Tag Archives: legal aid

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:


Defending our clients in dangerous driving cases

dangerous drivingThere is a specific offence of dangerous driving, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 2 years.  If that driving is a cause of someone’s death, that maximum sentence unsurprisingly increases to one of 14 years.  A more recent offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving was created in 2012 and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.

In each case there are minimum disqualification periods and very lengthy actual disqualifications which involve the passing of a mandatory re-test before a driver can return to the road.  Insurance premiums which will remain significant for many years to come, with some drivers unable to secure insurance at all, at any price.

What is dangerous driving?

Dangerous driving is defined by section 2A Road Traffic Act 1988:

“…a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if (and, subject to subsection (2) below, only if)—

(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and

(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.”

There is also a further element of dangerous driving related to unsafe vehicles, although this is not within the scope of this article.

dangerous drivingThe test is an ‘objective one’ which means that it is not to be judged through the eyes of the actual driver but the eyes of a ‘competent and careful driver’.  As a result it, in any trial, it will be for a magistrate, District Judge or jury to decide on guilt.

The crucial part of the test is that the driving falls ‘far below’ the standard expected.  It is this aspect of the offence that, on occasion, makes advising in these cases such a highly skilled task.

In some cases it will be immediately obvious that the driving falls ‘far below’ the standard of a competent and careful driver.  For example, if a person is driving at 100 mph on the wrong carriageway of the motorway at night without lights, then there is no room for debate.

But some case are more difficult.  What if, believing that you have sufficient sight of the road ahead, you overtake only to hit an oncoming vehicle in the opposite lane. Would that fall into the category of driving ‘far below’ the standard, or it is simply an unfortunate error of judgement, and one that could perhaps be properly categorised as careless rather than dangerous driving?

No statutory definition exists of driving falling ‘far below’

There is no statutory definition of what is meant by ‘far below.’  Section 2A(3) of the 1988 Act states that “dangerous” must refer to the danger of personal injury or serious damage to property.

Case law also makes it clear that the driver’s particular skill or lack of is not relevant as set out in Bannister [2009] EWCA Crim 1571.

A full exploration of the circumstances of the alleged offence will be required in borderline cases.  The Crown Prosecution Service regards the following as being examples of dangerous driving:

  • racing or competitive driving;
  • failing to have proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders, the elderly and pedestrians or when in the vicinity of a pedestrian crossing, hospital, school or residential home;
  • speed, which is particularly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions;
  • aggressive driving, such as sudden lane changes, cutting into a line of vehicles or driving much too close to the vehicle in front;
  • disregard of traffic lights and other road signs, which, on an objective analysis, would appear to be deliberate;
  • disregard of warnings from fellow passengers;
  • overtaking which could not have been carried out safely;
  • driving when knowingly suffering from a medical or physical condition that significantly and dangerously impairs the offender’s driving skills such as having an arm or leg in plaster, or impaired eyesight. It can include the failure to take prescribed medication;
  • driving when knowingly deprived of adequate sleep or rest;
  • driving a vehicle knowing it has a dangerous defect or is poorly maintained or is dangerously loaded;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment whether as a phone or to compose or read text messages when the driver was avoidably and dangerously distracted by that use (R v Browning (2001) EWCA Crim 1831, R v Payne [2007] EWCA Crim 157);
  • driving whilst avoidably and dangerously distracted such as whilst reading a newspaper/map, talking to and looking at a passenger, selecting and lighting a cigarette or by adjusting the controls of electronic equipment such as a radio, hands-free mobile phone or satellite navigation equipment;
  • a brief but obvious danger arising from a seriously dangerous manoeuvre. This covers situations where a driver has made a mistake or an error of judgement that was so substantial that it caused the driving to be dangerous even for only a short time. Cases that illustrate this principle include where an offender failed to stop at a junction where there was a give way sign, failing to see a taxi that was being driven across the junction perfectly properly and colliding with it; offender unintentionally pressed the accelerator instead of the brake; offender drove across a junction marked by a give way sign and collided with a car that was being driven along the major road and had no explanation for his failure to see the other car.

It should be stressed, however, that ultimately it will be a matter for the court to decide.

dangerous driving

Cases of dangerous driving less than clear cut

Some of the examples in the above list may seem surprising, for example where a person unintentionally pressed the accelerator instead of the brake.  It is worth repeating that much will depend on what actually happened.  Argument may well be possible around concepts such as ‘…even for only a short time…’ 

Similarly, argument can be raised about when a breach of a legal duty in ‘…failing to have proper and safe regard…’ strays over the line from being careless driving to an incident of dangerous driving?

A lawyer will need to try and dilute the very real risk of judging everything from the perspective of hindsight and the outcome of the driving.

Legal strategies to defend dangerous driving cases

In stressful situations, particularly where serious harm has been caused, there is an instinctive reaction to think that the driving error must also have been very serious.

dangerous drivingStanding back, as lawyers, we know that the truth is that on occasion even the slightest error can result in very serious consequences. It is therefore vital that if you are to be interviewed by the police following an accident that you secure legal representation at the outset.

All of our legal advice and assistance at a police station or any other place will be free of charge to you as a suspect regardless of your financial means.  You can read more about the help we can give here.  The scheme also operates if you are not under arrest but being spoken to on a voluntary basis.  This does not mean that the police are treating the allegation any less seriously and more information can be found here.

dangerous drivingAccident investigation and reconstruction is now an important consideration in many cases.  This allows scientists and engineers to see exactly the cause(s) of an accident and the magnitude of error, often exposing the culpability of others.  Such reports can be expensive, but help will be available if you are eligible for either Magistrates or Crown Court legal aid.

Eye-witness testimony is not always reliable and is also often tainted by the result of the driving as opposed to the driving itself.  This will need to be exposed through expert cross examination of the witnesses in court.

In some cases there may still be some room for manoeuvre and a plea to the lesser offence of careless driving may be appropriate.

How we can assist you if you face dangerous driving allegations

Whether an act of driving amounts to dangerous driving is often not easy to ascertain.  Our experienced lawyers routinely deal with all manner of driving cases, from the minor to the most serious.

Whether facing imprisonment or not, the loss of a driving licence is for many people an incredibly serious penalty in itself.  We will take all steps possible on your behalf to avoid that happening.

dangerous driving
VHS Fletchers East Midlands offices

We have six offices across the East Midlands and provide advice and provide nationwide advice and representation.  Find your nearest office here.  Alternatively use the contact form below.



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


Law Society representative visits Nottingham

On Thursday 15 May, Richard Miller, Head of Legal Aid at The Law Society, visited Nottingham and saw how the Bridewell, Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court were operating.

During the afternoon he took part in a round table meeting kindly hosted by Bhatia Best solicitors.  Nottingham Crime solicitor Graham Heathcote was in attendance from VHS Fletchers.

The main talking points amongst these defence practitioners were:

  • The fact that the Crown Prosecution is at breaking point.  There seems to be no prospect of that organisation of due to the high volume of its caseload.  The organisation is unable to fill its advertised posts.  The recently publicised problems with, for example, disclosure are simply due to lack of resources.
  • Defence solicitors are ageing.  In a large number of areas a scheme’s youngest member is now older than 50.  There appears to be a real concern that defence lawyers as a breed may die out.  Recruitment is even more difficult than for the Crown Prosecution Service – lack of prospects and security, and without any of the benefits of working for the Crown.
  • Flexible working remains on the agenda but will be difficult to progress.  The powers that be at HMCTS failed to understand, for example, a requirement to give organisations such as GeoAmey 12 weeks’ notice of any contract amendment before hours can be varied.
  • The Public and Commercial Services Union, representing court staff, is also putting forward opposition to the plan.  It was suggested that at present there was no united between all of the different elements opposed to this change, and the hope is for joined up opposition.
  • Issues relating to listing are hidden behind ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’.  The figures regarding court throughput of work and non-effective trials were being ‘massaged’ by the invention of a notional “Court 60” in many areas.  Nottingham, for example, appears to have a ‘Court 99’.  Case which everyone knows have to go off due to lack of courts or judges are listed in this court so that it looks as though work is being undertaken within an acceptable time frame.  Courts are able to hit centrally imposed targets due to this falsehood, disguising the extent of the problem.
  • Video links were identified as having little useful effect as a first Crown Court hearing.  Little progress can be made due to time constraints and the lack of the physical presence of a client.  Seems unlikely, however, that anything will change as the powers that be are wedded to the idea of video conferencing.
  • Similarly, virtual courts, remote please and bodycam video interviews with suspects are all designed to marginalise the effect of defence lawyers.
  • It may be that Labour are waking up to the issue of a collapsing system.  It seems that they might wish further assistance from bodies such as the Law Society and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.  Representative bodies ought to be feeding information such as the manipulation of statistics or systemic failures into the political discussion, with a view to scrutiny by relevant select committees.

Richard Miller was receptive, spoke well on the subject (as would be expected) and urged the profession to keep up the pressure and publicity about a system in crisis.  Perhaps most depressingly, however, nothing which was raised locally had not been said and confirmed at the various other stops that he and his team have made nationwide.

The Law Society Campaign to restore Legal Aid for Early Legal Advice

In 2015/16, Ipsos MORI conducted a study on individuals’ legal needs on behalf of the Law Society and the Legal Services
Board (LSB). The main component of the study was an online survey to examine individuals’ experiences of 29 legal issues and the effect of receiving early legal advice.

Large scale survey about the effect of early legal advice

The survey provided quantitative findings from 8,192 participants, which examined the responses from 16,694 issues

This included issues relating to

  • divorce/dissolution of civil partnerships
  • debt/money issues
  • injury at work
  • road traffic accidents
  • personal injury
  • legal issues with mental health issues
  • repossession or eviction
  • neighbour disputes
  • relationship breakdown issues
  • welfare benefits; discrimination
  • being arrested
  • legal issues related to children
  • immigration
  • domestic violence
  • homelessness
  • unfair treatment by the police

These are all issues which may be handled using legal processes but are not necessarily seen as being ‘legal’ in nature by those experiencing them.

early legal advice

The results of the analysis

This report outlines results from analysis comparing the effects on the timing of the resolution of individuals’ legal issues of receiving early professional legal advice compared to not receiving it.

The analysis showed that early advice has a statistically significant effect on the timing of the resolution of people’s legal issues.

Specifically, the analysis showed that for these issues:

  • On average, a quarter (25%) of people who received early professional legal advice had resolved their problem within 3-4 months of the problem first occurring, whereas for people who did not receive early legal advice it was not until 9 months after the issue had first occurred that 25% had resolved their issue.
  • Correspondingly, and controlling for other factors that can affect problem resolution, people who did not receive early advice were 20% less likely than average to have resolved their issue at a
    particular point in time.
  • The main other factors affecting problem resolution were the severity of the issues, and people’s previous knowledge of their legal rights. More severe problems, as would be expected, take longer on average to resolve, and people with little previous knowledge of their legal rights were 33% less likely than average to have resolved their issue at a particular point.
  • Early professional legal advice was defined as ‘within 3 months of the issue first occurring’ as analysis showed that this is a reasonable definition on average across the 17 issues considered.
  • Professional legal advice covered advice from a solicitor, or other professional advisers such as Citizen Advice Bureaux or
    trade unions.

As a result, the report stressed the importance of restoring the ability for individuals to seek early legal advice by receiving legal aid.  Advice and assistance in police interview remains free of charge to all.  Find out more about that here.

The Law Society is campaigning for the restoration of access to early legal advice under the legal aid scheme here.

The link to allow you to easily email your MP can be found here.

early legal advice

Not guilty after trial of making indecent images

Over recent years there has been a vast increase in the number of second hand mobile phones being sold online through such sites as eBay or Gumtree. Such purchases may not be without risk as a client found when charged with making indecent images!

Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor David Gittins recently represented a client who had bought such a phone.  He had been making indecent imagesarrested and charged with possessing indecent images on his second hand mobile phone.  David’s client was adamant that he knew nothing about the images.  He maintained he was not aware that they were in his phone.

The year long investigation was followed by proceedings before Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  At trial David successfully argued that there was no case to answer.  As a result the charges were dismissed.

Free and independent advice in police interview

David’s client had been arrested in the summer of 2016 for unrelated matters.  His mobile phone was seized by the Police and making indecent imagesexamined. The Police found a small number of indecent images on the phone.  Understandably they wanted to interview our client about this.

He sought free and independent legal advice from VHS Fletchers and was represented by David during two separate sets of interviews. Our client denied the offence saying he knew nothing about the images.  He was unable to comment about how they got to be in his phone, nor could he help with when they got there.

‘Making indecent images’

As a result the our client could do little else but deny the allegation.  The police and prosecution were not happy with these denials so he was charged to Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  The charge was making indecent images between two dates in 2016.

Making indecent images does not necessarily involve taking a photograph.  Downloading an image and making a new digital file is sufficient for a person to be guilty of an offence.  The offence is likely to be treated seriously by the courts and therefore a prison sentence is often imposed.  Although the ‘maker’ of the image is unlikely to have met the child, it is serious because there is a child victim at the end of the chain of ‘makers’ who copy the image.

The Trial

David met with his client on several occasions to take instructions and give advice before trial.  David’s analysis of the technical evidence showed that the prosecution could not show when the images arrived on the phone.   In order to prove the offence the prosecution would have to show that our client was responsible for making indecent images.

The prosecutor could not show that the images were placed on the phone while it was owned by David’s client.  Additionally, there was no evidence that the images had been opened and viewed since our client had owned the phone.

making indecent imagesAt no point during the prosecution was evidence called to challenge our client’s account that the phone was bought second hand.  The prosecution simply sought to rely on a need by our client to explain the images.  Our client, however, had the benefit of the burden and standard of proof and did not have to prove anything.

After the prosecution case had finished David considered the evidence that the court had heard.  Because of this he decided to make an application of no case to answer.  This can lead to a case being stopped before the defence case.  It is possible in cases where there is no likelihood of a court finding a defendant guilty.

The Magistrates’ in this case agreed with David’s argument and the case against his client was dismissed.

His client was understandably delighted with this result.  He had never been in trouble with the police before so kept his good name.  He will hopefully be able to put the fourteen months that he had serious proceedings hanging over his head behind him.

Free representation with Magistrates’ Court legal aid

Legal aid is available for advice and representation before the Magistrates’ Court. It is dependent upon our clients satisfying the legal aid agency of the merits of their cases and that they qualify on their means.  If it is granted then our advice and representation will be free of charge.

Contact a Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor

Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor David Gittins

Whatever the allegation that you face, you will want to instruct an expert criminal defence solicitor who will analyse the evidence in your case and prepare it accordingly.  In cases such as this, it is important that any gaps in the evidence are identified and exploited to obtain the best result for you.

Please call us on out office number 01246 283000.  Alternatively you can use the contact form below.


Prison sentence avoided for breach of a suspended sentence order

Chesterfield Crime Solicitor Kevin Tomlinson had to use all of his experience and persuasive advocacy to ensure that his client did not receive a prison sentence after his breach of a suspended sentence order.

breach of a suspended sentence orderKevin’s client was charged with nine offences.  Five of these were committed whilst he was subject to a suspended sentence order.  The law is such that if an offence is committed during the lifetime of a suspended sentence a court must activate the suspended sentence.   The only opportunity a person will have to avoid this is where it is successfully argued that it would be unjust to do so.

It was perhaps the case that in the circumstances that Kevin’s client found himself in, custody would seem inevitable.  In the event, Kevin  managed to achieve for his client what at first seemed impossible.

Allegations in breach of a suspended sentence order

Kevin’s client had been arrested in relation to a number of thefts from shops.  Perhaps unsurprisingly Kevin’s client was a drug user.  The offences were committed over a period of time, but he was interviewed about them by the police in a single interview.

In interview, Kevin’s client accepted each offence.  Because of his record the police had kept him for court on a Saturday morning.  Kevin represented him when he pleaded guilty to all of the offences.

The court had insufficient information to allow our client to be sentenced at a Saturday court.  As a result the case was adjourned until later in the week for the sentencing hearing.  Unfortunately, our client was remanded into prison to await sentence.

The sentencing hearing

At the sentencing hearing, Kevin set about securing information to put before the court in a bid to convince them that it would be unjust to send his client to prison for breach of a suspended sentence and the new offences.

breach of a suspended sentence order
Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court

Kevin took all the information that he would need to provide the court with detailed personal mitigation.  He took the time not to rush through this important part of the process, resisting pressure from the court for the case to be called on.

After taking these instructions, Kevin’s next port of call was the probation service.  The probation staff confirmed that our client was progressing well on his suspended sentence order in terms of trying to tackle his drug use.

As a result, Kevin had enough helpful information to allow him to argue that his client should not receive an immediate prison sentence but should be given a further chance.  This was a credible argument even though there was a breach of a suspended sentence order.

Prison sentence avoided

Kevin’s client was due to be sentenced before the resident District Judge at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  Following the prosecution opening and some information from the probation service, Kevin then addressed the Judge.

He argued at length on behalf of his client.  Kevin relied upon the reasons behind the offending, some personal mitigation, the good progress under the order and the short period spend in prison before sentence.  In conclusion he asked the Judge to decide that it would be unjust to impose the sentence for breach of a suspended sentence order.

After listening to this mitigation the District Judge agreed with Kevin.  He decided to impose a sentence which allowed our to retain his freedom.  Kevin’s client was understandably delighted with the outcome and relieved to not face a custodial sentence.

Free legal aid funding in the Magistrates’ Court

Our client had the benefit of legal aid. for these hearings in the Magistrates’ Court.   This means that our advice and representation of him was free of charge to him.

Instruct a Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor

breach of a suspended sentence order
Chesterfield Crime Solicitor Kevin Tomlinson

If you find yourself being investigated by the police or facing court proceedings then please contact us immediately.  Our office number 0246 283000 is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that you receive emergency free and independent legal advice if you are being interviewed by the police.

Advice and assistance in police interview will always be free of charge to you.  If you case proceeds to either the Magistrates’ or Crown Court then we will give you the best advice as to whether you are entitled to legal aid or alternative ways of funding your case.

Alternatively you can contact us using the form below.



Closure of Newark Custody Suite – Newark duty solicitor scheme to remain

This was the response of VHS Fletchers to the consultation paper released by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) following the notification on 25 October 2017 of the closure of Newark custody suite with effect from 6 November 2017.  The suggestion was to merge the Newark duty solicitor scheme with the Mansfield scheme.

newark duty solicitor VHS FletchersAll Newark arrests from that date are taken to and processed at Mansfield Custody Suite. The residents of Newark had already lost one public resource, that being the ability of their police station to process prisoners. There was a very real risk that they would lose another – detainees receiving advice from solicitors local to Newark under the Newark duty solicitor scheme.

The consultation document invited responses to three alternative revisions to the Newark duty solicitor scheme and Mansfield scheme.  Only one of those appeared to put first the needs of those from Newark who are arrested.

After the consultation document was published there were two important indications from the police that impacted upon the proposals:

  • Cases that were identified as Newark cases would continue to be charged and either bailed or held to appear at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court rather than Mansfield Magistrates’ Court.
  • The police would continue to contact the Newark Duty Solicitor Scheme in cases which are identified as “Newark arrests” and would ensure that the Duty Solicitor Call Centre (“DSCC”) was informed in all cases where the detainee was arrested for an offence committed in Newark.
newark duty solicitor crime firm VHS Fletchers
Newark police station

It followed from these indications that Mansfield custody suite was able to and intended to identify cases that had historically been dealt with at Newark police station. As a result, they would be able to direct those who seek the advice of a duty solicitor to a firm local to Newark.

The proposed options for changes to the scheme could be summarised as follows:

  1. That the Newark Police Station Duty Scheme was merged with the Mansfield Police Station Duty Scheme with effect from 1 January 2018 with members of an extended Mansfield scheme covering both Mansfield and Newark police stations.
  2. That the Newark Police Station Scheme was retained as a separate scheme and Duty Solicitors on the Newark rota would be directed by the DSCC to attend at Mansfield police station.
  3. Newark Police Station Scheme retained as a separate scheme and firms post 1 January 2018 could elect to join either the Mansfield police station duty rota or standalone Newark scheme (if retained under option 2)

The LAA indicated that they preferred option 1. The reason given was that options 2 and 3 were reliant upon the police being able to identify to the DSCC “Newark cases”. A more cynical view might be that the LAA and DSCC would have one less scheme to administer under option 1, resulting in an inevitable reduction in administration costs.

Fortunately, since the consultation document was published, the police set out their intention to continue to identify Newark cases at the point of arrest and charge.

As a result, there appeared to be no requirement for option 1 to be adopted unless there were ulterior motives on behalf of the LAA.
VHS Fletchers supported Option 2 for the following reasons:

This firm’s investment in Newark

When new legal aid contracts were to be awarded this firm chose to apply for a contract for a new Newark office. The closure of Newark custody suite was not anticipated.

newark duty solicitor
Newark duty solicitor Ian Carter

The office is staffed with two crime solicitors local to Newark – Ian Carter and Barbara McDonnell. We have since recruited a further Newark based lawyer – Legal Executive Advocate Nikki Carlisle – signalling a clear indication to continue to develop our business there.

Of course, we are in business. The rationale behind the investment that we make in training and recruitment of duty solicitors is that they provide access to new work through the duty solicitor rotas. Option 3 supports those firms who, like us, have chosen to locate their offices in Newark in order to provide legal aid services to that particular community.

Newark deserves its own duty solicitor rota

Newark-on-Trent is the largest urban area within the Newark and Sherwood District. It has a population of just over 37 000 residents. Of the three firms in Newark that currently undertaking criminal Legal Aid work, only our firm has office both in Mansfield and Newark.

Should Option 1 have been adopted, Newark residents who are detained at Mansfield police station may very well be represented by a duty solicitor from a firm who only has an office in Mansfield. It is understandable that suspects will usually choose to have continuity of representation. This might be either whilst they remain on police bail, under investigation or following charge when the matter appears at court.

Prohibitive journey times

However, in seeking continuity, such clients would face a journey of 20 miles simply to see their solicitor to give instructions and take advice. By car that journey takes between 40 and 50 minutes. By public transport this time rises to 1 hour and 30 minutes for a single journey.

The same situation would of course have arisen in relation to residents of Mansfield who were represented by a duty solicitor who only had an office in Newark. It is true that many of those that require the services of criminal legal aid solicitors are vulnerable themselves and on a low income that would make such a journey very difficult.

It was our view that it was both unreasonable and unconscionable to expect those being investigated for criminal offences to have a return journey of three hours simply to see their solicitor. This stress and expense would be imposed on top of the emotional burden that the investigation of proceedings impose on any individual.

Local legal aid solicitors should be supported

Newark crime solicitor Barbara McDonnell
Newark duty solicitor Barbara McDonnell

Option 2 supports those criminal legal aid firms who have chosen to locate their offices in Newark. This is in order to provide legal aid services to that community. It would mean that the arrangements within Option 2 could commence immediately following the closure of the Newark Custody Suite. Newark based firms would not have to suffer the inevitable financial hardship of not having access to Duty Solicitor work for a period of two months.

Such a decision might be seen as supportive of a legal aid provider base that it is acknowledged is financially fragile.

Perverse consequences of merging two duty schemes

The perverse consequences of Option 1 would have been to permit automatic access to Newark residents requesting the duty solicitor to firms solely based in Mansfield. Access to such Mansfield residents would have been granted to firms solely based in Newark.

Whilst some firms may have seen there to be a financial advantage in having a place on a merged duty scheme following the closure of Newark custody suite, this would have been to ignore the needs of local Newark residents. Financial advantage should never be allowed to outweigh the impact on those we represent and assist who are often ill-equipped to represent themselves.

On this basis, Options 2 and 3 would have been unattractive and unacceptable to clients where the duty solicitor may or may not have been based geographically convenient to them.

An increase in LAA costs?

Newark Legal Executive Advocate Nikki Carlisle

The LAA will have to budget for increased travel claims from Newark firms to Mansfield custody suite following the closure of Newark custody suite. An additional consequence might have been that the LAA had to fund more instances of advice and assistance in the police station.

It seemed likely that clients, once they discovered where their duty solicitor was based, would want to transfer to a local firm. Where the duty solicitor had been instructed a second fee may be properly claimable by the second local firm nearer to a suspects home address.

Clients to choose for themselves

Following the closure of Newark custody suite, if clients wish to choose a geographically distant firm then that must be a matter for them. To have a geographically distant firm inflicted upon them was a separate matter to be avoided where possible. The risk of a reduction in access to justice was apparent to all who considered the issue. The problem would be avoided by the adoption of Option 2.

Outcome of the Legal Aid Agency Consultation into the Newark Duty Solicitor scheme

The majority view of those who responded to the consultation was that the Newark Police Station Scheme be retained as a separate scheme. This is to be adopted by the Legal Aid Agency.

Duty solicitors on the Newark duty solicitor scheme will continue to be directed by the Duty Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC) to attend Mansfield Police Station upon the identification of a Newark detainee.

The police have confirmed that they will send out a further instruction to all the staff at Mansfield to make sure that they correctly identify with the DSCC suspects who fall under the Newark scheme. Although errors may occur, the police will actively monitor the position.

As a result, the Legal Aid Agency will issue a Newark rota for the period from January to March 2018. This will be subject to additional monitoring and review in late January or early February 2018 to consider if any changes are needed from April 2018 for the following six month rota.

Instruct a Newark crime solicitor

Despite the closure of Newark custody suite, the best way to ensure that you instruct a solicitor local to you if you are a Newark resident is to make sure you ask for VHS Fletchers if you are arrested and detained by the police.

We offer free and independent legal advice on 01636 614013, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year.

newark duty solicitor
VHS Fletchers Newark office

If you know the police want to speak to you, contact us and we will be able to make the necessary arrangements for you to be interviewed.

Should you face proceedings at either the Magistrates’ or Crown Court then we will see you at our Newark office to take your instructions and give you expert advice.

You can also contact us by using the form below.


A Voluntary Interview with the police under caution – have free legal advice

Why are there more voluntary interviews by the police?

voluntary interview
A suspect not having the benefit of a voluntary interview

Over a number of years changes were made to the way police conducted interviews with suspects.  Proper safeguards were brought in to ensure that investigations were conducted fairly, particularly in regard to the recording of the questioning of suspects including their access to free and independent solicitors.  This was a direct reaction to ‘confession’ evidence being obtained in far from satisfactory circumstances leading to miscarriages of justice.

Legal safeguards too expensive?

Unfortunately, all of those safeguards cost money.  As a result, although there remains the right to speak to a solicitor and receive advice during interview, in many cases the police now create an atmosphere where if a suspect insists on their right to legal representation they are made to feel that the case will be treated more seriously, or that they will have to be arrested and taken into police custody, or that access to a solicitor will cause significant and inconvenient delays.

As a result, although the police will always offer a solicitor prior to a voluntary interview, the general tone is of the suspect not doing themselves any favours by requesting one.

If I’ve not been arrested are the police treating the allegation seriously?

There might be the expectation that the police ought to arrest those suspected of a criminal offence and take them to the police station to be interviewed.  This will have the natural effect of concentrating a suspect’s mind on the gravity of his situation and will lead to serious consideration as to having a lawyer represent them in interview.

voluntary police interview
No matter how friendly the police they are speaking to you as a suspect

Unfortunately the ‘softly softly’ approach recently adopted by the police might avoid a person having the same set of worries.  A request by a police officer for a ‘quick chat’, either at your home address, a room at the police station, or another place such as the rear of a police car, is because the officer is investigating you for an offence.

The police have reason to believe that you have committed an offence.  They are investigating this allegation.

Why is a voluntary interview important?

What you say in a voluntary interview has the same weight as if you had been arrested an interviewed at a police station.  It remains an interview under caution.

As a result, what a person does or doesn’t say might have the following effects:

  • lead to a conviction where there is no evidence other than an admission
  • result in a charge to court rather than an out of court disposal such as restorative justice
  • the police may issue an unwarranted caution where a person has not given clear denials
  • give an accused problems at trial before either the Magistrates’ or Crown Courts

The gravity of the situation is best shown by the fact that the police police interview under cautionroutinely deal with such serious matters as robbery, drug supply and serious sexual offences by way of voluntary interviews.

Whether you are interviewed while under arrest at a police station or as a volunteer in your front room this will not influence the decision as to whether you will end up in court. This will be influenced by the seriousness of the allegation and the strength of the evidence.  This will include what you have said to the police in any voluntary interview.

Should I have a solicitor in police interview?

Perhaps a better question is why shouldn’t you have a solicitor in police interview?  We have previously written on this subject here, but in summary you ought to seek legal advice for any of the following reasons:

  • a legal aid solicitor will always be free
  • it is your legal right to have a lawyer – use it!
  • our lawyers are experts in the field of criminal law
  • we are totally independent of the police
  • only the police delay your release, not your solicitor
  • a lawyer will give you time to think
  • we can negotiate an outcome with the police
  • the police are more likely to disclose the evidence they hold
  • having a solicitor does not make you look guilty

Instruct a criminal defence specialist now for your police interview

There is an element of truth in the police suggestion that having a solicitor will delay any voluntary interview.  That is only true, however, if we are only called when the police are at your door or you have attended at the police station.

You are likely to know that you are to be interviewed under caution in advance.  As soon as you find out, contact your nearest office to make the arrangement for one of our solicitors or accredited police station representatives to attend.  We’ll need to know you details, where you are to be interviewed and when, and then we will make sure that we are there at the same time as the police.

Alternatively you can use the contact form below and we will then make contact with you.





Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Denney Lau’s first 7 days with VHS Fletchers

New recruit, Chesterfield Criminal defence solicitor Denney Lau, has hit the ground running in his first seven days at VHS Fletchers.  His caseload perhaps illustrates the varied and unexpected nature of an experienced criminal law specialist.

chesterfield crime solicitor denney lau
Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Denney Lau

Day 1

On day 1 Denney represented three clients before Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  All three had the benefit of criminal legal aid.

The first client denied possession of bladed article.  The case was suitable for summary trial and a trial has been listed at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  A second client faced an allegation of theft.  It was inappropriate to make progress so Denney successfully argued for an adjournment.

The final client of the day faced allegation of attempted robbery and possession of a bladed article.  This was a case that could only be dealt with at the Crown Court, so the case was sent there.  His client remained on bail.

Day 2

chesterfield criminal defence solicitor denney lau
Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court

Day two say Denney again at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  He dealt with two clients under the legal aid scheme.  One defendant pleaded guilty to breaching a restraining order and was fined.  A second was in breach of a community order and received a similar financial penalty.

Denney also represented a client under the Chesterfield court duty solicitor scheme.  He face a charge of harassment.  A not guilty plea was entered so the case adjourned for trial.  Denney is awaiting further instructions

Day 3

Once again Denney was representing a client before Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  This time his client was facing allegations of burglary and possession of a bladed article.  The allegations were denied and therefore were allocated to Derby Crown Court for trial.  His client remained on bail.  Representation was given under criminal legal aid

Day 4

Denney represented a client in custody under the legal aid scheme.  He was in breach of both a restraining order and his previous community order.  He had, unfortunately, run out of chances so received a fourteen week sentence.

Separately Denney dealt with a client as duty solicitor.  This client had unpaid fines dating back to 2010 so was at risk of being sent to prison for default.  Instead, Denney secured him a further opportunity to pay under a suspended committal order.

Day 5

chesterfield criminal defence solicitor denney lau dwp interviewAvoiding court in the morning, Denney instead provided advice and assistance under a fixed fee arrangement to a suspect being interviewed by the Department of Works and Pensions on suspicion of benefit fraud.  No decision was made as to whether to prosecute.

In the afternoon, Denney was representing a client before Sheffield Magistrates’ Court who was denying a serious sexual offence.  The case was allocated to Sheffield Crown Court.  His client had the benefit of both legal aid and bail.

Day 6

An application to adjourn a dishonesty offence was made and granted before the Magistrates.  A legal aid application was submitted.

chesterfield criminal defence solicitor drink drive representationA new client was seen in the office facing an allegation of excess alcohol.  Legal representation at the future court date was possible because of an affordable fixed fee.

That evening Denney undertook his first period on call and dealt with three cases during the night at Chesterfield police station.  Two clients facing investigation for a serious sexual offence and possession of drugs with intent to supply were released under investigations so that the police could conclude their enquiries.

A third client was charged to Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court following admissions to an assault on paramedics.

Chesterfield police station

Day 7

The day started with a meeting at the Derbyshire Law Centre in Chesterfield.  Chesterfield crime solicitor Ben Strelley also attended.  It was an important opportunity to discuss the legal services offered by both us and the Law Centre to ensure that our clients have the opportunity to access legal advice for all of their problems.

chesterfield criminal legal aid solicitorThereafter, Denney has another busy day at Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court.  He dealt with a defendant as court duty solicitor who pleaded guilty to having a dog that was dangerously out of control.  A basis of plea was put forward that was not accepted by the prosecution so a trial of issue of Newton hearing was listed.  Denney awaits further instructions.

He concluded a case by way of a conditional discharge for a client in possession of the controlled substance, Mamba.

A second client had committed a new offence of criminal damage while subject to a suspended sentence.  Despite that the order was allowed to continue and he was given unpaid work for the new offence.

Finally, Denney made representations on behalf of a client that persuaded the probation service to withdraw proceedings for breach of a suspended sentence order.

Contact Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Denney Lau

Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Denney Lau

Although you can see that Denney is busy, he is never too busy to take your call and represent you in police interview or at court.

We know that Denney’s clients will expect him to see their cases through to the end.  As a result, he will aim to provide continuity of representation all the way through to your Crown Court trial.

Chesterfield criminal defence solicitor Denney Lau can be contacted on 01246 283000 or you can use the contact form below.