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The tide of public opinion should not influence law enforcement and justice, but experience suggests it can.

This was true of our client Richard Holden who was wrongly accused of sexual assault at a Christmas party. He was investigated by police operating under a ‘culture of belief’ in all sex complaints and then charged a short time after the #metoo campaign had led a string of sex-scandal allegations around Westminster.

As a Special Advisor to Sir Michael Fallon, our client was a tempting target and in a vulnerable position. Once charged the state brought to bear the full force of its experience and resources. A case was built using several detectives from a specialist serious rape team and the highest grade of prosecutor was selected to present the case. The state assembled a team used to working in murder, terrorism and serious rape.

While the state spent 18 months preparing for the trial it was clear that much vital evidence had been discarded and was left to us to retrieve, preserve and advance at trial.

Mark Troman acted for Mr Holden from the initial police interview through to the conclusion of the trial. Reams of digital evidence were recovered from several sources and over 25 witnesses interviewed to ensure the defence case was ready. Police disclosure prior to trial was inadequate and was challenged throughout. No document was left unread, every witness was contacted and every digital source considered.

It took the jury a little over 30 minutes to unanimously acquit our client and led the most senior judge at Southwark Crown Court to leave court with the remark that he “left court without a stain on his character”.

After the trial Mr Holden said:

“Mark was utterly unflappable and calm over the fifteen months of my case – the most difficult time of my life – including at my initial police station interview, which was incredibly reassuring.  He dealt very calmly and professionally with an investigating officer who was difficult and obstructive, ensuring at all times that my concerns were addressed and he kept me fully abreast of developments. Mark was determined and tenacious in pursuing evidence, offering solutions but also at the same time willing to listen to my ideas, and flexibly adapted as the case unfolded over many months. Throughout, Mark maintained a clear strategic mindset that was always focused on achieving the right outcome.  I cannot praise his skill and professionalism highly enough.”

This case featured in the Daily Mail and Mirror.

 

In the year that Lady Hale was appointed as our first female President of the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice (‘MOJ’) simultaneously tried to introduce one of the most regressive and discriminatory policies of recent years, the Flexible Operating Hours (‘FOH’) pilot. The juxtaposition could not have been more stark. We have waited centuries to see a woman, and one the greatest lawyers of our generation, reach the very top of the legal profession. As soon as she does, the MOJ try to close the gate behind her.

Garden Court Crime Team joined with many professional representatives, including the Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association, Criminal Law Solicitors Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association to oppose FOH. www.gardencourtchambers.co.uk/open-letter-to-lord-justice-…/

The pilot was postponed for ‘review’ on 21st September. HMCTS say that it will resume in spring of next year, much improved and having taken account of the ‘constructive criticism’. Personally I hope it will be consigned to the dustbin.

FLEXIBLE OPERATING HOURS – WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?

The question is not one of recrimination, but of what went wrong. Why was the Government so out of step with the efforts made by the professions to support and propel our women into the premier league?

Advancing women’s careers, within all facets of the criminal justice system, is accepted by all of the main political parties as a public good. To that extent, feminist politics has succeeded in influencing the political discourse for women criminal justice workers. Setting aside, for the sake of the brevity of this article, the sexism which then blights many of those careers, what we lack in the political sphere is the integration of feminist principle into the policy making that affects the criminal courts, as a workplace.

The entreaties of various Conservative Lord Chancellors in recent years, for the professions and judiciary to ‘do more’ to move women into senior positions rings hollow, when the policies that influence the pool from which our talent is drawn are sexist ones. FOH was, and if HMCTS persevere with it, will remain, a prime example of the determination of this Government to do the opposite of what it preaches.

FEMINIST PRINCIPLES AND POLICY MAKING

The criminal court, analysed as a workplace, is complex. The fairness of trials, treatment of complainants and efficient use of resources must, and do, take centre stage. But if it our commitment to gender equality is to amount to more than fine words, that commitment must be at the heart of policy too. FOH fell at that hurdle.

What was interesting about the FOH debacle, is that it demonstrated just how far the criminal bar has come. Male barrister spoke with ease about the unwelcome ‘gender impact’ of the proposals. In robing rooms up and down the country, the criminal bar got it, and acted as one. Extended sitting hours, for extended is what ‘flexible’ turned out to mean, are simply incompatible with retaining women (who remain the primary carers of small children) at the criminal bar, for long enough to see sufficient of us in number through to senior positions.

This is not because we are work shy; unable, like our medical brethren for example, to ‘put in the hours.’ A point well made by a male colleague at another set, married to a female hospital consultant, and parenting two young children. He explained to me that he too could do round the clock shifts at unsocial hours and still organise childcare that complemented his job, if, like his wife, his shifts were set months in advance, with defined start and end times, at a known location.

As a criminal practitioner, nothing is set in stone. Trials run over, go short, we move courts, sometimes on a daily basis. We do not clock in, then clock out. Our work starts when it starts, and ends when it ends. Our job has many benefits, highs, and satisfactions; but defined working hours are not one of them. Sitting hours are the only stability in our working day and even those are not always certain; early starts and late finishes are nothing new. But extended hours, from early morning, into early evening, is another matter altogether. Sitting hours are not our working hours. And our working hours are, like many jobs, both excessive and unsocial.

THE WORK WE DO

The issue stems from the immutable nature of the work that we do. Trials are not, and never will be, predictable, they do not always start and end ‘on time’. Missing holidays, social and family engagements; working across weekends and evenings; early hours of the night spent sitting quietly at a desk, mastering the next brief; this is the silent workload of the average criminal barrister. It is into this abyss of work that the FOH proposals encroach. It is perhaps a shame that the men of the criminal bar do not yet feel sufficiently empowered in sufficient numbers to simply lay down their wigs and say enough is enough: our present working conditions are not fit for human consumption; albeit good for those that do, and we welcome them as honorary sisters to the cause. But for women just returning to practice, and carrying the bulk of the caring responsibility, extended sitting hours in addition to the present workload amounted, in all intents and purposes, to a bar to the criminal bar.

Save for those who, understandably, find live in 24 hour childcare to be the only practical solution (and let’s face it, our most junior juniors are not on incomes that stretch to ‘live in nannies’ or ‘au pairs’), most women barristers (and men) with children, now rely on the same childcare provision as the ‘outside world’; nurseries, childminders, an army of unpaid family care, breakfast clubs, after school clubs and day nannies. And that child care comes primarily within ordinary working hours, of 8am – 6pm.

It is perhaps an oddity of a job which, on any sensible analysis, should fit within an approximation of those hours, that from a pupil barristers first day on her feet, we teach her that evening and night time work is, and will remain, the norm for the duration of her working life. That said, and perhaps because we are hardened to working late and starting early, court sitting hours do lend themselves to a ‘flexible working life.’ Factoring in commuting time across our various circuits, an ordinary sitting day of 10-4.30pm, with conference time before and after, allows most parents to get children to their childcare establishment, and home again in the evening, without completely abandoning parenting duties between Monday morning and Friday evening (save for the early mornings and late evenings spent attending further client conferences and chambers meetings). This ‘flexible operating system’ has worked, for increasing numbers of women, for many decades. Bedtime routine with baby and then burning the midnight oil is a familiar routine for any parent practising at the criminal bar. Women were routinely left with a stark choice in the not too distant past, the bar or children; not both. That we now do both is progress indeed. The Bar Council get this, and under Andrew Langdon’s superb leadership introduced the ‘Bar Council Protocol for Sitting Hours’ earlier this year, encouraging all courts and tribunals to sit only within ‘ordinary sitting hours’. www.barcouncil.org.uk/…/…/sitting_hours_protocol_-_final.pdf

WHAT CAN FEMINISM DO FOR YOU?

It is consequently a feminist issue, when our self employed status, which on paper lends itself well to combining work and life commitments, in practise too often fails to deliver. Why?

Women join the criminal bar in equal numbers to men, and leave in equal numbers to men in the early years due to the work and financial pressures, which are brutal. But for those that come through that baptism of fire, there is a sea change after pregnancy, when we regularly and routinely sacrifice some of our brightest and best women, but less so men, because the cost of trying to continue on in practice with young children becomes too great. In years gone by the profession would have smiled sympathetically and waved good bye, with platitudes about the criminal bar ‘not being for everyone’ (women). But times have changed. The bar is not leaving women behind. Women are leaving us behind. These women don’t go back to the kitchen. They go into other highly paid areas of work, with working conditions that make for an easier life. We haemorrhage talent to other sectors, which then have the benefit of highly skilled lawyers that we, the criminal bar, paid to train. Commercially, it makes no sense. Similarly, we cannot afford to become any more divorced from the community that we represent. Society will not continue to tolerate predominantly male clubs, subsidised, through legal aid, by the taxpayer. The same points carry equal force in relation to race and on many other fronts. The criminal bar remains too white, too upper class and too male. To do justice, we have to do better.

The starting point for policy reform, from a feminist perspective, isn’t rocket science. Two major concerns influence the decision making of a young women wondering whether or not to persevere at the criminal bar in the early years: money, and working conditions.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

We pay our most junior juniors too little. The payment scheme is weighted heavily in favour of those at the top. When the response to the AGFS consultation is announced, due imminently, we can but hope that the many representations made about this, including by my own crime team, Garden Court, have born fruit.
https;//gardencourtchambers.co.uk/garden-court-chambers-response-to-the-agfs-consultation/

The fees paid to barristers working in the magistrates, and in the early years of practice in the crown court, are unsustainable. It has resulted in a recruitment issue. It damages morale. But more than that, it is a gendered issue. The present fees scheme is a sexist one, based on a male model of the working life that long ago fell away. We are no longer a tribe of men working without career breaks, supported by unpaid domestic workers (wives). Women need to reach a financially sustainable level of income, at an relatively early stage in their career, to be able to afford to have children and continue on at the criminal bar. Our self employed status does not come with the cushion of paid maternity or paternity leave, flexible working on return, or even the certainty of a brief to come back to. We have to increase income at an earlier stage in the career cycle, if we want to retain women beyond pregnancy in equal numbers to men.

WARNED LISTS AND GOING DIGITAL – A GENDER ANALYSIS

Of all of the difficulties of our working lives, it is warned lists that are most obviously a gendered issue. The warned list system results in a total absence of certainty about working hours and income. It is wholly incompatible with a managed return to practice. Women post childbirth need at least some approximation of certainty about when, and if, they are likely to be in court. Paying for childcare out of a self generated income makes no financial sense if it is a gamble whether or not money paid out to a nursery or childminder, will ever be recouped. Warned lists are bad for complainants, defendants and, contrary to much of what is said, not required for the smooth running of the criminal courts (which managed perfectly well before they were introduced, as do a number of courts now which operate without them). But relevant to the point I am making, about the need to entrench feminist principles into the policies which structure our working lives, if we are serious about supporting our female practitioners into senior positions, the more certainty we can bring to the working lives of the most junior members of the criminal bar, the easier it will be for women to make a successful return to practice post childbirth. Warned lists are a feminist issue. Combine warned lists with FOH, and we may as well hang a sign across the doors of Crown Courts up and down the country; ‘young women with children, no longer welcome here.’

Anyone who has spent any time in the criminal courts in recent years observing lists, as opposed to trials, cannot fail to be astonished at the amount of time we lose due to inefficiencies born out of underfunding elsewhere in the system. And that loss of time is loss of income for our most junior members. Hours wasted at court do not incur a greater fee. Ask any Crown Court judge: prison vans that don’t arrive on time (or don’t arrive at all), video links that break, a continued reluctance to deal administratively with matters that on any sensible analysis do not require two barristers and a judge sitting in court (case management, offering no evidence, fixing dates), a CPS which is understaffed and under resourced, the same for defence solicitors, generating delays, delays and more delays. The criminal justice system is less like a well oiled wheel, and more like a wooden one. Cut after cut in public funding has come at a cost. The move to digital working, video links, telephone hearings, is very welcome and will make inroads into our often spectacularly inefficient use of time when not in trials, but it cannot replace the need for investment. And where is the feminist perspective? Has it occurred to the MOJ to think about how we might use these welcome modernisations to better entrench our commitment to retaining female talent post childbirth and developing it? Or to really reflect on how the erosion of the system as a whole, due to endemic underfunding, comes at a gendered cost to our most junior members? No, is the short answer.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

We can but hope that the enlightened thinking coming from the Opposition, most recently the Bach Report on transforming legal aid provision – Bach Commission, Final Report see www.fabians.org.uk and the Lammy Review on race within the criminal justice system Lammy Review, Final Report www.gov.uk/government/publications/lammy-review-final-report, will shortly extend to incorporate gender, and a wholesale review of the position of women within the criminal justice system. From defendants to the judiciary, gender influences outcomes because feminism is not yet embedded in the policy that dictates how our courts our run. This critique is not a novel one. In a sequence of ground breaking reports, between 2004 and 2007, the Fawcett Society’s Commission on Women in the Criminal Justice System, chaired by Vera Baird QC, came to the same conclusion and much progress was made. https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/2004-women-and-the-crimin…

But the battle was not won, far from it. It is incumbent on all of us to take up the mantel.

The true efficiency saving in the criminal courts would be to increase not decrease the numbers of working mothers within the judiciary, at the bar and at partnership level in our sister profession. If there is one thing a working mother excels at, it is efficient use of time. I should know, I am one. Lose these women and in the long run, the loser is the Criminal Justice System itself. That so many of us now thrive, not just survive, is not an argument against reform. To paraphrase Lady Hale, and unlike the MOJ, we refuse to close the gate behind us. The greater we are in number, the easier the road ahead.*

*I have referred throughout to childbirth for brevity, but the points made extend to and should be understood to include adoption, miscarriage, still birth, fertility treatment and all caring responsibilities (not just of the very young and whether in gay, heterosexual or single parent families) all of which, statistically, continue to impact women’s careers in a different way to that of men. Statistics aside, many of the points made regarding the impact of motherhood on career progression extend to modern fatherhood. Working conditions that benefit women, benefit everyone.

Lucie Wibberley
Barrister

https://womeninjustice.wordpress.com/

 

Winning matters! Fantastic week of results for Greg Powell.

We won a ten count historic sex abuse case dating from the 1960 ‘s. Terrific work with witnesses and family and great thanks to Claire Davies Farringdon Chambers in securing 10 Not Guilty verdicts.

Also in the Crown Court a trio in bed sex assault allegation after a drunk and drug fuelled night. Our client acquitted once again. Thanks to Hugh D’Aguilere Staple Inn .

Brilliant work by top team Ali Badjwa QC and Jacob Bindman Garden Court at Blackfriars Crown Court. Judge finds Crown have not proceeded with due diligence and failed in disclosure. Client, previously in custody (had other Solicitors) now bailed to trial in 2018.

In the Land Tribunal we resist application to set aside a transfer of title made in 1986 for Greg Powell ‘s client from 1978! Costs order against the other side. Shout out for Franklyn Evans Field Court Chambers.

Interesting case on the use of s 1 (2) (b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (MCA) that has gone to appeal!  The only ground for a divorce is that a marriage has irretrievably broken down and to prove this a spouse must establish one of five facts as laid down in the MCA. In this case s 1(2) (b)- the unreasonable behaviour ground was used.

Whilst it is well known that this is an objective as well as a subjective test to be met legally, it has to be said that the bar can be quite low evidentially when using this ground.

In this case the wife in a very long marriage was seeking divorce relying on this fact. She cited some 27 allegations in her petition but the petition was refused by HHJ Tolson in the first instance. She appealed and  a decision is awaited from the appeal court regarding HHJ Tolson’s original ruling who decided (amongst other things) that the wife’s allegations were “ of the kind to be expected in marriage” and so not of sufficient weight to pass the evidential test.

The prospect of “no fault” divorce in England and Wales has been a subject of debate for decades… and still is- despite years of campaigning from various quarters.

However this  means that the need for expert legal advice when  considering the sad end of a marriage and all the consequences that flow from that is still critically important- not only to ensure that the correct evidence is provided to the court but also to avoid animosity, turmoil and expensive and protracted court proceedings. Early legal advice where possible is essential where problems arise.

PSP Law has a highly expert and accredited team of Solicitors in its Family Department who provide clear, simple and effective advice.

Denise Hoilette
Head of Family Department

28/2/17

It is with enormous sadness that we announce Chris Humphreys passed away peacefully today.

Chris had as a colleague a rare determination to fight his clients cases with enormous energy and commitment.There was literally no limit to his endeavour to secure justice for his Trade Union clients . With a dry sense of humour , an ever ready comment on the fortunes of Manchester City and strong political views all tempered by great kindness we were truly fortunate to work with such an outstanding Solicitor and person.

Since falling ill Chris fought as tough a battle as one could have with fortitude and courage .Our thoughts are with Helen and his beloved daughters and his whole family.

Chris Humphreys was the Head of the firm’s Trade Union Criminal Defence Team. He qualified as a Solicitor at the College of Law in London.
Before joining PSP Chris was a full-time union official with the shop workers union, USDAW and then worked in the North West and Scotland for the public service union NUPE (later UNISON) before being appointed its Senior London Officer.

He was a member of the South East TUC Regional Executive and a member and Vice Chair of the London Regional Labour Party. For 10 years he chaired an EU-wide union network and sat on a number of Commissions, including one examining pay differentials between the public and private sectors.

In addition to representing individual union members during police investigations and post charge, Chris acted for individuals and groups with other prosecuting bodies including the Health and Safety Executive, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Family Law Awards were launched by Jordan Publishing to recognise the important work of family lawyers, and celebrate their many successes and outstanding achievements. The awards ceremony will be held on the 23 November 2016. For more information please visit http://www.familylawawards.com/About-the-Awards 

Helen comes with a breath of experience in child care and related family matters which she consolidates with 13 years of experience as a Solicitor.

She commenced her career as a nursery nurse and then went on to graduate in Social Work gaining experience in child care, mental health and managing the provision of emergency services, Child Protection, Social Work duty and Court Teams. She chaired Child Protection Case Conferences and child care and secure accommodation reviews. Helen was also a Children’s Guardian.

Since obtaining further academic and professional qualifications she has specialised in care proceedings whereby the State intervenes in family life representing parents, grandparents and extended family members as well as the child, she being a member of the Law Society Children Panel.

Helen also represents parents/grandparents in private law proceedings as well as cases involving the abduction of children, often abroad. Helen’s professional background is steeped in the myriad of issues surrounding children and families and she is a firm believer in the child’s place being within the family, where at all possible. 

She has a firm and realistic approach based on solid experience and will guide, support and assist you to the conclusion of proceedings and often beyond.

Helen undertakes her own advocacy whenever possible.

@PSPLawUK

@CEOofHMCTS The excessive payment was made in full but your incompetent third party Marstons took payment twice and failed to notify anyone of their error. Hoping no one would notice ? #fraud #shambles

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