Family Department achieves highest rating from Legal Aid Agency (LAA)
In August the Family department submitted files for peer review by the LAA.
This involves independent solicitors checking and auditing the files for quality assurance purposes. They check (amongst other things) the quality of work, whether the right advice was given, if this was done in a timely manner and if we communicated correctly with the client throughout.
The ratings given are from 1 which is Excellence to 5 which is Failure in Performance. The Legal Aid Agency require firms to meet a minimum rating of 3 which is Threshold Competence. We are very pleased to say we have achieved the top rating EXCELLENCE. This is a testament to our dedicated Family Law team.
John Bottomley explains what the criminal legal aid crisis means for junior lawyers
Much has been written about the ageing population of criminal duty solicitors. The Law Society, for example, published data in April 2019 highlighting that the average age of a duty solicitor in England and Wales was 47.
In many areas, especially in rural regions, the data showed more than 50 per cent of duty solicitors were over 50 years old. This poses an obvious problem: what will the situation be like in five to 10 years’ time when they are approaching retirement?
The highly publicised problems with funding and the lack of availability of legal aid have made starting a career in criminal law much less attractive for junior and aspiring solicitors. The issues experienced solicitors are facing have quickly filtered down to students deciding which area of law to specialise in.
A law student graduating via the traditional route of a three-year law degree and the legal practice course will usually leave with a minimum of £40,000 in student debt for tuition fees alone. The old mantra of ‘crime doesn’t pay’ is becoming a real consideration for those embarking on a career in law.
Aspiring solicitors are also deterred by the lack of properly advertised training contracts. It is far more straight-forward to find a training contract at a City firm that advertises numerous training contract positions every year, than at a high street firm specialising in legal aid work.
Once a junior lawyer secures a training contract in a firm specialising in criminal law, their next concern is retention. Despite choosing a career in criminal law and securing a training contract, the last hurdle for many is the lack of career prospects as a newly qualified criminal solicitor; and the inability to progress and earn a living on par with their peers in other areas of law.
The root cause of these problems is lack of funding. The criminal justice system has been tightening its belt for decades and the inevitable consequence is junior lawyers not entering the criminal law profession. For years, lawyers have been highlighting the problems and forecasting the predicament we now find ourselves in.
Thankfully, the Ministry of Justice has recognised that things cannot continue as they are. Following the review of the Advocate Graduated Fee Scheme last year, the government promised a review into the full spectrum of criminal legal aid. The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) was invited to sit on the advisory panel along with the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group, the Young Barristers Committee and other key stakeholders including the Law Society and the Bar Council.
One outcome the government hopes to achieve is to “support the sustainability of the market, including recruitment, retention, and career progression within the professions and a diverse workforce”.
It is hoped by all those taking part in the review that it will lead to a fair increase in funding for criminal legal aid fee schemes. The tide certainly seems to be turning. However, the biggest challenge for the profession could start once the review ends. If we are fortunate to be in a position where legal aid fees have been increased, those who manage firms need to ensure these increases are passed immediately onto junior lawyers.
For a long time, lack of funding was the excuse preventing firms from offering training contracts or pay rises for newly qualified solicitors. If the lack of junior lawyers opting for a career in crime has been such a poignant issue that it has finally made the government listen – then junior lawyers choosing to work in criminal law should be the first beneficiary of change.
To ensure the crisis does not continue, employers must invest in junior talent as the next generation of criminal solicitors. Of course, junior lawyers are not the only ones affected by funding issues; and the stresses of managing a business through these difficult times cannot be underestimated. However, to ensure criminal defence solicitors do not become extinct, criminal law needs to regain its status as a properly paid career.
The JLD is seeking practical examples of the effects of legal aid cuts, whether that’s your mental health, your relationships or your job.
If you work in criminal law; or you’re practising in a different area of law because the lack of funding put you off entering the criminal law sector; or if you’ve left criminal law to specialise in another area, get in touch by emailing us at email@example.com with ‘CLAR’ in the subject line.
Opus Law Promoted in the Legal 500 Guide for Criminal Fraud
Opus Law has been listed in the 2020 Legal 500 guide for a sixth consecutive year.
The prestigious and definitive 2020 guide, launched weeks ago, has promoted Opus Law to a tier two firm in the field of Crime: Fraud for Yorkshire and The Humber. Ben Jones and Sarah Batty have been recognised as recommended lawyers for the third consecutive year.
This years guide describes Opus Law as follows:
Boutique firm Opus Law provides a tailor-made service to clients nationally across high-value and complex fraud issues including investigations or charges from authorities. The 'tenacious and persistent' Ben Jones and the 'robust and straight-talking' Sarah Batty jointly lead the team; Ben Jones also has expertise in terrorism cases.
"Opus Law is passionate about delivering the best possible service to clients and genuinely cares about the outcome for them. Its approach is thoughtful and bespoke at all times which means it continually punches above its weight."
"Ben Jones is tenacious, persistent and a genuine market leader in terms of technical and commercial knowledge and connections in the market."
"Opus Law is an unusual form in that it is able to maintain a high level of work across both privately funded and legally aided work. It employs excellent staff and is deeply committed to providing a 24/7 service."
Directors show sporting talents and raise money for charity
Jagtar Rooprai (right) pictured at the presentation 19th September 2019.
In partnership with BPR Heaton, Directors Jagtar Rooprai and Tariq Hussain took part in and won a charity golf day to raise money for charity.
The winning prize of £250 was donated to the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA). MNDA coordinate care, support, and research for people affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a form of motor neurone disease.
The Petherbridge Bassra Group achieves the Law Society’s legal practice Quality mark for excellence
The Petherbridge Bassra Group achieves the Law Society’s legal practice Quality mark for excellence in practice management and client care for the 7th year running.
Following a rigorous assessment in May 2019 the Petherbridge Bassra Group was recognised with the latest version (6.1) of the Lexcel standard. We are very proud to have been reaccredited for the 7th consecutive year since our original accreditation in 2012. The assessor commented ‘It is pleasing to see the standards that Petherbridge Bassra have developed being maintained and exceeded during times of significant change’.
Lexcel is the Law Society's legal practice quality mark for practice management and client care. The Lexcel standard helps firms to achieve excellence in compliance and practice management.
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Lisa Julian helps to raise £37,000 for Sue Ryder Care Manorlands Hospice.
Lisa Julian, Director, has been involved in raising an exceptional amount of funds for the Sue Ryder Care Manorlands Hospice.
Lisa has been a committee member of the Bronte Vintage Gathering for the last few years taking on an integral role in this year’s annual event in May. The Bronte Vintage Gathering is in its 21st year and is organised by the committee, with proceeds going to the Manorlands Hospice in Oxenhope.
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Manorlands Hospice “provides expert palliative care, advice and support for people across Airedale, Wharfedale, Craven and North and West Bradford, who are living with life-limiting conditions, as well as supporting their families.”
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No Off Season for Opus Law and its Sports Law Team.
Whilst many fans are still mourning the end of the football season, Opus Law Director Ben Jones has been preparing for the next.
Ben has become an FA Registered Intermediary to allow him to advise his professional footballer clients on their next potential moves and ensure they are protected when signing new contracts for the coming seasons.
This move will also allow Ben to further his involvement with www.1511management.com whom we have teamed up professionally with for some time.
Ben has also been negotiating new sponsorship deals with Bradford City, and can confirm that The Petherbridge Bassra Group will proudly remain as an Official Partner of Bradford City Football Club for the next three seasons, at the very least.
We can also confirm that we have agreed to remain as back of the shirt sponsors to Guiseley Football Club for the coming season.
Ben Jones: Recent cases attracted widespread National interest.
Ben Jones, Director, who heads our specialist fraud and serious crime department Opus Law, has recently concluded cases that attracted widespread national interest.
The cases were grave and difficult and highlight the ability of the Opus Law team to act in the most serious of matters and to utilise all available resources to obtain the best results for our clients. Details of the cases can be found below:
BBC News - Millionaire's son jailed for crash death of girl - Read more >
The Guardian - Millionaire’s son jailed for causing girl's death by dangerous driving - Read more >
Mirror - Heir to £800m fortune jailed for 18 months - Read more >
Birmingham Mail - Fall of jailed millionaire playboy - Read more >
BBC News - Puppy raiders 'ransacked dead son's room' - Read more >
John Bottomley Appears in Unduly Lenient Sentence Case Before the Court of Appeal.
On Wednesday 20th February 2019, our Higher Court Advocate John Bottomley appeared in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division in a case that has attracted national publicity.
The Attorney General referred a 2 year suspended sentence to the appeal court as being unduly lenient in the circumstances. The case involved numerous robberies, two of which were against our clients grandfather. N had many issues of her own and was herself a vulnerable person. The case was dealt with by the criminal team from start to finish, from representing N in the Police station to appearing before the Court of Appeal.
This is a case that highlights our firms ability to deal with the most serious and complex of cases, and our desire to defend clients at every stage of proceedings.
RUI: Released Under Investigation or Released Unto Infinity?
Ben Jones, Director, looks at whether the changes to police bail, brought about in 2017, have had a beneficial or detrimental impact.
In April 2017 changes were made to pre-charge bail, also known as police bail, that were meant to signal the end of suspects being held on bail without charge (often with conditions) for months or even years on end. On the face of it a commendable change in the law to avoid abuses in the system.
In the words of Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, justifying her actions at that time:
“Pre-charge bail is a useful and necessary tool, but in many cases it is being imposed on people for many months, or even years, without any judicial oversight – and that cannot be right. These important reforms will mean fewer people are placed on bail and for shorter periods.”
“They will bring about much-needed safeguards – public accountability and independent scrutiny – while ensuring the police can continue to do their vital work.”
At Opus Law we are dedicated to defending, at every stage of proceedings, those who have been investigated and charged with the most serious of offences. Our daily caseload involves multi-million pound frauds, complex conspiracies, and grave and sensitive offences such as murder. It goes without saying that these cases, which sit at the top end of seriousness in the criminal spectrum, can often take some time to properly investigate. We were therefore intrigued as to how the new regime would impact upon our clients.
It would seem, after a reasonable period of trial, that the answer quite frankly, is that the new regime has failed spectacularly.
Let us recap. The old bail rules allowed a person to be released from the police station and placed on bail to a date and time in the near or semi-distant future whilst investigations continued. These bail dates could be further extended and often resulted, especially in serious fraud cases, with a suspect being on police bail for months or even years. This of course was not acceptable and change was needed and brought about.
Since 2017, under the new system an investigating team can still place a person on police bail, but only for an initial period of 28 days. This can then be extended up to a period of 3 months on the authority of a police officer at Superintendent level or above. In exceptional circumstances this can be extended yet further by a Magistrates’ Court.
With this in place, common sense would dictate that investigations now take place swiftly and suspects learn promptly whether or not they will face prosecution. Sadly, however, this is not the case as rather than bringing focus and expedition to an investigation, the investigation team simply skirt around the bail provisions by Releasing Under Investigations (RUI). So, where the authorities know their investigations will take them beyond the new bail limitation periods the neat trick is to Release Under Investigation. The person is not placed on bail but simply released while the officers go about their work. There is no timescale, no timeline that must be accounted for. You are simply told the investigation team will be in touch if and when.
When Released Under Investigation there is less public accountability, less independent scrutiny and certainly no judicial oversight. You are simply in the hands only of those who investigate you. The officers are without fear of having to justify their slow-moving investigation to an impatient Custody Officer when trying to extend bail. On the face of it an investigating team have no-one to answer to.
On reflection the old system may have been better. One had a date to aim for, a downtime between bail dates, a date when a decision could or might be made. Now every day is a day of waiting and which may involve the fear of a postal requisition containing a charge, a phone call from the police or perhaps the arrival of devastating news. There is never a perfect analogy. Perhaps the easiest to understand is being called to your GP who tells you that you may have something fundamentally wrong but he does not know yet, but if there is then it will involve immeasurable stress and be potentially life changing not only to you but also your loved ones. You are bound to ask when you will be seeing a specialist and when your situation will be resolved. Imagine then the answer being that he would simply be in touch. “But when?” you implore. “When we are ready” comes the reply.
It is often the fear of the unknown that is worse than the problem itself.
A recent example is to have a female client - a woman of good character, a mother and a wife - say “I wish they would just charge me, at least then I could fight back”. She has been under investigation for over a year.
The new police bail regime is failing the people it sought to protect and it would seem we are in a far worse position than we were before the enactment of the Policing and Crime Act 2017.
Please do not think this a thinly disguised barb at the Police or the Crown Prosecution Service, the prosecuting solicitors. The axe of public cuts has fallen as brutally on the prosecution side as it has on the defence. This article is not meant to stray into this well documented territory.
This piece is born out of a frustration for our clients who remain stressed, anxious, and exasperated for months, sometimes years.
There are no promised “much-needed safeguards”. People are left to whither “for many months, even years”. There is no “judicial oversight”. Life on hold encased in amber. Exactly what Miss Rudd sought to eradicate.
John Bottomley On How To Secure Work Experience in The Law Society Gazette.
John Bottomley, Higher Court Advocate, penned an article for The Law Society Gazette to assist law students.