,000 but not exceeding £50,000 18 months
An amount exceeding £50,000 but not exceeding £100,000 2 years
An amount exceeding £100,000 but not exceeding £250,000 3 years
An amount exceeding £250,000 but not exceeding £1 million 5 years
An amount exceeding £1 million 10 years

non payment of court fine

Will a court always set the maximum term in default?

The period in default will depend on the amount of the court fine and where it falls within the banding. So, a fine of £55,000 would probably attract a default period nearer 18 months than two years. But this is not an arithmetical exercise.

What happens if I do not pay my court fine?

If you wilfully refuse to pay the fine, and all other enforcement options have been exhausted, you will be ordered to serve the default term in prison.

It is therefore very important that you make contact with your solicitor if your financial circumstances change and you are unable to pay a financial penalty. It is always better to try and resolve difficulties earlier than wait for enforcement proceedings to commence.

I would sooner serve the time than pay the fine, is that possible?

Yes, and no!

If you do not pay, then you will go to prison. The court will, however, always try to secure enforcement first.  Imprisonment is not a free choice.  Note also that in relation to some financial penalties, such as confiscation, imprisonment in default does not extinguish the requirement to pay.

 How we can assist

The law concerning non-payment of fines and other financial penalties can be complicated so this article is intended to give only a very brief overview of the issues involved.

Legal aid can be available in certain cases of default where your liberty is at risk.

If you have any concerns about payment of your court fine or wish to discuss any other aspect of your case then please contact your nearest office.  Details can be found here.  Alternatively you can use the contact form below.

payment of court fine



Not guilty verdict after Paedophile hunters fail to produce evidence

Chesterfield Crown Court litigator Ruth Campbell and Nottingham Solicitor Advocate Andrew Wesley were recently instructed in another case involving a prosecution dependent on evidence provided by paedophile hunters.  An outline of a previous case that failed due to problems with such evidence can be found here.

There client had an unusual defence to put forward.  He had logged into an adult chatroom.  He believed that any conversations he had online, and later on other social media threads, was with a person pretending to be a child for the purposes of a sexual fantasy.

His instructions were that a full record of each conversation would support his account.  As a result, immediately following his not guilty plea, specific enquiries were made of the prosecution.

Evidence required from paedophile hunters’ phones

In order to establish the evidence that could lead to our client’s acquittal the following information was requested:

  •  full threads of the messaging from the adult site taken from the paedophile hunters’ phones
  • similar threads from other messaging apps used to communicate, again from their phones
  • the profiles that the hunters were using on the adult site
  • our client’s profile

It appears often the case that the police are content to rely upon screenshots given to them by the paedophile hunters.  As a result, paedophile hunters not guiltythe prosecution is dependent upon evidence that may be incomplete.  It a client intends to advance a defence it is vital that these enquiries are made immediately.

The witnesses also maintained that our client had made a confession that had been filmed and streamed.  The footage located online was only partial and did not contain a confession.  That material was also sought.

The prosecution asked for the case to be brought into the list several months before the trial date.  This was because, as a result of our enquiries, they had look at the case and intended to offer no evidence.  This was because the prosecution had been unable to secure the evidence that we had requested and as a result could not check its veracity or accuracy.

paedophile hunters chesterfield solicitors not guiltyThe evidence had not been preserved by the witnesses themselves, and was no longer available.  A software corruption had also occurred which mean that the phones could not be properly interrogated now.  Finally, there was no footage said to contain a confession to the offence.

Paedophile hunters ‘need to be aware of the rules’

The Judge hearing the case observed that in terms of case numbers, prosecutions dependent upon evidence from paedophile hunters paedophile hunters legal representationwas a ‘growth area’.  Although a large proportion of these cases result in a guilty plea, particularly where charges are backed up with a video of a meeting.

He went on, however, to express a real concern about the nature of the ‘investigators’, accepting that this was in many cases a ‘loose’ use of the term.  The Judge expressed concerns that they operated outside any statutory scheme of evidence preservation and disclosure.  If they were to continue in such cases, his view was that they ought to be made aware of the rules.  If they do not consider and comply with the rules, they won’t be a help and their conduct will lead to more cases with difficulties such as this one.

Contact a Crown Court litigation specialist

chesterfield crown court litigator Ruth Campbell
Chesterfield Cown Court litigator Ruth Campbell

It may be that you face potential proceedings based on evidence provided by paedophile hunters, or another serious allegation.  If so, you will wish to instruct a Crown Court litigation and advocacy team that will takes steps at an early stage of proceedings to advance your case where necessary.

Ruth is based at our new Chesterfield office.  You can find the contact details here.  Alternatively you can use the contact form below.  If one of our other offices is closer to you then please contact the one most convenient to you for an appointment.


Why choose VHS Fletchers as your solicitor?

For many people, facing the prospect of criminal investigation or proceedings is a daunting prospect.  It is one that can often inflict a heavy toll not just on themselves, but also on their loved ones.

As a result it will be essential that a suspect or defendant ensure that proper professional support mechanisms are in place at an early stage through a considered choice of solicitor.

Seek early legal advice for your criminal case

It is never too early to involve VHS Fletchers in your case, even at the point you are first aware that the police wish to speak to you.

transfer legal aidWe are always surprised at just how many people put seeking legal advice off until a late stage in an investigation.  People might be concerned about the potential cost of a solicitor.  As a result, we constantly try to publicise the fact that legal advice will be free in police interview.  Other people think that having a solicitor in police interview might be seen as an admission of guilt. It isn’t.   An even greater number of suspects may believe that the problem will simply go away.  This may be true in some cases, but in many it does not.

We dispel some of the myths and give some benefits about having a solicitor if interviewed by the police here.

VHS Fletchers – The right solicitor for you

It is a trite observation to state that you will want to choose the ‘right’ solicitor for you.  We hope that will be VHS Fletchers.

If your case depends on legal aid funding and you believe that you have made the wrong choice of solicitor, this may not be easily remedied.  A firm might not be entitled to an additional payment if you change between visits to the police station.

Once proceedings have started, courts will need a good justification to transfer legal aid to another firm.  Any reason will go need to go beyond a desire to change.

If, however, you are unhappy with your existing representation then the sooner any transfer to VHS Fletchers is resolved, the better.

How do you decide whether VHS Fletchers are the right solicitors for you?

transfer legal aidWe hope that there is plenty of information about this firm and its staff on this website to allow you to make an informed decision.  You will be able to explore the wealth of experience that this firm can bring to your case, and perhaps find examples of how we have dealt with cases similar to yours.

Once you have made contact with us, you will be able to see the manner in which we will deal with your case.

We will ensure that your initial enquiry is dealt with promptly.  We aim to make contact with your lawyer easy, and if they are not available immediately there will be other solicitors or paralegals on hand to deal with urgent queries.

Our lawyers appreciate that along with your legal problems is the potential for a number of personal difficulties.  Our staff demonstrate the key skills of empathy and understanding, recognising that these are critical skills and essential to excellent communication.

Clear advice about what to expect at every stage

We know that the law and procedure relating to your case can be complex.  As a result, at the end of meeting with you we will make it clear to you what is likely to happen next and the time frame.

transfer legal aid In any case there are periods of long inactivity.  This might be because you have been released under investigation by the police or because there is a long delay in a Crown Court case before the evidence is served.  We know that these delays can cause concern to our clients.  Our lawyers will outline the legal process and ensure you are kept fully informed at all stages.  We will regularly chase the police on your to ensure that we find out what stage the investigation of your case has reached.

As a result we are confident that you will leave any meetings reassured and comfortable, understanding the advice that has been given and what will happen next.  We aim to deal with any concerns you have immediately, in order to resolve any understandable anxieties.

If you are unhappy with your current solicitor can you transfer legal aid?

In the first instance, you should raise your concerns as soon as they arise.  This ensures the best chance of resolving them. Often concerns arise due to misunderstandings.  These can be quickly and easily remedied.

If concerns remain then consult the firm’s complaints procedure and escalate the matter to more senior staff.

If you cannot resolve matters to your satisfaction or believe that the relationship is beyond repair, then it is essential to contact VHS Fletchers without delay to see whether you can transfer legal aid.

How can we assist?

We do not encourage potential clients to seek a transfer of legal aid and representation lightly.  This will only arise where a client’s needs are not being properly addressed.  Then we will support a transfer of legal aid.

But, you do get only one chance to get it right.

Contact VHS Fletchers solicitors for expert advice in criminal matters

We care passionately about the service we give to every client, so if the time has come to switch solicitors and transfer legal aid, get in touch, and we can provide further advice on the procedure and whether you have grounds for a transfer.

For a confidential and private consultation, please contact the office most convenient to you or use the contact form below.

transfer legal aid


End of an era as Chesterfield solicitors move offices

On Thursday 22 March 2018 a chapter ends as Chesterfield solicitors VHS Fletchers move from Marsden Chambers in to new offices across town at 5 Beetwell.

Chesterfield solicitors have provided representation in criminal cases from that office for many many years.  Prior to VHS Fletchers beginning to practice from that address, Banner Jones solicitors provided criminal advice and representation.

chesterfield solicitors vhs fletchers
VHS Fletchers old offices at Marsden Chambers

Perhaps two of the most immediately recognisable names to have praticed from Marsden Chambers are Chesterfield solicitors Robert Banner and Peter Jones.  Robert specialised in criminal representation for 12 years beginning in 1976 before moving into the field of employment law.  Peter qualified in 1980, and now specialises in family law, having built a successful criminal practice over a number of years.  He continued to represent clients in the criminal field until VHS Fletchers began to provide criminal advice.

Jonathan Taaffe trained as a solicitor at Banner Jones, working from the Marsden Sreet office from 1983. He resigned from the partnership in 2010 and is now a full time District Judge sitting in Derbyshire.

Chesterfield solicitor Denney Lau
Chesterfield crime solicitor Denney Lau

In 2007, newly qualified solicitor Denney Lau joined the Marsden Street office.  He worked there for a little over three years before leaving to join a competitor.  He returned to the building where his career started in 2017, but now for VHS Fletchers.  He was reunited with old colleagues Kevin Tomlinson, Ruth Campbell and Rob Lowe, as well as the text book on representing suspects in the police station that he used to obtain his police station accreditation.

chesterfield solicitor kevin tomlinson
Chesterfield crime solicitor Kevin Tomlinson

In 2009, Chesterfield crime solicitor Kevin Tomlinson joined the offices at Marsden Chambers.  He had been a partner at Kieran Clarke Green solicitors for a number of years.  That firm had decided to give up their criminal contract with the Legal Aid Agency, so Kevin was able to bring his significant following of criminal clients to a new firm.

chesterfield police station representation Rob lowe
Police station accredited representative Rob Lowe

Similarly, in 2010, Banner Jones recruited local sole practitioner Bob Bashforth who had operated as a sole practitioner in Chesterfield for 12 years before joining the firm. He retired in 2016 after continuing for a short period with VHS Fletchers.  Bob now lives in Devon.

In April 2015, VHS Fletchers took over the Banner Jones criminal department and continued to operate from Marsden Chambers.  This was in a direct response to government plans to consolidate the

Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Ben Strelley
Chesterfield crime solicitor Ben Strelley

market.  These plans, including a flawed tender process, later collapsed but VHS Fletchers have continued to develop the department and are now a well known name in the area.

Since then, in 2016, we have successfully recruited crime solicitor Ben Strelley.  Although working in Sheffield before his move, he lives locally, and has brought an expertise in all areas of criminal law to the firm as well as a desire to achieve the best for all of his clients.

chesterfield crown court litigator Ruth Campbell
Chesterfield Crown Court litigator Ruth Campbell

Of the current line-up, accredited police station representative Rob Lowe is the longest serving employee based at the Marsden Street office.  He began work for Banner Jones in 1999.  He was soon joined by Crown Court Litigator Ruth Campbell.

chesterfield crime solicitor David Gittins
Chesterfield partner and crime solicitor David Gittins

Chesterfield crime solicitor and partner David Gittins and criminal solicitor Gavin Haigh complete the team providing specialist legal advice to those arrested and detained at Chesterfield police station, Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court or Derby Crown Court, as well as places much further afield.

Contact Chesterfield solicitors specialising in crime

Our new address and phone number can be found here from 21 March 2018.  Alternatively you can use the contact form below.

VHS Fletchers has a contract with the Legal Aid Agency.  This means that any advice and representation that we provide in the police station will be free of charge to you.

We will always advise you as to your entitlement to legal aid to ensure that representation before either the Magistrates’ or Crown Courts is affordable to you.


New Domestic Abuse Sentencing Guideline Published

A new domestic abuse sentencing guideline was published on 22 February 2018, giving courts up to date guidance that emphasises the seriousness of offending involving domestic violence or other forms of abuse in a domestic setting.

domestic abuse sentencing guideline

What is domestic abuse?

There is no specific crime of domestic abuse.   It can be a feature of many offences including assault, sexual offences or harassment. The new domestic abuse sentencing guideline aims to ensure that the seriousness of these offences is properly taken into account when such offences are being sentenced.  The intention is that sufficient thought is also given to the need to address the offender’s behaviour and prevent re-offending.

Are there an existing domestic abuse sentencing guideline?

The new guideline replaces a domestic violence guideline which was published in 2006. A great deal has changed since then in terms of societal attitudes, expert thinking and terminology.

It was felt, therefore, that guidance for courts was therefore in need of revision to bring it up to date. ‘Domestic abuse’ is now the term used, rather than ‘domestic violence’.  This reflects that offences can involve psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse as well as physical violence.

When is the new guideline in force?

The domestic abuse sentencing guideline will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older sentenced on or after 24 May 2018.

How does this guideline change things?

The guideline identifies the principles relevant to the sentencing of cases involving domestic abuse, outlines how the seriousness of domestic abuse sentencing guidelineoffences should be assessed and highlights other factors that should be taken into account.

It brings a distinct change in emphasis in relation to seriousness.

The previous sentencing guideline stated that offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those in a non-domestic context, whereas the new guideline emphasises that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious.

This is because domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, it is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues and may result in death. It can also lead to lasting trauma for victims and their children.

For the first time, the guideline also includes a reference to abuse which is perpetrated through use of technology, such as email or text, social networking sites or tracking devices fitted to a victim’s car.  These are increasingly common methods by which domestic abuse can occur.

The guidelines recognise that these offences can affect people of all backgrounds and the guideline is also clear that abuse can occur between family members as well as between intimate partners.

Will anything else change?

Yes. In particular, there is now additional guidance on restraining orders, along with new guidance on Victim Personal Statements.

In relation to restraining orders, the guideline now includes additional guidance to assist the court with a renewed focus on keeping the victim safe, particularly for those who continue or resume their relationship with the offender.

The guideline further reminds courts to take any Victim Personal Statement into account.  Where there is no such statement, this is not an indication of any lack of harm to the victim.

Sentencing Council member Jill Gramann said:

“Domestic abuse comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences. The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact. The new guideline will ensure that courts have the information they need to deal with the great range of offending and help prevent further abuse occurring.”

What factors will a court take into account on sentence?

The following list of non-exhaustive aggravating and mitigating factors are of particular relevance to offences committed in a domestic context and should be considered alongside offence specific factors.

 Aggravating Factors
  • Abuse of trust and abuse of power
  • Victim is particularly vulnerable.   Although all victims of domestic abuse are potentially vulnerable due to the nature of the abuse, but some victims of domestic abuse may be more vulnerable than others, and not all vulnerabilities are immediately apparent)
  • Steps taken to prevent the victim reporting an incident
  • Steps taken to prevent the victim obtaining assistance
  • Victim forced to leave home, or steps have to be taken to exclude the offender from the home to ensure the victim’s safety
  • Impact on children  as children can be adversely impacted by both direct and indirect exposure to domestic abuse
  • Using contact arrangements with a child to instigate an offence
  • A proven history of violence or threats by the offender in a domestic context
  • A history of disobedience to court orders such as, but not limited to, Domestic Violence Protection Orders, non-molestation orders and restraining orders
Mitigating Factors
  • Positive good character – as a general principle of sentencing, a court will take account of an offender’s positive good character. However, it is recognised that one of the factors that can allow domestic abuse to continue unnoticed for lengthy periods is the ability of the perpetrator to have a public and a private face. In respect of offences committed within a domestic context, an offender’s good character in relation to conduct outside these offences should generally be of no relevance where there is a proven pattern of behaviour
  • Evidence of genuine recognition of the need for change, and evidence of obtaining help or treatment to effect that change

Will those convicted get a longer sentence?

A spokesperson for the Sentencing Council commented:

‘Overall, it is likely that there will be an increase in sentence severity as a result of the introduction of the guideline, however, the guideline emphasises the need to consider the most appropriate sentence to prevent further re-offending and protect victims, which may be a community order.’

How we can help

domestic abuse sentencing guidelineMany people feel that sentencing is increasingly a mechanistic process, with a danger that the new domestic abuse sentencing guideline will be rigidly stuck to, and the individual considerations of defendants either ignored or played down.

However, case law over the last few years emphasises that courts should be cautious to ensure that this does not happen. All of our advocates are experienced in presenting the best mitigation possible to courts, ensuring the best possible outcome.

We can advise, for example, on the best way to present your regret and remorse following a guilty plea. 

A specific case study can be found here.

If you intend to fight your case at trial then we have a proven track record of securing not guilty verdicts.  Examples can be found here and here.

We can advise on how to tackle difficult issues relating to whether  hearsay evidence should be admitted in your case.

Contact a specialist in defending domestic abuse cases

The new domestic abuse sentencing guideline mean that it may be easier in the future for courts to justify a custodial sentence.  As a result, you will want to contact us as soon as the police make contact with you.

Your nearest office can be found here.  We provide a nationwide service, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All advice and assistance in police interview will be free of charge to you.  Legal aid is available for many cases before the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts.

VHS Fletchers offices across the East Midlands

Detailed cross examination secures not guilty verdicts at Nottingham Crown Court

Senior Crown Court Litigator Sarah Lees-Collier was recently instructed in the case of a 65 year old defendant charged with serious sexual offences involving his foster or adopted daughters.  The case involved careful and detailed cross examination.

The allegations were almost exclusively historic sexual offences, with the complainants giving very similar accounts of offending.  All of the offences were denied.

expert cross examination
Vanessa Marshall QC

Sarah had chosen to instruct experienced counsel Vanessa Marshall from 7 Bedford Row Chambers, known for her eye to detail and exhaustive analysis and preparation of such cases.  During the currency of this case Ms Marshall discovered that she had been successful in her application to be Queen’s Counsel.

Expert cross examination of four complainants

Here, all four complainants had the benefit of special measures permitting them to give evidence behind screens.  Cross examination was expertly conducted in relation to a great deal of material including social care records.  A substantial amount of material was not disclosed until the trial had started.

expert cross examination sexual abuse caseCounsel insisted on sufficient time to be able to consider this additional material and plan her expert cross examination accordingly.  One of the witnesses was extremely volatile under questioning.

The detailed preparation meant that we were able to show that the witnesses had told some lies that were relevant to the case.  For example, one of the complainants had no choice but to accept that she had previously made false allegations about another carer.  The defence identified, within the unused material, reasons why further false allegations might have been made.

Counsel had to treat the witnesses with care.  It was clear that whatever the reality of the allegations they were now making, they had had a difficult early life.

Our client was of good character.  As a result, character evidence was gathered.  A number of witnesses attended court to speak as to his character in the trial.

Although the the trial lasted for five weeks, the defence was compelling.  As a result, our client was found not guilty of all charges with the jury deliberating for just under three hours.

Our client was, of course, particularly pleased and relieved.

Contact a Crown Court litigation specialist

cross examination historic sexual abuse
Crown Court litigator Sarah Lees Collier

If you face proceedings before the Crown Court, whether you intend to plead guilty or fight your case at trial, you will want to instruct an expert Crown Court litigator.

You can contact your nearest office here.  To instruct Sarah Lees-Collier she can contacted on 0115 9599550 or using the contact form below.


BBC Justice Survey of practitioners about disclosure concerns

The BBC Justice survey is the result of the recent collapse of several rape cases that brought to public attention widespread concerns with disclosure practices across the Criminal Justice System.

The BBC, along with The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, The Criminal Bar Association and The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, would like to hear from legal professionals about the disclosure concerns behind the headlines – identifying disclosure issues that arise on a day-to-day basis in the police stations, Magistrates’ and Crown Courts.

It may be that the police have refused to give adequate disclosure for the purposes of advising prior to interview; the IDPC provided for the first hearing contains inadequate or no witness statements; there is no MG6C provided for trial; disclosure ordered by the court has still not been provided despite the expiry of time given; trials or hearings have been delayed or adjourned because of late, inadequate or no disclosure given to the defence.

The survey is open to members of The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, The Criminal Bar Association and The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, and all solicitors and barristers currently practicing criminal law in England & Wales.

The BBC want you to tell them about your experiences over the past 12 months.

The survey only takes a few minutes to complete. All responses will be treated confidentially.

The link to the BBC Justice survey can be found here.

The closing date for responses is Tuesday 20th February.


An appeal to the Court of Appeal against a Crown Court sentence

It is possible to appeal against a Crown Court sentence to the Court of Appeal.  The appeal process can be complicated depending on the individual case, so this article can only ever outline the basics of the appeal process.

If you require advice in relation to your specific appeal then our contact information can be found here.

You should know the range of sentences likely in your case

In cases that we deal with on behalf of clients facing Crown Court proceedings we will have ensured that all of our clients are given an early indication of the likely sentence range.   This advice will include the potential sentence depending on whether there is a guilty plea or conviction after trial.

appeal against a crown court sentenceIn some cases we will be able to be relatively precise as to what might be expected.  In others cases, however, the range can be quite broad.  In some rare cases it can be ‘anyone’s guess’ only because the case is so unique.  Generally speaking, mainly where there are sentencing guidelines in place, we are very good at preparing our clients for the likely outcome.

Unfortunately, things do not always go to plan. For example, evidence may change during the case making it a lot more serious than originally thought.  Of course, some clients receive the benefit of the evidence changing in a way that favours them.  Sometimes the Judge may take a different view of the case, or, and this happens despite what appear to be clear sentencing guidelines, the Judge falls into error and makes a mistake when sentencing.

First steps in an appeal against a sentence

In all cases, following sentence, there should be clear advice on appeal. This will normally be given verbally, but you can have it in appeal against a crown court sentencewriting if you request that. In more complex cases it is usual for the advocate to set out in writing why an appeal is or is not appropriate.

If your Crown Court advocate is able to provide a positive advice on appeal, then you will have the opportunity to discuss that with us.  We will hen take the necessary next steps on your behalf.

In cases where an appeal is not thought to be viable, again we will provide full advice to ensure that you understand the reasons for this decision.

What are the grounds for appeal against a Crown Court sentence?

appeal against a crown court sentence to court of appealThere is a margin of appreciation in sentencing.  This means that the Court of Appeal will not interfere merely because it would have chosen to sentence differently.

There are, perhaps surprisingly, thirteen distinct grounds for appeal.  They break down conveniently into two broad labels.  For the Court of Appeal to intervene the Crown Court sentence must be either

  • Wrong in principle; or,
  • Manifestly excessive

All appeals are considered initially by a Single Judge.  They will decide whether the case appears to have merit or not. If that Judge refuses leave to appeal on the basis that they believe the case is not properly arguable we will discuss the next steps with you.

If I am told not to appeal against a Crown Court sentence, can I ignore that advice?

A person can chose to ignore the advice received.  Any such decision should be discussed with us in advance because there are risks in proceeding with an appeal that is without merit.

The Court of Appeal can impose costs.  In some cases it will also make a ‘loss of time direction’.  This means that a release from prison at the end of any sentence will be delayed.  This is delay is often in the region of 14 to 42 days.

How long will the appeal take?

The length of time will depend on the complexity of the case and the listing requirements of the court.  Priority is also likely to be given to those facing shorter sentences that can be successfully appealed.  In some cases where a person has received a short prison sentence, there is a procedure to expedite an appeal.  In some cases, these can be heard within a few days.

Aside from such cases, appeals against a Crown Court sentence will be typically heard within six months of being lodged with the court.

Can I get bail pending an appeal against a Crown Court Sentence?

Bail is seldom granted in cases before the Court of Appeal.  The usual remedy to any injustice is for the Court to expedite the appeal hearing in cases where this approach is merited.

Where will the appeal be heard?

Most appeals are held at the Court of Appeal in London, although appeal against a crown court sentenceoccasionally the court sits at regional Crown Court centres. If you are in custody, you will typically be present via video-link, or if on bail you can attend the hearing in person.

Court of Appeal judges will hear the case, and you will be represented by an advocate at the hearing. In some cases, the prosecution is also present, but not always.

When will I find out the result of my appeal?

In most cases, the result is announced at the end of the hearing. If complex issues are involved, then the decision might take a few weeks longer.

If I wasn’t represented by VHS Fletchers can you advise on appeal?

The simple answer is ‘Yes’.  We would be happy to discuss your case. In some cases, legal aid will be available for the provision of this advice.  This will be subject to a means and merits test.

Contact a Criminal Law Specialist

Whether you wish to discuss an appeal against a Crown Court sentence or wish any advice relating to any matter of criminal law then please contact your nearest office.

Alternatively, use the contact form below.


Defending a sexual offence before the Crown Court


Liar, an important ITV drama from 2017, gripped the nation.  Early in the series people were reaching conclusions as to whether Laura, played by the actress Joanne Froggatt (better known for her role as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey), was telling the truth when she accused surgeon Andrew of raping her.

For most of us, this was a highly watchable drama.  We flip flopped between whom to believe.  Our perceptions changed over time by the sophisticated script and plot devices.

It is no surprise that some people formed an opinion after only one or two episodes because recent research demonstrated that half of the jurors might reach a guilty verdict before even going to deliberate with other jurors.

defence solicitor sexual offence

We know that people are on occasion willing to change their minds, just as you might when the plot unfolds.

It is vital therefore in cases alleging a sexual offence that a strong case is advanced from the start, laying a solid foundation for a successful defence.

Our Role

For our clients and their families, facing an accusation of rape or other sexual crime can be a horrendous experience. So, what is our role and how do we defend such cases?

Reactive and Proactive defence for a sexual offence

We always start with a reactive approach. The complainant states they were drunk, our client states they were in fact sober. We entered the bedroom uninvited says one person, we were invited in, says our client, and so on.

Viewers can build the start of a defence with this important work, but we do not have the benefit of the incident in question playing before us on a TV screen, with the truth revealed at the end.

Instead we have only the competing versions, and it might feel as if it is simply one word against another, and often it is unless you seek further evidence.

It is a proactive approach to case preparation which makes a difference. We always ensure that:

  • All relevant witnesses are traced.
  • Any CTTV evidence secured.
  • Forensic evidence analysed.
  • Background checks completed.
  • Details of false allegations pursued.

and even, as alluded to already in Liar, any psychiatric issues are explored.

Some examples of recent cases that we have successfully concluded by Crown Court litigator Lisa Sawyer can be found here:


Rape allegation defended

Historic sex case defended

Senior Crown Court Litigator Lisa Sawyer

We instruct a combination of in-house advocates and independent barristers to ensure you receive the best representation.

We also understand the personal toll legal proceedings will take on you and your family, and our caseworkers such as Lisa offer a compassionate and reassuring voice at a time when the future may at times appear very dark.

Our Services

The solicitors, Crown Court litigators and advocates VHS Fletchers Solicitors have decades of experience in defending cases of this type involving a sexual offence.

Before entrusting your case to anyone else come and meet us, get a feel for our work ethic, and ensure you are confident that you are receiving the best defence possible.

You only get one chance to get this right, so the alternative is unthinkable.

We offer private client services at affordable rates, and legal aid may well be available.

So, if you are arrested for, or charged with any offence, call your nearest office to arrange an appointment, or use the enquiry form below.