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Disparity warning as solicitors react to prosecution fee increase

Criminal defence practitioners may have to take direct action if the government fails to fix a pay disparity that will be made worse by revised fees announced for prosecution advocates, a practitioner group chief has warned.

On Friday the CPS unveiled a package of revised fees for prosecution advocates which it believes addresses concerns over unused material and trials involving multiple defendants. However, the news received a cool reception from the defence community.

Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said he was pleased to see money dripping into the severely underfunded criminal justice system.

‘However, this payment is for prosecution work and does nothing to assist the publicly funded defence system which has been cut to the bone over years with slice after slice being imposed by respective governments. It is now time for politicians to take the crisis in the criminal justice system seriously before it is completely destroyed,’ he said.

He said: ‘This exacerbates a pre-existing problem. For instance CPS costs are recovered according to a notional rate of £69 per hour whereas defenders do so against a benchmark rate of only £45 per hour, less than a CPS paralegal. If a local authority prosecutes the case they can recover as much as £110 per hour.’

Troman, a solicitor and higher courts advocate at London firm Powell Spencer & Partners, said there is ‘ample evidence’ of a recruitment and retention crisis in criminal defence work. ‘Many solicitors train in private defence practices but, once they have gained experience, look to secure a position at the CPS or else leave the profession. This trend will increase.’

LCCSA members ‘are growing impatient with the inertia surrounding the criminal legal aid review and will note that this fee increase only came out following direct action‘, Troman said. ‘If that is the only language the Ministry of Justice understands then the message to this side of the profession is clear’.

The ministry is reviewing criminal legal aid fee schemes. Work has been accelerated on five areas, including unused material – however, the review will not be finished until late 2020.

‘Trust Me’ Kamala Harris Makes Big Play on Criminal Justice Reform

In an interview, Ms. Harris sought to paint her prosecutorial career as a reason voters should rely on her to deliver a criminal justice overhaul. But her critics say she has been part of the problem.

Senator Kamala Harris of California released a sweeping proposal on Monday to overhaul the criminal justice system, vowing to end mass incarceration and revamp police practices through a progressive wish list of policies, including some ideas Ms. Harris previously rejected during her years as a district attorney and state attorney general.

For months, Democratic presidential candidates have courted liberal activists with wide-ranging criminal justice plans, but Ms. Harris’s plan carries special significance. She has long cast herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” but some criminal justice experts and activists have balked at that characterization, saying she operated with the same “tough on crime” instincts that helped create the criminal justice problems she now seeks to solve.

The plan, perhaps the most ambitious effort of Ms. Harris’s campaign so far, focuses on reducing the prison population, creating national standards in policing, ensuring humane treatment for incarcerated people and prioritizing historically vulnerable communities. It also embraces ideas that have gone from the policy fringe to largely consensus positions popular among Democrats, including ending mandatory minimum sentences, eliminating private prisons, legalizing marijuana and incentivizing states to untether themselves from a cash bail system that disproportionately burdens the poor.

Astead W. Herndon is a national political reporter based in New York. He was previously a Washington-based political reporter and a City Hall reporter for The Boston Globe. @AsteadWesley
A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 16 of the New York edition with the headline: Harris Says ‘Trust Me’ on Need for Criminal Justice Reform. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Immigration lawyer struck off for “hijacking identities”

A jailed immigration solicitor who turned to crime only two years after qualifying has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Sheikh Muhammad Usman was jailed for seven years at Croydon Crown Court in April this year for assisting illegal immigration through the “hijacking of identities”.

The SDT said Mr Usman was born in 1972 and qualified in 2008. He “became involved in the criminal activity” in 2010.

“Although he was not particularly experienced as a solicitor, he was a mature individual aged 35. Of the four defendants, he was the only qualified solicitor.

“The judge described the offences as particularly serious and striking at the heart of the immigration system and undermining public confidence in that system.”

The SDT went on: “A crime had been committed which was deliberate, calculated and repeated. It was elaborate, sophisticated and involved a high degree of planning.

“It continued over a period of time from 2010 to 2016. As a participant, [Mr Usman] concealed his activities, which only stopped because the criminal activity was discovered. Vulnerable people were exploited.”

Mr Usman, both at his trial and his SDT hearing, which he did not attend as a serving prisoner, maintained his innocence. He has appealed his conviction.

“He asserted that he was a victim of crime and had been deceived, which the judge did not accept, and he had been convicted. The only real mitigation he asserted was that he was innocent.”

Counsel for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said Mr Usman had been involved in a “fairly sophisticated” illegal immigration scheme, the ringleader of which was a Home Office employee, Shamsu Iqbal.

Judge Gower QC told Croydon Crown Court that Mr Iqbal accessed Home Office records of genuine individuals who had, at some point in the past, been in contact with it over their status.

He changed the records to “enable impostors to take the records of genuine individuals”.

The three other defendants would act as legal representatives of the impostors, corresponding with the Home Office to legitimise their immigration status.

Judge Gower said the motivation was “financial rather than humanitarian” and Mr Iqbal profited “to a very considerable extent”. A “considerable number of people” were helped to remain in the UK in breach of immigration law.

As an example of the impact on innocent individuals as a result of the “hijacking of identities”, the judge gave the example of a man detained at Heathrow and then Harmondsworth for nine days before the true position could be understood.

By virtue of his conviction, Mr Usman was found to have breached a number of SRA principles and showed a lack of integrity.

The allegation that he failed to notify the SRA of the date of his trial or fact of his subsequent conviction was rejected. He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £2,500.

Alleged perjury during ‘in camera’ hearings

High Court declaration comes after man alleged he was perjured in childcare proceedings

A man involved in childcare proceedings who wanted to allege perjury against witnesses in his case has secured a declaration from the High Court that alleged crimes that may have occurred during in camera hearings can be investigated.

The solicitor who acted in the case, Clifford Sullivan, of LawPlus solicitors, said the declaration was an important clarification of the law and that up to this there was a doubt in the minds of members of An Garda Síochána that they could investigate what happened during in camera hearings (hearings from which the public are excluded).

“The man felt that perjury had been committed and that that perjury caused the judge in his case to make a decision against him,” Mr Sullivan said.

Following his case the man, who cannot be identified, sought to bring criminal proceedings at District Court level as a “common informer”.

When this was refused, the man, acting as a lay litigant, lost a challenge to the decision in the High Court. He then appealed to the Supreme Court, at which point Mr Sullivan became involved.

Draft application

The Supreme Court then helped draft an application which was sent back to the High Court, where the man asked for a declaration that “a prosecution for a criminal offence allegedly occurring during the course of civil proceedings heard in a court of law otherwise than in public (in camera) is capable of being investigated and prosecuted as prescribed by law”.

The application was not opposed by the State and the declaration was made by Mr Justice Séamus Noonan late last month. It has not been reported before. The man received legal representation from Mr Sullivan and barristers Dervla Browne SC and Brendan Guildea.

Mr Sullivan said the declaration could be relevant to cases of allegations of perjury – intentionally lying in court – or attempts to pervert the course of justice, which arose from in camera proceedings.

He said it was now clear, as a result of the declaration, that people who felt that a possible crime had been committed during proceedings that were held in camera can go to An Garda Síochána and that gardaí can investigate the complaint.

How A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You

If you have been charged with a crime, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, it is very important that you work with a criminal defense attorney throughout the entire process.

Whether or not you think that the situation is serious, there may be a lot more at risk than is immediately apparent, and you could find yourself looking back on this case years from now wishing that you had taken some different steps. Criminal law is complicated, which is why it is so important that you take this process seriously and work with an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Worth.

Many criminal defense attorneys offer free initial consultations with potential clients so that they can ask a variety of questions about their situation and learn about the most appropriate steps that they should be taking to move forward with as much success as possible.

HELP NAVIGATING THE CRIMINAL LAW SYSTEM

The criminal law system in the United States is complicated and confusing, especially for individuals who do not have a comprehensive understanding of the situation that they are involved in, and the possible consequences of a guilty finding or plea agreement. If you are at a court hearing working with a prosecutor, they will make an initial offer for the individual to accept a guilty finding, or may make an initial offer for a plea deal. While this may seem like the proper decision given the circumstances and the individual may want to get the process finished with, it could come back to cause a major issue.

NEGOTIATING ACCEPTABLE OUTCOMES

You may have noticed that there is a theme here, and it all comes down to working towards the most acceptable outcome for your situation. Every step that your attorney takes will be with the intention to get you the lightest possible sentence, the most minimum penalties available for your charges, and how you can mitigate the impact that these charges have on your life. When you are working on your own and attempting to represent yourself, courts and prosecutors will take advantage of your inexperience and you will find yourself walking away with steep penalties without much clarity on how it even happened.

PROFESSIONAL ADVICE FOR YOUR SPECIFIC CASE

When you hire an attorney to represent your case, they are working directly on your behalf in order to help you with your case. This means that any action you think about taking outside of the case that you are unsure of how it will impact your proceedings, then you will be able to consult with them. If you are wondering how your case will impact your ability to apply for jobs, renew a drivers license, apply for housing, or anything else that is unclear at the time, you will be able to contact your attorney and get a specific answer about the exact situation that you are in. While this may not seem like a big deal right off the bat, you will find that their advice and counsel throughout your case is absolutely irreplaceable because of how simple it will make each of these otherwise complicated questions seem.

CONFIDENCE IN YOUR CASE

The most important thing that you will get from working with a criminal defense attorney is confidence. You will be able to get straight answers from them about your entire situation and will be able to plan accordingly for your future given their history of experience and their understanding of how they expect your case to go. 

Boris Johnson

Suspected Terrorists and illegal immigrants Deported

Taxpayers paid £57m to lawyers who successfully fought Government attempts to deport suspected terrorists and illegal immigrants

Two former justice ministers today urge Boris Johnson and the Government to rethink the practice to end such big pay-outs CREDIT: WPA POOL/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

Taxpayers have had to foot a £57.5 million bill to pay off lawyers who successfully fought Home Office attempts to deport suspected terrorists, foreign criminals and illegal immigrants.

They have had to pay or settle the legal costs of lawyers who have often used European human rights laws to outflank the Home Office and win cases for their clients.

The 6,098 cases covering four years from 2014/15 to 2017/18 have involved foreign criminals, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers whom the Government unsuccessfully attempted to send back to their homelands, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws.

It includes lawyers for hate preacher Abu Qatada who got £57,000 from the Home Office after they initially defeated its bid to send him back to Jordan to face terrorism charges. The Home Office paid their charges at a rate of £330 an hour.

Radical al-Aaida linked preacher, Abu Qatada

Radical al-Aaida linked preacher, Abu Qatada CREDIT: MOHAMMAD HANNON/AP

Two former justice ministers today urge Boris Johnson and the Government to rethink the practice to end such big pay-outs.

Mike Penning, a former policing and justice minister, said: “The Prime Minister needs to add this to his list of legislation that needs to be changed.

“If these people have been convicted and are not conducive to the public good, people won’t understand why we are paying out this money to lawyers abusing the legal system rather than spending it on the NHS.”

Oliver Heald, who was also a former Government law officer as solicitor general, said the Home Office should pay out where there was a serious mistake, but any awards should be “taxed on a reasonable basis so that it’s not possible to make a fortune out of these cases.

“They should be decided on a moderate basis rather than an expensive one. This is something the Ministry of Justice may wish to review.”

The £57.5 million for the 6,000 cases – equivalent to 30 every week for four years – excludes the additional £28.4 million that the Government had to pay for its own legal costs.

Oliver Heald

Oliver Heald, former Government law officer CREDIT: CHRIS MCANDREW / UK PARLIAMENT

The total of £86 million means the average case ends up costing the taxpayer more than £14,000 in legal fees.

Complex procedures around legal fees mean the Government can be forced to pay out extra payments on top of these to lawyers who successfully challenge legal rulings.

It is supposed to act as compensation to solicitors who may take on some cases where they lose and then end up potentially out of pocket with nobody to pay their costs.

But others believe the “No Win No Fee” culture has gone too far with lawyers able to get away with huge costs’ bills for winning cases against the state.

Other cases included lawyers for Kevin Kiarie, who fought deportation after being convicted of drug offences, who were paid expenses of £194,353. They won the case on the basis that having to appeal from abroad was a breach of his human rights under EU laws.

Human rights lawyers also won a court case claiming it was unfair to send migrants back to the EU country where they first arrived – and sent taxpayers a £600,000 bill for their work.

The lawyers, who charged £330-per-hour, represented an Iranian and three Eritreans who had smuggled their way into the UK after first claiming refugee status in Italy. Once in the UK, they lodged claims to stay here saying it would breach their human rights if they were sent back to Italy.

The Home Office said it took seriously its duty to spend public money effectively. Given the volume of cases, it was “unsurprising” it faced a number of legal challenges: “We have a good track record in defending Judicial Reviews of decisions but remain committed to learning where the Courts do not find in our favour.”