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Government plans to tackle post-Covid court delays with ‘Nightingale courts’

Government plans to tackle post-Covid court delays with ‘Nightingale courts’

The Government has announced plans to open 14 more ‘Nightingale courts’, as well as a ‘Supercourt’ to tackle court delays created by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The ‘Nightingale courts’ will be used predominantly for non-custodial cases and, in addition to helping reduce a backlog of cases, are intended to enable social distancing more effectively than is possible in a traditional courtroom.

The ‘Nightingale courts’ are being set up in buildings including hotels and event spaces.

Additionally, ministers have confirmed plans to create a new ‘Supercourt’ at Manchester Crown Court, designed to have the capacity for larger trials with multiple defendants.

Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, said: “We have achieved an immense amount in our battle to keep justice moving during the pandemic – restarting jury trials before anyone else, turbo-charging the rollout of video technology, bring magistrates’ backlogs down and opening more courtrooms for jury trials.

“These new courts are the latest step in that effort. That is why we are investing hundreds of millions to drive this recovery further.”

Jeremy Sirrell, a Director with Palmers Solicitors and Head of our Criminal Defence team, said: “Although the courts have been attempting to alleviate the backlog of cases – including the introduction of video links and new technology in many thousands of hearings in magistrates’ and crown courts during the pandemic – the fact remains that Covid restrictions have resulted in significant judicial delays which will last not just months but, potentially, years.”

He continued: “This is creating untold stress. Every criminal case we deal with – from road traffic offences to allegations of fraud – has the potential to damage a career or reputation and the current delays mean that people’s lives are effectively on hold whilst they wait to have their cases heard.”

At a time when expert criminal defence advice is essential, Palmers Solicitors’ criminal law team is able to deliver specialist support. For further information, please contact us.

Don’t be an unwitting drink driver this Christmas – six ways motorists could find themselves unexpectedly over the limit

Don’t be an unwitting drink driver this Christmas – six ways motorists could find themselves unexpectedly over the limit

Jeremy Sirrell, a Partner at Palmers, who specialises in road traffic offences is warning motorists against a range of pitfalls that could see them become unwitting drink drivers this Christmas and New Year.

“The typical image of a drink driver is of someone who has drunk far too much and then got behind the wheel,” said Jeremy.

“However, it is surprisingly easy to commit a drink driving-related offence without realising or become involved in an accident because of impairment, particularly over the Christmas and New Year party season.”

With this in mind, Jeremy has put together a list of six common errors that could see motorists at risk of a drink driving conviction or a collision.

  1. Misunderstanding how alcohol builds up in the body – the ‘second drink effect’:

The time it takes the body to process a unit of alcohol means that a second drink can have a bigger impact on blood alcohol content than the first as, in effect, it can’t start processing the second drink until it has finished processing the first. In the meantime, the alcohol builds up in the bloodstream.

Likewise, drinking a pint of beer quickly can lead to a larger build-up of alcohol in the bloodstream than drinking the same amount more slowly, giving time for the body to begin processing the alcohol.

  1. The variation in the strength of similar drinks:

There might be hardly any difference in the appearance and taste of four per cent pint of beer, compared with a five per cent pint of beer. However, whilst these are only one percentage point different in alcohol content there is 25 per cent more alcohol in a five per cent beer.

That can really add up, especially when you take into account the ‘second drink effect’.

  1. The popularity of high-strength drinks, such as craft beers and gin:

Whereas a few years ago it would have been nearly impossible to find a nine per cent beer in a bar or pub, they are now commonplace with the rise of craft breweries. It can be much more difficult to gauge the effect this is having on you and can quickly raise your blood alcohol content. The same applies to gin, which has also seen an explosion in popularity in recent years.

  1. Hidden alcohol in food:

While levels of alcohol in food are generally very low and you would have to eat a vast amount to end up over the limit, the ‘second drink effect’ still applies. If your body is still processing alcohol that you have drunk, any extra alcohol you consume will go straight into your bloodstream, with the potential to put you over the limit.

  1. Being drunk in charge:

You don’t actually have to drive to be at risk of committing a drink-driving related offence, nor do you necessarily need to be in a vehicle. If you were to go to your vehicle in a public place while holding the keys, in order to remove your coat from the boot, you would be at risk of a conviction for being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. Likewise, you could be convicted if you were sitting in the back seat of a stationary vehicle with the keys in your possession.

  1. Getting behind the wheel the next day:

There is increasing awareness of the risk of still being over the limit the next day, particularly with the police carrying out high-profile Christmas drink driving campaigns focusing on morning commuters.

However, these pitfalls can also work together. Someone who might normally have six pints of four per cent beer late in the evening, who has the same amount of five per cent beer instead, is effectively drinking an extra pint and a half on top of what they would normally drink. Coupled with the ‘second drink effect’, this could have a major impact on blood alcohol content the next morning.

Jeremy said: “These could be surprisingly easy mistakes to make. My message to motorists is don’t be an unwitting drink driver this Christmas.

“The biggest danger of drink driving is causing death or injury to yourself or other people, but the penalties for being caught over the limit are also severe, with hefty fines, significant driving bans and even imprisonment available to the courts.”

For more information about Palmers full range of legal services relating to motoring offences, please contact us.

Beckham did not use ‘loophole’ to escape speeding conviction

Beckham did not use ‘loophole’ to escape speeding conviction

Jeremy Sirrell, a Partner at Palmers Solicitors, has said that David Beckham did not escape a recent speeding conviction, as a result of a ‘loophole’, contrary to widespread reporting in the press.

Beckham was caught travelling at 59mph in a 40mph zone in London in January. However, a judge has now ruled that he could not be convicted as a Notice of Intended Prosecution arrived one day after the 14-day deadline.

Jeremy Sirrell explained: “The situation is absolutely correct as it follows the law laid down in section 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, which requires notice of prosecution to be given within 14 days for a prosecution to proceed.

“This law has been in place for many years and requires the Police to give notice to drivers in good time so the drivers can respond properly to notices sent out to them.”

He added that the argument in Beckham’s case revolved around whether the prosecution could prove that the notice was sent by first class post. If the prosecution could have proven this point, the law would have deemed that notice was served within time.

“Here it seems that the prosecution could not prove it was sent out by first class post. Therefore, the assumption that the notice arrived two days after it was sent out could not be made out and therefore it could not be assumed that the notice arrived within the time limit,” he said.

However, whilst the decision has provoked outrage amongst road safety groups, Jeremy Sirrell said that it would be wrong to characterise Beckham’s escape from conviction as being down to a ‘loophole’.

“Section 1 is not a ‘loophole’, section 1 is an absolute requirement forcing the police to serve notices in good time to enable drivers to have a fighting chance of being able to answer the notices that are served on them.

“Without the operation of section 1, there would be no time limit and the police could serve notices at any time after the offence that suited them, thus making it difficult or impossible for drivers to actually answer those notices properly – potentially putting innocent parties at risk of prosecution.

“Failing to answer a notice promptly is itself a discrete offence of ‘failing to give driver’s information’, giving rise to an endorsement of six penalty points and a fine”.

“People should not forget that the 14-day deadline exists in order to enable a deadline to exist for the provision of drivers’ details and, ultimately, to protect innocent motorists from wrongful prosecution,” concluded Jeremy.

For help and advice relating to motoring prosecutions, please contact us.

Self Defence

Self Defence

Offences  of assault range from the most serious which may be charged as grievous bodily harm with intent or even attempted murder right down to the most minor matter where no injury of any kind whatsoever is caused which may be charged as ‘common assault’. But no matter how serious or otherwise the assaults, all of these offences have one thing in common; they are all subject to the law of self defence. Anybody who is attacked is entitled to defend themselves and anybody who sees another person being attacked is entitled to go to the defence of that other person; however there are two principles that the law applies.

The first is that if it is possible you should seek to remove yourself from the position before engaging in a fight, those who willingly engage in aggressive behaviour and an exchange of blows are unlikely to be able to claim self defence.

The second principle is that reasonable force must be used. By reasonable the law means proportionate. So for example if man A  were to be punched by man B then man B may be entitled to return the blow in order to defend himself to return a punch with a punch would be likely to be considered by the court to be reasonable. If man B however were to pull out a gun and shoot man A this would not be considered reasonable force and the defence of self defence would not succeed.

Self defence is one of the most complex and grey areas of criminal cases although the law itself is relatively straight forward the facts which may pertain to any case by its nature will be unique and often open to interpretation as different parties have different recollections and different views. It  is always possible for one to defend themselves indeed that must be the case however the law of self defence does not give permission to engage in fights or acts of aggression willy-nilly and even when one is forced to defend oneself only reasonable force can be used. If force going beyond reasonable force is used then an assault may still be committed even though there may be mitigating circumstances.

What constitutes a legitimate defence of self defence depends upon the precise circumstances and facts and each of those will be unique to the case concerned.

Assault

Assault

Assault charges vary greatly from the most serious assault which may lead to charges of grievous bodily harm with intent or even attempted murder to the most minor where no injury is caused which might simply be charged  as ‘common’ assault.  The penalties for the most serious assaults including those  under section 18 of The Offences against the Person Act 1861 (causing grievous bodily harm with intent)  or wounding with intent, are punishable with life imprisonment at the Crown Court.

Such offences of course are very serious and are dealt with accordingly but even minor offences of assault where no injury whatsoever is caused may be still punishable by up to six months imprisonment in the Magistrates Court.

Depending upon which offence is charged will depend upon the precise facts but essentially all assaults require in practical terms both an intention to cause an assault and  to cause in the other persons mind a fear of physical contact plus physical contact itself at least in the majority of circumstances.  It is possible to commit the offence of assault without any physical contact but such offences are very rarely if ever charged.

The physical contact itself may be very slight indeed potentially any unauthorised bodily contact could amount to an assault. This can be quite problematic as in the ordinary discourse of life there is very often some physical contact; jostling at a bus stop for example or playing a game of football or rugby involves physical contact, however unless such contact goes above and beyond what would usually be regarded as acceptable such contact would not be regarded as an assault. In some contact sports such as rugby there could be considerable physical contact without there being any assault.

Conversely it is possible to commit the offence of assault with the slightest degree of physical contact simply grabbing hold of someone’s  arm lightly enough to not leave any mark or gently pushing them could still amount to offences of assault if the person concerned should wish to regard themselves assaulted and  if the law should agree.

Up until fairly recently the law’s fairly robust approach to the question of assaults has meant that it was rare if ever that such very minor assaults ever found themselves before the courts but in the current atmosphere of the ‘zero tolerance’ for any behaviour which is deemed inappropriate prosecution for assaults of the most minor nature are now commonplace.

New ‘cyclist ‘safe zone’ does not represent a ‘real change’

New ‘cyclist ‘safe zone’ does not represent a ‘real change’

Following a high-profile Government announcement that motorists who pass within 1.5 metres of cyclists will be fined, a road traffic legal expert has claimed that there will be no real change in practical terms.

Palmers Solicitors partner and specialist road traffic solicitor, Jeremy Sirrell explained: “Despite the fanfare of the Government’s announcement, nothing has really changed.

“The police will still rely on enforcing section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 – Careless Driving – an offence that has been in existence in its current form for the last 30 years.

“Indeed, the police already punish offences of Careless Driving when they see it and may do so either by requiring the driver to go on a driver awareness course, offer the driver a fixed penalty of three points and a £100 fine, or they may take them to court and prosecute.

“The change here is simply that the police will be encouraged to use these powers when motorists pass cyclists, leaving less than 1.5 metres clearance. The 1.5-metre limit does not itself appear in legislation.”

Jeremy continued: “It is wholly appropriate that motorists who intimidate cyclists by failing to give them enough space should be punished. However, to impose a minimum distance regardless of circumstances might be regarded by many motorists as draconian and inflexible.

“It is all very well setting an ideal but an ideal is not necessarily always pragmatically achievable on Britain’s crowded roads. Cyclists should, of course, be given proper room, as should all road users.”

Jeremy advised that anyone who is stopped by the police as a result of the new initiative should listen carefully to what is put to them and then make a judgement as to whether they have passed too close.

He added: “Just because a motorist has driven within the magic 1.5 metres does not automatically make them guilty of any offence but rather it depends upon the particular circumstances at the time. Anyone in doubt should seek professional legal assistance.”

For advice and support on matters relating to motoring offences, please contact us.