Posts

Showing posts from 2010

Delayed justice is no justice

I have just read this story on the BBC website.

I don't practice immigration law and have never studied it at any level, I also know nothing about the original case that led to Amy Houston's death.  But the case does show the difficult decisions faced by judges every day as much as it shows the inadequacies of the current system.

First, the judges.  They were, in effect, being asked to chose whether to throw a criminal out of the country and thus deprive his children of their father or allow him to stay and cause hurt to Mr Houston.  It's not a decision that I would have liked to have taken.

Turning to the system.  Could the system have avoided placing Mr Houston and Ibrahim's wife and young children in this position?  Well, yes it could have done easily by hearing this case in a timely fashion in 2003 while Ibrahim was still serving his four-month sentence.  Given that the authorities were seeking his removal from the UK, I wonder whether at that time they would have …

If you believe it then do it

This is one of the reasons that I am currently feeling so anti-politician.

I don't agree or disagree with Bob Ainsworth's current opinion on drugs but I do get annoyed that the report seems to suggest that he came to his current view while in office but then waited several years before saying anything about it.

Politicians: if you believe in something then a) tell us; and b) do what you believe in rather than ignoring issues because you know that the press will give you a bad write up.

Time and place

I've just come across a file that has got me thinking about how decisions get made.  It's not a case with which I've had any involvement aside from reading the file just now.

The case is a (not uncommon around here) allegation of rape where the complainant says that she was raped about 8-years-ago by somebody she knows.  There have been no other incidents either before or since according to disclosure given by the police to the solicitor who attended for interview at the police station.  She provided the police with the suspect's home and work address as well as his name.

There will not be any forensic evidence available in this case due to its age, although if I were the police I'd want to search his home and possibly have a look at his computer since people do store the most incriminating things on there in the mistaken belief that they are safe.  This would lead me to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to knock on his door around 5-6am, arrest him and s…

wiki-armed forces

Image
I have to congratulate HM Armed Forces for seeing an opportunity to raise recruitment and jumping on it.

I just googled a single word "wikileaks" and it returned a single sponsored result advertising:

Join the Special ForcesLearn how you can be a part of UK's Elite Special Forces squadsHMForces.co.uk/SpecialForces

I'm not sure if the Special Forces support or oppose wikileaks from this ad, but I love the plan.  Maybe I'll pay for searches on wikileaks for my work homepage.

Down with Mandela

In Parliament Square there is a staute of Nelson Mandela, he of South African anti-apartheid fame.  I heard him speak once, but unfortunately to do so I had to listen to some sanctimonous arsehole called Tony Bliar (misspelling deliberate), but that's another story.

I understand that students are unhappy about the rise of tuition fees but I couldn't really understand why somebody thought it necessary to dawb Mr Mandela's statue with the pink paint that I saw on it this morning as I rode to court.  Nor, if they simply wanted to protest was it necessary to write "fuck police" in big letters on Winston Churchill's statue.

A few days ago I saw students protesting outside Parliament about the reduction in funding for school sports.  They were well organised, very vocal, got themselves on the tele but managed to avoid closing the whole of central London and trashing the place.

so I punched him

Something reminded me of a case I dealt with a number of years ago.

It started as a fairly bog standard shoplifting that occurred around Christmas time.  During the first incident, the offender took a bottle of whiskey and some beers from a Tesco.  The store guard tried to stop him and from that point things got bizarre.  The offender pulled a gun and threatened to kill the guard.  Unsurprisingly, the guard stepped back and let the man go.

The next day at the same time the same man went into the same Tesco and stole the same items.  He was seen by the same security guard who called for help from staff and the police.  As the man left the store again the security guard - still alone - bravely told him to stop.  Again the offender pulled a gun and pointed it to the guard's head.  I've always remembered the next words in the guard's statement to the police.  He said, "I was terrified.  I didn't know what to do, so I punched him in the face."  The thief/gunman pr…

Personal responsibility

I'm a firm believer that people should take responsibility for their actions and I like to think I abide by that principle myself, but whether I do or not is probably best judged by others.

As I see it one of the biggest problems the Criminal Justice System faced is the population taking responsibility for itself.  If somebody won't take responsibility for their acts then I do not see how they can be rehabilitated.  One of the things that always shocks me is just how little responsibility people will take.  I remember sitting in the cells at Snaresbrook with a defendant accused of downloading lots of child pornography.  He accepted that he downloaded it, he said "out of curiosity" because when he had previously been convicted of the same offence he hadn't actually seen the pictures so he wanted to know what that kind of thing looked like. 

One thing I have to do is to act in the client's best interests; sometimes that means telling them the brutal truth and I…

Hints and tips 2

I'm good at what I do... well I think so even if nobody else does.  But, I'm not a miracle worker.  If you find yourself arrested and remanded into custody and then I show up and persuade the Crown Court to release you on conditional bail: make sure you obey your conditions, especially when the judge has told you just a few days earlier that "if you break your bail conditions you are very likely to be returned to prison".

If you don't obey then expect to spend up to the next year in prison awaiting your trial.  It really is that simple.

Legal Aid silliness

Just following up on my last post where I mentioned how complex legal aid is; I have just billed a trial.  One of the solicitors in the office conducted the litigation while I acted as advocate - the barrister if you like.  The trial lasted for three days.  Neither of us are paid anything for the first two days of the trial, this is included in the basic fee.  However, for day 3 I was paid a pretty reasonable £451 for attending, conducting a trial, questioning witnesses, making a speech to the jury etc etc.  However, the litigator received an extra payment of £771.17 for that day (I know as I'm preparing his bill for him).  For that extra payment he did not attend court, although I think I spoke to him on the telephone. 



Because of the way the system works you have to claim everything.  If you don't then when your files are audited there will be a discrepancy between your claim and the 'correct' fee, this will count against you and you will lose your status as a Catego…

Legal aid overpaid

I came across this story in the Gazette this morning, which is about solicitors funded by legal aid being overpaid by £77 million pounds.  In fact, the solicitors were over paid £44m with the remainder going to claimants who had been granted legal aid without submitting evidence of income, so they may or may not be eligible.  That's a lot of money, but if we consider that the legal aid budget is approximately £2.1bn then the £77m is roughly 3.667% of the total spend - at this point I should come clean and admit that maths are not my strong point so if I've got that wrong then please do correct me.

More important than the figure, in my opinion, is that suggestion from Bill Callaghan of the Legal Services Commission that some solicitors are over or mis-claiming.  Now this can be taken two ways.  First, accidental over and under-claiming happens by accident because the system is so very complicated - in a previous post I talked a little about the billing in the magistrates courts…

Politicians

I try not to pay much attention to politics any more.  I used to love it, but more and more I'm forming the view that politicians are a bunch of lying corrupt bastards.  In fact, I'm so angry at them that I am not attending a party at the Supreme Court tonight as I was worried I might slap Ian Duncan-Smith who is due to be attending.

This week, I have mostly been enraged by Ed Balls and Vince Cable.

You may recall that during the Labour administration they constantly ramped up fear of terrorism and told us that they needed new and ever more draconian powers to curb the threat to our nation.  Since they lost the election, something has clearly changed.  Ed Balls told the BBC that Labour got the balance between national security and civil liberties wrong.  He admits, for example, that his party were wrong to try to pass a law allowing terrorist suspects to be detained for 90-days without charge.  He says they were wrong to try for 42-days.  And, now he says that despite fighting…

Worth it

I have just come across a case where a man with what the police officer in disclosure at the police station called "a serious mental disorder" was arrested at what the officer described as a "care home for the mentally ill" after the man had smashed a window and caused a disturbance.  At the police station, the care home manager indicated that she was happy for this man to return as this was his first violent outburst in 10-years of being in their care.

I don't for a moment seek to criticise the police for the arrest as that removed him from the situation and gave everybody a chance to calm down.

He was interviewed by the police and I can tell you that the advice given was to  "put forward [his] version.  Client is guilty - admits he did break window."   He then went into interview and made a full confession.

For some reason, instead of cautioning or taking no further action in a case where a conviction will clearly serve no purpose a CPS lawyer autho…

Rape anonymity

I have just read on the BBC news site that the Government has abandoned it's pledge to grant anonymity for men accused of rape.

This was always a controversial  proposal and I was very surprised when it was included within the coalition agreement as it was always something that would attract little vocal support from the public and was always going to come in from intense criticism by a number of women's groups.

Personally, I think that rape is one of the few offences where an accused's identity should be protected.  Not because the identity of the complainant is protected, but because there are real cases every year where either a completely false allegation is made or where the wrong person is identified, accused and subsequently cleared of the offence.

Being falsely accused of rape, or indeed any sexual offence, is a stigma that sticks to the accused even after their innocence has been proven.  Anybody who pays attention to the newspapers and press cannot help but notic…

Too many law students

As under-graduates are busy causing havoc in London (and incidentally blocking my usual route home) there are growing calls from members of the legal profession to reduce the number of post-graduate students training to become lawyers.

To qualify as a solicitor most people complete a law degree, the Legal Practice Course and two-years of on the job training.  Similarly at the Bar you do your degree, the Bar Finals (they have a new name that I can't remember now) and then one-year on the job training, called a pupillage.  Currently the LPC at BPP Law School costs £12,500 in London and the Bar Course costs an eye watering £14,995.  By the time you get near doing these courses you will have either a law degree, currently costing about £9,000 or a non-law degree (still £9,000) plus the Post Graduate Diploma in Law £8,730.  If I qualified today using the route I took then I would have paid £23,734 just in tuition fees.  That is significantly more than any trainee solicitors will earn o…

Letting victims down

I spent yesterday conducting the defence in a magistrates' court trial.  This is something of a novelty for me as I rarely venture into mags court trials, although I do a lot of other hearings there.  I just don't like them, they can be very informal and law is often an irrelevancy if you happen to find yourself before an inexperienced bench/advisor.

Yesterdays trial was a long one and, contrary to what I have just said, very heavy on the law.  I have about 6 legal rulings noted in my book given by the magistrates at some point yesterday.  Even though I am contradicting what I said just a moment ago, each one of the legal arguments was complicated but each one of the rulings was detailed, to the point and correct (including the ones I lost).

In the end, I won the trial.  I shouldn't have won though.  At the start of the day the evidence against me was overwhelming, in my opinion.  However, the police and CPS seemed to be conspiring together to let the victims down as much …

Defence adjournments

Defence lawyers have cases adjourned to increase their own fees.

That's what everybody seems to believe, but in fact it's rubbish.

In the Crown Court solicitor are paid a litigators fee.  The litigators fee doesn't change whether there is 1 hearing or 100 hearings in court.  It does increase if the trial goes on longer than a set time, which varies depending on the offence.  But, importantly the litigator has bugger all to do with how long the trial lasts.

Judges are charged with responsibility for preventing cases going on longer than they should or having more hearings than they should.  If they feel that somebody is causing unnecessary waste then they can disallow that persons fee and even make him pay the costs of everybody else in the case!

In the magistrates courts, solicitors are paid a standard fee depending on whether the defendant pleads guilty (fee of £284.35) or not guilty (£484.60).  There is a higher or lower fee for each and you move into the higher fee if y…

Oops

I left the robing room at Court today and walked in to the hall way.  Talking in the hallway were two police officers in full uniform.  Before they saw me, one said to the other in a very worried voice, "we're not gonna get away with this".  The other agreed.

Co-incidentally, at the same Court two police officers were being called to give evidence about what they had seen on CCTV.  The only problem in that case seems to be that the CCTV they claimed to have watched in October 2010 was in fact LOST in January 2010...

Hints and tips

Once in a while I will be providing useful hints and tips as and when something occurs to me.

Today I have a hint and a tip for defendants in criminal trials.

Hint - Your lawyer knows more about both the law and your case than your friends.
Tip - If you listen to your friends advice over that of your lawyer then expect to end up in prison!

This week I have been conducting a trial at a Crown Court.  For reasons that are beyond me, yesterday the defendant showed up with a friend who insisted that she a) refuse to give evidence in her own defence; and b) call a particular witness.

This causes problems.  First, the defendant declined a solicitor when interviewed by the police and made some damaging remarks that she now needs to explain - clearly she cannot do that without giving evidence.  Secondly, the witness the friend insists is called gave a statement that says the defendant is guilty!

Thankfully, I gave the client my hint and tip last night and this morning she showed up without the…

Litigation gone mad

I have just seen this report on the BBC website about a New York court allowing a pensioner to sue a 4-year-old for compensation.

The court held that the 4-year-old's lawyer had failed to show any evidence that the child was too immature or unintelligent to face trial for negligence.

That really is a compensation culture and I hope we never reach such pitiful depths in this jurisdiction.

Arrested for using the wrong locker

I received my copy of the Law Society Gazette yesterday and read a story entitled Solicitors sue police and prison service.  According to the story three solicitors are suing after they were arrested while visiting client at HMP Brixton because they placed prohibited items into the wrong lockers.  There doesn't seem to be any suggestion that any of the solicitors attempted to take the prohibited items into the visit area.  It is also worth noting that none of the solicitors involved have been charged with any offence, despite the comments by the Prison Service.

If you've never visited a prison, especially on a legal visit, it may be difficult to appreciate how prisons deal with security during visits.  There are very few common rules between establishments and the individual prison's rules are subject to change without notice and are in any case not applied evenly.  For example, last time I visited HMP Littlehey, I was reminded not to take a mobile telephone in with me but…

No sense of gratitude

I was in Court last week waiting for my case to be called on and watching others ahead of me in the list.

One chap made me laugh, he went into the dock where he entered a guilty plea to an assault charge, I think it was ABH.  The judge said he would like a pre-sentence report before passing sentence and that the defendant could have bail until it was ready.

Leaving the Court, the defendant was shaking his head and moaning to his wife/girlfriend about the terrible system and how much time and money it wasted in not dealing with cases quickly.

He didn't seem to have thought that he could have saved all the time and money by simply not launching his unprovoked attack on an innocent bystander.

It's all my fault

As the title suggests, it really is all my fault... must be two judges said so.

Problems with two cases have been blamed on me, one quite bizarrely and the other because the judge seems intent on not listening .to the facts of the case.

First, yesterday I got a call to let me know that one of my clients was in court for his custody time limits to be extended.  This surprised me as it was the first I'd heard of it.  Turns out that the prosecution had notified the firm, by fax, of their intention to apply to extend the time limits at 9pm on Tuesday night.  Unsurprisingly, come Wednesday morning at 10am nobody was at court for the defendant and because it is the school half term it was surprisingly difficult to find cover.  Somehow the judge seemed to believe that this was my fault and ordered that we attend.

Second case was today.  One of the trainee solicitors who is about to qualify is handling the case, I'm supervising but as the "solicitor" I get the blame - which …

Steralisation for cash

Last night I caught half off InsideOut, a TV show on the BBC (I think) that was discussing whether drug addicts should be offered cash in return for agreeing to be sterilised and thus never having children.  Also, on the show was one of Margaret Thatcher's former advisers who said that he advised Maggie to bring in a system of compulsory sterilisation that would form a sentence of the courts.

I'm talking purely now about the offer to pay rather then the forced sterilisation, which the Daily Mail would have a fit over if it was happening in any Arab country.

I honestly don't know how I feel about this suggestion.  On the one hand, I find the idea of twisting the arms of the desperate and often mentally incapable (due to their drug use) quite unpalatable. 

On the other had, I've had dealings with drug dependant mothers and fathers whose children live the most miserable lives that the authorities seem unable to improve.  One girl I came across is regularly in court for…

On the light side

I have just read this story about three 18-year-olds who tortured a 17-year-old aspergers sufferer in a very nasty attack.

They apparently received a community sentence of 3-months curfew accompanied by 80-hours unpaid work.  I can only hope that the reporting of this story is hopelessly wide of the mark for I cannot think how the actions reported can justify such a low sentence.

Some low sentences can be explained by the existence of a "text".  A text is a letter from  a senior police officer to a judge that explains that Defendant X has provided information to the police that has been very helpful to them in fighting ongoing crime and it asks that the judge reflects this help in the sentence.  A text is never referred to in public and although the defendant's lawyers can see it, a copy is only provided to the judge and nobody else.  Because it is a secret sentences for other offenders are commonly reduced in line with that of the informant's so that it is less obvi…

Who I and why?

I'm a keen reader of blogs and read a wide range including Bystander's Magistrates' Blog, the Anonymous Prosecutor, several police blogs, Frank Chalk and Winston Smith.  There are others, but those are the main ones.

I just read Inspector Gadget's latest post, in particular this paragraph:
Wayne’s solicitor is clearly speaking about a different person to the one that Mandy and I have been dealing with. The Wayne he speaks of is a loving father to his new baby, a man riven by guilt and remorse at his previous behaviour, a man deeply committed to change, a man who now wants to do volunteer work in his community. A man clean of drugs who has, yes, failed his last two drugs tests at probation, and missed the last twelve, but still, he is trying. This is  a very changed man your worships. Changed even since the last time, and the time before that, when he was also changed from the time before that. The …

Here goes....

Welcome to my new blog.  This is my first ever effort at blogging and even though I am already typing I don't really know what I am going to be talking about in this first post.  So I guess I'll just tell you a little about myself and what I do.

I am 31-years-old and I work in east London, Hackney to be exact.  I work for a small two-partner firm of solicitors specialising in crime.  Although we call ourselves criminal defence specialists, in fact the firm does more than just defence.  Others in the firm also carry out a lot of appeal and prison law work.  For those who aren't familiar with prison law, it encompasses everything from a prisoner who has broken the rules and is facing disciplinary proceedings to those serving life sentences who are looking to be release on appeal.

Anyway, this post isn't supposed to be about the firm it's about me and what I do.

I am a duty solicitor, so if a suspect is arrested and wants "the duty" I am one of the lucky sol…