EXPERT LEGAL GUIDE FROM SPECIALIST SOLICITORS
Representation of Professionals and People with no Previous Convictions
Despite some progress in Human Rights in the last century, it has been disappointing to see changes in recent governments’ approach to law and order. Tony Blair’s government created 3,000 new criminal offences in its first 9 years in power, but people generally feel less safe. Police are driven by targets to ‘get results’ rather than solve problems, so people who should never face a criminal case are sometimes brought into the system. University students can find their future careers ruined by association with teenage pranks or other immature behaviour. Professional people working in Medicine, Finance, or even Law can find their professional lives at risk for an offence that may be viewed in the criminal system as comparatively minor.
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We have represented all kinds of people, from people in business to professional sportspeople. Our approach is to treat the case of anyone whose career is vulnerable to a criminal conviction with the high level of respect it deserves. By being proactive and aggressive where required, we have an excellent track record in getting proceedings stopped in their infancy, saving our clients from the stress of proceedings and the consequences of a conviction, and if that is not possible, winning at trial.
How to get the best result for the client in a criminal case?
Strategy when representing professionals
It must first be said that there is no ‘works every time’ key to success in any allegation against an individual. Of course, the fundamentals are important time spent with the lawyer, appropriate research into the issues, briefing a good advocate. But in respect of specifics, where someone is a professional accused of an offence, or someone with no previous convictions, the best tool that they have to defend themselves is the thing they stand to lose their good name. With this in mind, character evidence, ideally both written and from a person or people who actually attend at court, is absolutely essential.
At a more strategic level, the whole attitude with the police, the prosecution and the court must reflect that the defence team regards the client as someone who should not be there. It is surprising how often a criminal case can be dealt with in a way that does not result in a conviction simply because the defence lawyers are bold enough to ask. The authorities have several ways of dealing with an accusation. It’s not just a case of charge or no charge, guilty or not guilty.
Cautions should be avoided wherever possible. They are regarded by the court as an admission of guilt, and will usually appear on a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. Any caution for an offence of violence (e.g. assault or dishonesty) will usually be available to a prospective employer, educational institution, or professional body. Cautions are often doled out by officers at police stations and accepted by individuals who believe that they amount to little more than a ‘slap on the wrist’. This is not the case for anyone who has not been convicted of an offence. A caution can do damage to a person’s professional prospects on a similar level to a conviction handed down by the court.
At the interview / investigation stage at the police station, an officer can consider a warning or reprimand as an end to the matter. This enables the officer to consider charging the individual more readily if a similar allegation is later made. Sometimes an officer can be persuaded to take this route. A warning is just that it is not a conviction and not usually disclosable to employers etc.
Bind Overs, the Conditional Discharge and the Absolute Discharge
Certain penalties exist which a court can impose which do not amount to criminal convictions and do not result in a CRB file being endorsed. One of these is a ‘bind over’. It has traditionally been used as a penalty to prevent future breaches of the peace, so is usually handed down by courts for offences of public order or mild violence. It is a civil penalty, not a criminal conviction, and is therefore a nicer alternative than a conviction. A good criminal defence solicitor will table this with the prosecution if the offence is minor enough. Negotiation skills are very important here, because the prosecution must offer it. It cannot be obtained from magistrates or a Crown Court judge.
A discontinuance, like a bind over, is something that must be obtained with agreement from the Prosecution. Again, negotiation is very important, although the prosecution will usually ask for written representations (a letter from the defence explaining the reasons the case should be discontinued). For the prosecution to agree, the defence must show that the circumstances of the case or the client are exceptional. Even then, there is no guarantee that the prosecution will agree.
Advice for someone called for interview
Of paramount importance when attending an interview is to always have a solicitor. The police are trained to present their role as one of an impartial fact finder. This is misleading. Police are driven by results and regard arrests and charges as successful outcomes. Their only aim is not ‘to hear all sides of the story to get to the truth’, as they often make out. The right advice at the police station stage can prevent a case ever being brought in the first place.
Funding for low level offences where a conviction has serious consequences
Because of limits to legal aid funding for most people in employment, most people have to fund a magistrates (where most minor cases are heard) case privately. That doesn’t have to mean huge legal fees, but it does mean that the client should allocate a level of funding consistent with the goal. We work with clients to help them work out schedules to make affording fees easier, and usually can offer fixed fees so clients know that funds will not escalate with every letter we receive or send.
Where a trial cannot be avoided, the case must be prepared thoroughly. Expert evidence and private investigation should be considered where appropriate. The client must be well prepared for trial, and difficult areas in the evidence should be considered well in advance, not during the trial itself. A barrister should be briefed early and should be hand picked to suit both the client and the case.
Read Case studies from our criminal defence lawyers
Case Study 1
Our client was the owner and managing director of a telecommunications systems company based in the North West of England. He was accused of being involved in a minor assault and disturbance when leaving a taxi. He was particularly vulnerable in that contracts held by his company for supplying the government’s security services were contingent on him having a clean record with the Criminal Records Bureau. If his company lost this contract, it would be losing its single largest customer, and 30 jobs could have been at risk.
Our approach was to prepare his case in the same way that we would prepare the case of somebody who would receive a long prison sentence if convicted. The consequences of failure seemed comparable to our client. We undertook a full investigation into the facts, a private investigator was instructed, and, unusually in the magistrates court, Mary Monson was retained as the advocate.
We made an application to the District Judge for the prosecution case to be dismissed half way through the trial because of inconsistencies during the cross examination of the main prosecution witness. This application was allowed and the case was thrown out.
Result | An order was then made for the court service to pay the client’s legal fees.
Case Study 2
Our client was a girl who had just won a place to study medicine at university. She had been accused of helping another girl she was with to steal clothes from an H & M clothes shop in Central London. The friend had admitted the theft on her own part, but our client was adamant that she had not been involved. Unfortunately, her friend had given her a bag with some stolen items in it which she still had when she had been arrested.
Her family came to us after she had been charged. Our view was that it was unfair that this comparatively minor allegation should disrupt a young girl’s opportunity to become a doctor. After 2 months of sustained pressure from us, and six visits to the magistrates court, the prosecution dropped the charges ‘in the public interest’.
We then applied for the refund of our client’s costs from the court.
Result | Her family received these costs back.