How to Hold the Police Accountable for Human Error

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor, who discusses police human error.

Kevin Donoghue discusses how the police defend human error and how to handle their arguments.

I’ve recently settled a number of civil actions against the police involving human error.

The police fought my clients’ cases by arguing that they have legal protections from civil claims when investigating and suppressing crime. In effect, they are different to you and me in that, they say, the police cannot be held accountable for their actions.

But that argument doesn’t wash. This is why.

1. The case of the missing children

“Carla” (name changed) lives in Kent. She is unmarried and does not have children.

Carla called the police to report a man who was harassing her. The police called round to take a statement. They checked Carla’s details and found that, according to the Police National Computer, there was a court warrant out for her arrest. It said that she was wanted in Grimsby, Lincolnshire for failing to make sure her children attended school.

This was news to Carla, and clearly wrong for two reasons:

  1. she does not have any children
  2. she has never been to Grimsby.

Carla pointed this out to the police, who, it should be remembered, she called to report a crime. (Would a wanted person do that?)

The police had options at this point. They could have taken sensible actions like:

  • checking her story
  • confirming what she said with those who put her details on the PNC
  • scheduling an interview.

But they did none of these things. Instead the police officers simply arrested Carla and took her to the local station.

Eventually, the officers confirmed that Carla was telling the truth and let her go.

She approached me for legal help because I specialise in civil actions against the police, as you can see from some of our case reports. With my help, Carla recovered

  • £5,000 compensation
  • her legal costs
  • confirmation that the PNC record had been updated.

2. The case of the disqualified driver

A court wrongly disqualified “Paul” (name changed) from driving. He did not know about the court hearing beforehand.

Paul successfully appealed the ruling as soon as he found out. Despite having his licence re-instated, the police arrested and detained Paul two weeks later for driving while disqualified.

He approached me for help. I found out that the PNC record had not been updated to show the error. The police acted upon the mistaken PNC entry, despite my client’s insistence at time of arrest that it was incorrect.

Again, with my help, Paul recovered £5,000 compensation and his legal costs. He also got confirmation that the PNC record had been updated.

3. The case of the unfortunate holiday-maker

The police arrested “James” (name changed) at airport border control when he returned from a holiday in Spain. The officers said that there was a marker on the PNC for him. Thames Valley Police wanted to question James on suspicion of blackmail and threats to kill.

James protested his innocence to no avail. The police took him to a nearby station, where James was detained before being transferred to a police station some 106 miles away.

Thames Valley Police interviewed James twice before releasing him on bail. He had to return to the distant police station later to answer it. Only then did the police confirm that they had obtained “last minute” evidence which cleared him.

It later came out that the Officer in Case made an error when she took a statement from the person who received the threats. The officer incorrectly recorded the telephone number of the alleged blackmailer. She was out by one digit. This led to the police tracing James’ wife’s phone, which was registered in his name.

James was devastated by the arrest and the cloud of suspicion which hung over him. With my help he:

  • was awarded £32,000 compensation,
  • paid his legal costs, and
  • made sure his name was cleared from the police’s databases.

Avoiding the Consequences of Police Human Error

These cases have three things in common:

  1. an avoidable human error
  2. the police did not follow established procedures and laws
  3. a denial of liability by the police’s legal representatives which misunderstands the law.

1. Avoidable Human Error

The problems begin for the police when the Police National Computer is inaccurate. In the cases of Carla and James, the errors related to other people who had no connection with my clients.

The court (in Carla’s case) and Officer in Case (in James’ case) made human errors which brought unsuspecting, and entirely innocent, people into the police’s orbit with disastrous consequences.

In Paul’s case, the failure to update his record was something which, sadly, happens all too often. The court service is severely stretched. Things get missed by staff tasked with updating records. But this is a vital part of the court staff’s work and not something which should be skipped.

2. Police Did Not Follow Established Procedures and Laws

There are two police actors here:

       i.          The Arresting Officer

The arresting officers in all three cases failed to apply the law and their training. As our false imprisonment claims explained page shows, these cases are unusual in that the burden of proof falls on the police once unlawful detention is shown. It is the police’s job to show that they had the lawful authority to detain. A court can find the police liable for false imprisonment if they did not.

The police usually argue that they were carrying out a lawful arrest. To do that, the arresting officer must have an honest and reasonable suspicion that the arrested person was involved in the commission of a criminal offence.

The police officer must also show that:

  • it was necessary to arrest,
  • the arrested person was informed of the grounds for arrest as soon as reasonably practicable, and
  • the decision to arrest was reasonable on public law grounds.

These rules mean that the arresting officer (and, by extension his/ her boss, the Chief Constable of the police force involved) must exercise some independent thought before arrest. While the law gives the police the benefit of the doubt, it does not give them absolute protection.

In all three cases the police did not investigate a clearly expressed and genuine alibi before arrest. This, and other breaches of the law, resulted in my clients receiving damages for false imprisonment.

      ii.          The Custody Officer

The role of custody officers at police stations also deserves scrutiny. As I explain here, even if arrest and detention is lawful initially, it can become unlawful later, giving rise to claims for false imprisonment.

Custody officers have a duty to investigate if there is enough evidence to justify a charge when they receive an arrested person at the station. If not, they must release the detainee (with or without bail).

Again, in all three cases the custody officers could have done more to investigate the alibis presented and/ or shorten the period of detention.

3. Denial of Liability Based on Misunderstanding

All three defendant police forces argued that they were not liable for my client’s compensation claims. They claimed that they have broad “immunity from suit” from negligence claims. As you can read on this page about the law in civil actions against the police, the law is well-established and helps the police make that argument.

But here’s the police’s problem: civil actions against the police involve more than just negligence claims.

As you can see on the page I linked to above, breaches occur in many different areas of statutory and common law. These include:

  • Equality Act 2010
  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Breach of confidence
  • Data Protection Act 2018
  • Defamation
  • Wrongful interference with goods
  • Breach of statutory duty
  • Maliciously obtaining search of arrest warrants
  • And others.

The statutory laws (which Parliament makes) matter because they often include legal protections for victims which go beyond negligence.

Knowing this, in all three cases I successfully argued that:

  1. the police failed in their duties under the Data Protection Act 2018, and
  2. that they were required to compensate my clients under the provisions of the Act.

As a result, the police’s negligence arguments were irrelevant, and my clients received the compensation they deserved.

And, importantly, my clients relied on their rights to rectification and erasure to get the Police National Computer records updated to show that they were no longer wanted.

Public Benefit of Statutory Protections

Some might argue that Parliament has gone too far by eroding the police’s protection from civil compensation claims in negligence.

I disagree. The statutory protections in the laws above mean that the public can hold the police accountable for their actions. Now the police must think before arresting someone and causing them upset, distress, inconvenience, and serious loss. If these laws result in fewer people suffering the consequences of unlawful arrests and avoidable police human errors, then Parliament has done its job.

 

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors, an award-winning law firm which represents claimants in their civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

Q&A with Founder Kevin Donoghue on Donoghue Solicitors’ 10-Year Anniversary

Donoghue Solicitors celebrates its 10-year anniversary on 1 December 2020. In this Q&A, founder Kevin Donoghue reflects on the occasion.

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who rrepresented a client in his police national computer check error claim.

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor and Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

Why did you set up Donoghue Solicitors?

I’ve always had a strong sense of social justice and been dedicated to helping my community. From an early age, when I volunteered at “The Brunny”, I realised that I could make a lasting difference in people’s lives.  Working in the law was a natural fit for me.

As I learned more about legal practice, I became frustrated with how law firms operate. Many solicitors involved in civil actions against the police rely on the safety net of legal aid. I found that this denied access to justice to those who genuinely deserved it. I was ready to take a risk to help them and the fast-changing legal landscape gave me the opportunity.

Photo of Kevin Donoghue standing at the reception of Donoghue Solicitors.

An early photo of Kevin Donoghue at work.

What was the hardest/ easiest part of setting up and running your own law firm?

I like pushing myself and those around me out of our comfort zones. Despite this, I never expected setting up my own firm to be “easy”. I made sacrifices. There were a lot of long days and nights. Things were hardest in the beginning. I had to learn a lot about running a business quickly and get comfortable with the unique pressures of running a solicitor’s firm. When I set up Donoghue Solicitors we were in the middle of a global recession which hit banks especially hard. This made it hard to get outside financial support as an unknown with limited assets.

Such challenges were not all bad. They helped me grow a lean practice (without debt, which is unusual for law firms) and achieve my ambition of serving my community in the way I wanted.

As well as my professional obligations, I juggled personal and financial commitments to my young family. My eldest, William, had just turned 1. My wife, Stephanie, was on maternity leave and earning a reduced income. And I instantly went from earning a steady pay cheque to a lack of regular money. Thankfully things have improved, but we remain frugal and live within our means.

Staff recruitment is a continuing challenge. I have exceptionally high standards and expect my staff to live up to them. We don’t use recruitment agencies and I personally vet and interview candidates, which is a very time-consuming exercise. But it’s worthwhile because it means that we only recruit high-quality, efficient, passionate, dedicated people, who fit in to our unique culture. Our retention rate is exceptionally high because we are so careful about who we recruit. This benefits our clients who often treat us as long-trusted members of their own families and social networks.

The easiest part of setting up Donoghue Solicitors was coming to work every day to practice law. I also found this the most rewarding part, and still do. I’m passionate about the law and I still love it. Getting to do my favourite thing, on my own terms, with great people around me, makes me a lucky man.

Photo of Kevin Donoghue Solicitor in Bootle at the entrance to Brunswick Youth Club.

Kevin Donoghue Solicitor in Bootle at the entrance to Brunswick Youth Club (photo taken in 2015).

How do you see charity and nonprofit work overlapping with your business?

I always wanted to “give back” in other ways apart from representing people in their fights for justice. Lifting up those in our community is a core part of my own, and my firm’s, identity. We have been long-term supporters of charities including “The Brunny” (Brunswick Youth and Community Centre), which does fantastic work in Bootle, Merseyside, and beyond. And, with Daniel Fitzsimmons help, I set up and funded a number of youth football teams when I found out that children in my area were struggling to afford to play. Donoghue Solicitors FC teams continue to help children who might otherwise miss out.

Photo of one of the Donoghue Solicitors FC teams

Donoghue Solicitors FC team photo.

What are some business challenges you’re facing now?

Without doubt, increasingly restrictive fixed fees and swingeing judge-led costs assessments are my number one financial and business issue. Clients, regulators, and judges expect a “Rolls Royce” legal service with the best trained and supported lawyers. But these expectations are undermined by fixed fees and restrictive costs regimes which do not allow for it. Clients rarely know about this issue. Some wrongly think that “no win no fee” funding means that they effectively get unlimited, free, legal services. Explaining what we can and can’t do within fixed fees or costs budgets can be challenging.

With the benefit of 10 years’ experience, what would you tell your younger self?

I would say, “Stick to your principles. Don’t lose sight of who you are and what you set out to achieve. Do what you do best. Keep the business lean, solvent, and secure.”

Photograph of Kevin Donoghue and Daniel Fitzsimmons on Donoghue Solicitors

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, (right) and Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, of Donoghue Solicitors in 2012.

What are you most proud of?

I find that developing my team is incredibly rewarding. I enjoy moulding people who are new to the law, or have come from other firms, into outstanding lawyers.

For example, Daniel Fitzsimmons was my first hire and is still working with me today. When he joined the firm, Dan was as an assistant to a legal clerk and had huge untapped potential. With my help and his own hard graft, he became a fully qualified Chartered Legal Executive who represents clients in highly complex cases. I got as much pleasure out of his qualification as when I became a lawyer myself!

From a legal practice perspective, we have helped many people get justice. Often, they are in despair and don’t know where to turn or what to do. Knowing that we made a difference in their lives means everything.

Personally, my family is my proudest achievement. I have a wonderful wife who was on board with the project from the moment I raised it. We have had three fantastic boys together. Even though the boys might not know exactly what I do, they are a constant source of love and keep me grounded.

Donoghue Solicitors team celebrating their win at the 2015 Liverpool Law Society Awards.

Members of the Donoghue Solicitors team celebrate their win at the 2015 Liverpool Law Society Awards.

Where do you see yourself and/or Donoghue Solicitors in 10 years?

My team and I have achieved a lot together in the past 10 years.

I hope we continue our steady, measured progress. I want to keep standing up for my clients while keeping my team in employment in a safe and supportive environment. We are in it for the long haul. We’re all still (relatively) young and have plenty of years left!

Has your business made you happier and more fulfilled in life, compared to how you felt before starting it?

Undoubtedly yes. It may sound trite, but I really do love helping people and get great satisfaction from it. My success has allowed me to provide for my family. It also means that my team have secure, rewarding, employment and can provide for their families too.

Some of the Donoghue Solicitors team.

Donoghue Solicitors team members in 2019.

What advice would you give to solicitors thinking of setting up their own law firms?

I would encourage them to do it. Look after your clients, build your contacts, and have good mentors. Commit. It’s not easy, but, as Henry Ford once said,

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.

 

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.

Should UK Police Get Taser 7 Stun Guns?

Despite official warnings about safety and reliability, the Home Secretary has authorised the use of Taser 7 weapons by all 43 UK police forces. Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police, considers the implications for the public and police alike.

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who discusses Taser 7 weapons.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, considers if the police should get the new Taser 7 weapon.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Recently Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, allowed Chief Constables in the UK’s 43 police forces to buy the new Taser 7 pistol-like devices.

She said:

“It is sickening that our brave police officers face assaults and attacks as they work tirelessly to keep us all safe. They are our protectors and I will do everything in my power to give them what they need to keep themselves and the public safe.

This new taser model will provide a safe and effective tool for apprehending criminals.

The taser is an important tactical option for police in potentially dangerous situations.”

Funding for the new Tasers will come from a £10 million cash reserve announced in September 2019. £6.7 million has already been allocated for Tasers and training. All forces who applied for the extra funding got the full amount requested.

It is not clear if the unspent money is for the new Taser 7, which was released in November 2018, or older models like the X2 (launched 2017) or X26e (released in 2005). Funding allocations cover the period up to March 2021. I expect many forces will get the latest Taser 7 “kit” (as police officers like to call it).

What is the Taser 7?

Axon, its manufacturer, describes Taser 7 as “the most effective TASER weapon ever.”

See it in use here:

Axon says Taser 7 has the following features when compared to previous models:

  • faster, more accurate
  • stronger, better connections
  • better clothing penetration, less ricochet
  • redesigned darts with twice the kinetic energy
  • faster cartridge reloads
  • short (4 feet) and long range (12-22 feet) cartridges
  • green laser, bright in daylight
  • smart battery.
Photo of police officers holding Tasers.

Police officers equipped with Tasers.

What Do the Police Say About Tasers?

Chief Constables and the Police Federation have championed the use of Tasers for years. The police seem thrilled by this recent announcement.

My old sparring partner, Che Donald, of the Police Federation, parroted the manufacturer’s language. He said:

Taser is an extremely effective means of dealing with many dangerous situations that our officers face on the streets and is a less lethal option in comparison to conventional firearms.

Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, CEO of the College of Policing, said:

Policing is becoming ever more challenging and ensuring officers have the training and support needed to keep themselves safe while protecting the public is rightly a priority for the service.

Chief Officer Dale Checksfield of Durham Police hailed the announcement as “great news” and echoed calls for volunteer special constables to get the weapons, which Kent Police is pursuing.

Photo of a man holding a Taser.

A Taser X26.

Government Testing of Taser 7

The Taser 7 announcement means that the UK’s police forces:

  • get a new weapon
  • funded by central government
  • which is popular with senior officers and the police union.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast.

The Ministry of Defence’s Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-lethal Weapons (SACMILL) benchmarked the new Taser 7 by comparing it to previous Tasers.

Its independent assessment was less glowing than the comments above suggest.

It found that, compared to previous models, Taser 7 may:

  • be more painful for the subject and cause vasovagal syncope (a sudden drop of heart rate and blood pressure, causing fainting) because of its pulsing electrical output
  • “elevate the risk of skull and other bony injuries associated with uncontrolled falls and of musculoskeletal injury due to a more forceful muscle contraction”
  • cause an “increase in the incidence of darts penetrating the body to their full depth” and “injuries to deeper-lying organs and tissues”
  • fail to operate due to trapped ejectors and stiff triggers
  • cause operational issues as officers must decide between using short- and long-range cartridges under potentially stressful conditions.

Free-Flying Probe Problem With Taser 7

Another key difference between Taser 7 and previous models is that the 11.6mm long metal barbs:

  1. are fired from the weapon using “higher kinetic energy and momentum”, and
  2. detach from the tethering wire when it is fully extended.

This means that, as SACMILL understands,

“detached probes have the potential to fly up to 25 m before striking the ground”

What’s more, during testing SACMILL found that the new Taser 7’s barbs “may have a tendency to stray further from the point of aim”, causing:

the potential to raise the risk of upper probe strikes to the vulnerable areas of the head and neck in the event that the point of aim of the upper probe is inadvertently set too high.

The scientists also noted:

“Probes detaching from the wire at full extension producing an additional risk to bystanders (including other officers), a risk that is not present with the X2™ or X26™.”

SACMILL worried that this “novel risk” could cause unintended injury. The chances of this collateral damage are significantly higher with Taser 7 than previous models. This is because police using Taser 7 are between about 7-20 times more likely to miss the target, as you can see in the table below:

DeviceMiss Rate
Taser 757.6%
Taser X22.8%
Taser X268.3%

This test was performed with the target 3m (10 feet) away. But, as I mentioned earlier, the new Taser 7 can be fired from up to 7m. It is likely that police officers using the stun-gun would be even less accurate from this distance.

A Taser X26 illustration.

Inadequate Police Training for Tasers

The report’s authors noted that:

“training cannot eliminate the risk associated with detaching probes but may assist in its management.”

But, as the government itself announced, a mere 1.5% (£150,000) of the £10 million for Tasers has been set aside for training.

And, as I previously described, Taser-wielding officers currently get just three days’ training before they are let loose on the public with these potentially deadly weapons. Spending so little on firearms training compared to the cost of this “kit” shows where the police and government’s priorities lie.

The police’s solution to the risk of unintended injury does not inspire confidence. The official guidance is simply to get Taser-wielding police officers to move closer:

At the recent National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Covert CED meeting the College of Policing proposed that officers could mitigate this problem by dynamically closing the distance between the target and the officer and emphasising in training the different operational probe spreads.

I am not convinced. I expect that, when officers learn about the new Taser 7’s long-distance abilities, they will be more inclined to use the stun-guns from a distance. This will increase the likelihood of unintended injury.

And, as Tasers get issued to more police officers, it is likely that they will be used even more than last year, when police confirmed record high deployments.

Police Guidance on Taser Use

Previous versions of Taser have caused or contributed to at least 18 deaths in the UK. SACMILL’s concerns about the new Taser 7’s accuracy and injury risk are valid. Tragically, it seems inevitable that the police’s expected use of these weapons is likely to cause or contribute to more deaths.

Such concerns are not new.

The Association of Chief Police Officers guidance about Tasers is clear. Police should only use them when:

  1. officers face violence; or
  2. when they are in a situation where the threat of violence is so severe they need to use force to protect the public, themselves, and/ or the person they are dealing with.

Despite these warnings, officers can forget their training in the heat of the moment. Some may shoot the stun-gun simply to apprehend suspects or use them for “pain compliance” to assert their authority.

Deploying Tasers in this way is an inappropriate, and potentially deadly, use of weaponry. As well as the physical effects on suspects and others, officers could face criminal, civil, and disciplinary charges.

Photo of London Metropolitan Police officers confronting protesters.

Metropolitan Police officers confront protesters.

Chief Constable Responsibility

The Home Office announcement notes that the decision to get Taser 7s rests with individual Chief Constables, who apply their own “strategic threat and risk assessment”. It says that all Chief Constables:

“have undertaken a commitment for every officer who patrols with Taser to be equipped with Body Worn Video.”

But Chief Constables should ask themselves, is it possible that concerns about the new Taser 7 are why the Home Office passed the buck?

Police in the UK are rightly proud of their global reputation for being largely unarmed, except for certain officers in specialised units. Giving police officers more of these powerful and potentially deadly weapons is dangerous for both the police and public, can lead to miscarriages of justice, and leads to the view that the police are turning into a paramilitary force.

Chief Constables should think long and hard before arming their officers with Tasers.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

How the Police and Home Office Misjudged the Public Mood

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, who discusses how the police and home office misjudged the public mood.

Daniel Fitzsimmons considers how the police and Home Office misjudged the public mood in response to a news story.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

This week a journalist from Sky News contacted me about my client Steven Smith.

He had read the case report and blog post I wrote about Mr Smith’s case (click on the links to read them) and wanted to speak to my client about his experience. With Steven’s permission I made the introductions, which led to today’s article on the Sky News website. It shows how:

  • the police,
  • National Police Chiefs Council, and
  • the Home Office

all misjudged the public mood at a crucial time.

Serving Police Officer Convicted of Assault

With my help, Steven received compensation after an Avon and Somerset police officer assaulted him. The officer restrained Mr Smith using a chokehold. The chokehold is a controversial method which is banned by many police forces in the USA. As Steven found, it can cause the suspect to lose consciousness. And for some it can be worse. Campaigners are calling for a ban on the use of this potentially deadly restraint method.

The officer in Steven’s case was convicted of “assault by beating” my client. But he kept his job. This, Steven said, left him “gutted and upset”.

“You should be able to go to the police and their judgement should be above board and impeccable at all times,” Mr Smith said.

Quite right.

Freedom of Information Act Request

So it was disappointing to read that:

  1. “More than 200 serving police officers in the UK have convictions for criminal offences including assault, burglary, drug possession and animal cruelty.” In fact, 211 officers had criminal convictions according to the Sky News report.
  2. This number is likely to be much higher, as only 16 of the UK’s 45 territorial police forces, British Transport Police, and Ministry of Defence police responded to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for data. More than two thirds of police forces failed to respond, using a variety of excuses, including:
  • “a disproportionate and unjustified diversion of policing resources during the coronavirus epidemic”
  • the request for information was “vexatious” (frustrating or annoying)
  • processing the request was too expensive.
  1. Serving police officers have criminal convictions for a variety of offences including:
  • assault (as in Steven Smith’s case)
  • burglary
  • theft
  • cruelty to animals
  • drug possession
  • possession of an imitation firearm
  • etc.

Police and Home Office Defensive Comments

Predictably, Chief Constable Craig Guildford, the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead for professional standards, defended his fellow officers, saying that:

“having a criminal record has never been an automatic bar to joining the police or many other public sector professions”.

The Home Office also supported the police, saying that:

“the overall majority of whom carry out their duties with the utmost professionalism and integrity and are committed to keeping the public safe.”

Impact on Public Confidence in the Police

It is fair to assume that, as only one third of police forces responded, the true number of convicted police officers is at least three times higher. And, given the worrying and varied nature of the offences detailed by the forces who responded, this situation is more serious than previously known. By:

  • failing to respond to a legitimate FOIA (as two thirds of forces did),
  • downplaying the issue, and
  • defending police officers right to serve despite criminal convictions,

the UK’s police forces, NPCC, and Home Office have undermined public confidence and trust at a time when they need to improve it. The erosion of public trust matters because the doctrine of “policing by consent” underpins the police’s Code of Ethics. Without it they cannot function.

From a public relations perspective, the police and Home Office’s defensive responses show that they continue to misjudge the public mood. Recent outrage at high-profile incidents including the stop and search of athlete Bianca Williams  and the Black Lives Matter protests indicate that the country expects more from its police forces. Failing to take the FOIA request seriously and acknowledge how police officer criminal convictions undermine public confidence is another example of a wider systemic issue. Yet again the police, NPCC, and Home Office have badly missed the mark.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive who specialises in civil actions against the police at Donoghue Solicitors.

How a Coronavirus Risk Assessment Helps Us Return to Work

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who has used a coronavirus risk assessment to help his team return to office work.

Kevin Donoghue explains how a coronavirus risk assessment helps his team return to office work.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors

As you will know if you read my previous blog posts about coronavirus, we have been working remotely since the “stay at home” order came into effect in March.

For the most part, this change in our way of working has been successful. But the coronavirus alert level has been downgraded from four to three, and the government has updated its guidance on how non-retail businesses can work. This means it’s time to work in the office again. A coronavirus risk assessment helps us do that.

Adapting to Covid-19

In many ways, the last three months has been a nationwide experiment in change. We have had to adapt to the coronavirus lockdown by:

  • dealing with the psychological and physical effects of a devastating disease and pandemic
  • wearing facemasks
  • using gloves, hand sanitiser, and washing hands more frequently and carefully
  • remote working
  • changing how we interact with our clients, the courts, and others.

Remote Working Results

Some expressed doubts about whether the UK workforce would succeed.  I am pleased to report that my firm’s lawyers are capable of remote working for extended periods.

Our clients tell us that we have been able to keep up our usual high standards of service. My team and I have worked productively on cases using our cutting-edge facilities. The new laptops I bought for them before the lockdown really helped. They help us use video conferencing, phones, chats, emails etc. to keep in touch and collaborate on work. (A quick shout out to our IT and phone people. Their work has been crucial in making remote-working happen. Thank you to them all.)

Remote working has been so successful that we will continue with it in some capacity in future. There are clear benefits in terms of the impact on staff, the environment, and other factors.

Benefits of Office Working

But, despite the success of remote working, we are all itching to come back to work. Video calls are great, but there is no substitute for being together to brainstorm an issue on a client’s case, or just pop into each other’s rooms for a catch up. We all get on and miss seeing each other face-to-face. The social aspect of being at work is important and cannot be ignored.

Conducting a Coronavirus Risk Assessment

Recently the government lifted the work from home restrictions, subject to non-essential businesses following official guidance. I have reviewed the recommendations, conducted a thorough coronavirus risk assessment, and implemented a COVID-19 Return to Work Policy in consultation with my staff.

This was a detailed project. I had to consider all aspects of work, our office layout, and the needs of my team. Following the risk assessment, I determined that we could return to work in the office, subject to restrictions.

Changes to How We Work

We re-open the office from Tuesday 23 June 2020. But it won’t be business as usual:

  • Continuing our lockdown period policy, we will not have face-to-face meetings with anyone, in the office or elsewhere. This includes clients, barristers, suppliers, and others. The risk of infection was, and remains, too high.
  • We will work flexibly in the office. We will stagger start and end times and avoid peak public transport times. This might result in staff not being available at times but it’s safer for them.
  • Everyone in the office will get, and must use, face masks, hand sanitiser, and gloves. I have installed hand sanitiser units throughout and encouraged regular use. Social distancing measures and markings have been put in place.
  • I hope to further reduce the risk of external infection by getting the office deep-cleaned regularly and using a quarantine room for post and deliveries.
  • Lastly, no staff members can come to the office if they, or members of their household, have any coronavirus symptoms. This is not a time to be that person who thinks they must come in even if they, or someone in their home, feels ill.

Despite these steps, no one can guarantee protection from coronavirus. I hope that, with these measures and the support of my fantastic team, we can mitigate the risk as far as possible.

Final Thoughts

We are lucky that none of us at Donoghue Solicitors has been directly affected by covid-19, but some of our friends and relatives have. We have seen the devastating effects of the illness first-hand. Our sympathies are with all those who have been affected by this terrible disease.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Defund the Police: Do This Instead

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discusses alternatives to calls to defund the police

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue discusses calls to defund the police and suggests an alternative approach.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

The world has woken up to systemic police abuse with George Floyd’s death.

As I’m sure you know, Mr Floyd, who lived in Minneapolis, USA, was killed by a police officer and helped by his colleagues. The video of his death quickly went viral and spurred a movement based around a controversial idea: defund the police.

Some right-wing commentators are using these calls to suggest that those who demand defunding simply want to:

  1. take money away from policing, and
  2. that they are “soft on crime”.

This false narrative misses the point, and won’t wash in the UK. Here we have our own issues with how the police are currently funded and operate. Many of these factors are caused by years of Conservative government neglect. In effect, we have already defunded the police. So now what do we do?

How the Conservatives Defunded the Police

The Conservative Party likes to call itself “the party of law and order”. But is it? Consider these two contradictions:

  1. On the one hand, since the Tories took charge of government in 2010, they have added numerous criminal laws every year. These varied in purpose from the 2010 Bribery Act to 2019’s Offensive Weapons Act.
  2. But on the other, they have simultaneously de-funded police and enforcement of the law, including legislation the Conservative government itself introduced.

Between 2010-2018 the Tories cut police budgets as part of the austerity measures. Between 2010-2015 alone overall police budgets, excluding counter-terrorism grants, fell by 20%.

These swingeing cuts resulted in 21,732 fewer rank-and-file police officers, or 15% of the total across 43 territorial forces. The “party of law and order” left the country with its lowest number of police officers since 1981.

This dramatic reduction coincided with other things which undermined the police’s role and capacity to fight crime. They included:

  • the increased use of non-qualified police staff at police stations
  • less funding for community-based outreach projects, which act as a link between the police and public and provide vital intelligence on criminal activity
  • increased militarisation and spending on weapons such as Tasers. The firearms, while described by the police as “non-lethal” often result in deaths, causing justifiable outrage and scepticism about the doctrine of policing by consent.

Consequences of Police Defunding

As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police, I believe that defunding the police (together with other factors) has led to misconduct and avoidable errors, causing innocent people to suffer. For example, the police’s unjustified actions have resulted in:

My firm’s clients in the cases described above are all victims of improper police misconduct. They are not just statistics or political footballs: they are innocent members of the public who have been wronged by those tasked to protect them.

Planned Police Budget Increase

In 2019 Boris Johnson became Prime Minister on various pledges, including his own “law and order” campaign. In a move which could define the word “chutzpah” he promised to put 20,000 officers back on the streets, effectively reversing the policies of his own party which, by that point, had governed for nine years. The budget for this is around £500 million in the first year alone.

There is a better way to use that money: spend it on the things we really need.

The other side of the Tory austerity cuts was a de-funding of social care programs. Homelessness, mental health, drugs and alcohol support etc. all suffered as a result. Foodbanks like those in the Trussel Trust Network, were rare 10 years ago. They are now commonplace. Charities like Brunswick Youth and Community Centre have tried to plug community outreach gaps. Sadly, the work of these and other organisations isn’t enough.

And the strain on the police has grown as a result. The police help in times of mental health crises, domestic and social disputes, and countless other areas of public interaction. But police officers are not social workers. Few have qualified experience in managing these often-stressful situations. Inevitably, things go wrong.

Alternative to Police Involvement

The country would be better served if, instead of spending half a billion pounds to recruit 20,000 more police officers, we did the following:

  1. Hire (and train) the same number of social program workers. They could work in existing set ups within local authorities and other organisations. This would be quicker and cheaper than starting from scratch with a new agency.
  2. Get these social program workers to operate as a fully-fledged point of contact for emergency services (999) call operators. Effectively, they would become the fifth emergency service (along with police, ambulance, fire, and coastguard). The simple test would be: does this situation require an armed response? (“Armed” includes Tasers, PAVA/ CS gas, spit hoods, batons etc. and applies to situations where the use of force might be needed.) If it is not immediate obvious to the call operator (e.g. terrorism, armed suspect, immediate threat or use of violence etc.), then they should not send the police and get a social program worker to attend instead. That person can use their discretion to call the police later, but only after they have made a formal determination “on the ground”. This prevents the risk of police involvement without an expert assessment and reduces the chances of things getting out of hand.
  3. Incentivise people to see this kind of work as a valued career. Give them the same good pay and benefits as the police. Recognise and respect their role. Give them every resource to succeed.

Police Role Change

As for the police, they would be freed up from dealing with much of their existing work. They could use their considerable current funding to fight crime instead. I am sure officers would rather do that. It’s what they signed up for, after all.

And if they must become involved in social issues, it is important that the police are fully trained and briefed. When I spoke at a Police Federation conference, I made the point that too many police service calls are treated as criminal justice matters rather than social/ medical/ mental health issues. Officers in the room agreed with me. Redressing this balance with training, understanding, and skill is crucial to the success of policing and its role in society.

Wider Police and Societal Issues

This is only one aspect of a bigger picture:

  • institutional racism in the police
  • inequality
  • punitive government social policies
  • the coronavirus and associated recession
  • many other factors

all play a part.

But it’s a start. It would send a strong message to those seeking real change that the government is listening. After years of neglect, it’s the least it can do.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.

 

 

 

How Insurers Use “Fundamental Dishonesty” Allegations to Undermine Accident Claims

Photo of Jack Hudson, a Chartered Legal Executive who explains the law around fundamental dishonesty allegations.

Jack Hudson, Chartered Legal Executive, reviews the law around fundamental dishonesty allegations here.

By Jack Hudson, Chartered Legal Executive

Owen Deary is angry.

Insurers recently settled his personal injury accident claim days before trial. And while Owen is happy that he did not have to go to court, the insurer’s tactics in alleging “fundamental dishonesty” left a sour taste in his mouth.

This is why.

Road Traffic Accident

On 1 July 2015 Owen Deary (details used with his kind permission) was a passenger in his friend’s car when it was involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle.

A friend of Owen’s nephew drove the other car, a Land Rover. Owen and his nephew had fallen out. The nephew urged his friend to ram the car Mr Deary was travelling in. It did. Three times.

Owen suffered physical and psychological injuries in the ordeal. He saw his doctor, who prescribed medication and rest for “whiplash” and associated injuries.

Personal Injury Compensation Claim

Mr Deary was understandably upset about the incident. He approached my law firm for advice. In theory, Owen’s claim should have been straightforward. He was a passenger in a car and had done nothing wrong, despite the unusual circumstances. We agreed to represent Owen in his personal injury compensation claim and funded it using a no win no fee agreement.

We investigated and submitted full details of Owen’s claim to the Land Rover driver’s insurers. The insurers held off from admitting liability and indemnity claiming that there were issues with the other driver.

This is not unusual, but it was the first clue that Owen’s personal injury case might not go as smoothly as it first appeared.

County Court Proceedings for Compensation

We pressed on despite the insurer’s delays. A specialist doctor medically examined Mr Deary and produced a medical report. We sent it to the insurers with full details of Owen’s claim for “general and special damages”. When the insurers failed to settle the claim, my firm issued formal county court proceedings and sought compensation for Owen’s losses.

The insurers then filed a formal defence saying that they were going to fight the claim. The defence said:

Depending on any judiciary findings, the defendant reserves the right to allege at trial that the claimant has been fundamentally dishonest in respect of this claim and the claimant should be deprived of QOCS protection under CPR 44.16 so as to allow any adverse order for costs to be enforced against the claimant and/or that the claim should be dismissed under s.57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

The suggestion that he was “fundamentally dishonest” was a huge shock to Owen. The other driver’s insurers appeared to be using a little-known section of the Civil Procedure Rules to challenge his credibility. And it had serious implications for his supposedly straightforward claim.

Civil Procedure Rules

The Civil Procedure Rules set out how civil compensation claims are handled in England and Wales. Where appropriate, they incorporate and/or add to Parliament-made law (statute). One example is rules introduced under The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which came in to force in April 2013. My colleague Kevin Donoghue has previously criticised the Act, which has had far-reaching and negative consequences for innocent accident victims. (This Act was later supplemented with associated rules under s.57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.)

In personal injury law claims like Owen’s, parts of the Civil Procedure Rules are designed to protect genuine claimants from paying the defendant’s costs in the unlikely event they lose their claims. But this protection, known as Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting (QOCS), disappears if the claimant is found to be “fundamentally dishonest”. The relevant section is r. 44.16 of the CPR, which says:

(1) Orders for costs made against the claimant may be enforced to the full extent of such orders with the permission of the court where the claim is found on the balance of probabilities to be fundamentally dishonest.

And in the supporting Practice Direction it says:

SECTION II – QUALIFIED ONE-WAY COSTS SHIFTING

Qualified one-way costs shifting

12.4

In a case to which rule 44.16(1) applies (fundamentally dishonest claims) –

(a) the court will normally direct that issues arising out of an allegation that the claim is fundamentally dishonest be determined at the trial;

(b) where the proceedings have been settled, the court will not, save in exceptional circumstances, order that issues arising out of an allegation that the claim was fundamentally dishonest be determined in those proceedings;

(c) where the claimant has served a notice of discontinuance, the court may direct that issues arising out of an allegation that the claim was fundamentally dishonest be determined notwithstanding that the notice has not been set aside pursuant to rule 38.4;

(d) the court may, as it thinks fair and just, determine the costs attributable to the claim having been found to be fundamentally dishonest.

These rules mean that if the claimant loses and is judged to be “fundamentally dishonest” the court can order that he or she pay the defendant’s costs on the indemnity basis. (This punishment gives the benefit of the doubt to the defendant on any costs claimed and can increase the amount the claimant has to pay considerably.)

And because of section 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, if the Claimant wins but the judge makes a finding of fundamental dishonesty, the court must order that the claimant pay the Defendant’s costs up to the full amount of the genuine part of the claim.

There can also be criminal proceedings if fundamental dishonesty is proven.

Fundamental Dishonesty Definition

Despite these serious consequences, the Civil Procedure Rules do not define “fundamental dishonesty” (perhaps deliberately). This means that the courts have had to step in with judge-made case law. Since 2013 there have been many cases about fundamental dishonesty. These are fact-based so don’t really help with a clear definition. Effectively, courts view fundamental dishonesty the same way as fraud, defined in the Cambridge dictionary as:

“the crime of obtaining money or property by deceiving people”.

Standard of Proof in Civil Cases

But it is worth noting that the standard of proof of fundamental dishonesty is the lower civil standard. (The court asks: is it more probable than not that the claimant is fundamentally dishonest?). Contrast this to the criminal standard (proof beyond reasonable doubt) which normally applies to fraud offences. This means that fundamental dishonesty is easier to prove, despite the serious consequences of such a finding.

Looking at Owen Deary’s case, there are three possible reasons why the insurers were tempted to accuse him of fundamental dishonesty:

  1. the threat alone might put him off carrying on with his claim
  2. if they could prove that Owen was fundamentally dishonest, he would lose QOCS protection. Then the insurers could claim some, or all, of their legal costs from him personally. (The no win no fee agreement he had with my firm would only cover Owen in respect of his own legal costs. It would not apply to the insurer’s costs, or his own expenses like the cost of getting medical records, court fees etc.)
  3. the insurers would get a valuable PR victory which they could use to frighten off other claimants.

Statement of Truth

Owen was understandably angry and upset about this dark turn of events. He knew that the consequences of fabricating or exaggerating his claim were serious.

But the insurers were effectively accusing him of lying.

Mr Deary had signed the “statement of truth”, a formal declaration he made when he issued court proceedings which says:

“I believe that the facts stated in this Particulars of Claim are true.”

To Owen, that solemn promise to the court should have been enough for the insurers.

By contrast, the insurers did not have to formally plead their allegation of fundamental dishonesty. They could just infer it.

This is because of a key case on how the allegation is raised. In Howlett v Davies and Ageas Insurance Limited (2017) the Court of Appeal said that insurers did not have to plead fundamental dishonesty in formal defences to get the benefit of the QOCS removal provisions in the CPR. In that case the Court said that putting the Claimant on notice of a possible fraud defence was enough, even if the insurer did not specifically say that they were alleging that.

This judgment updated the case of Kearsley v Klarfeld (2005) and meant that insurers could raise fundamental dishonesty arguments but that they were not required to allege fraud in formal defence documents. (Insurance company solicitors and barristers tend to avoid formally pleading fraud because of their professional obligations.)

How We Dealt With the Fundamentally Dishonesty Allegation

With Mr Deary’s agreement we invited the insurers to agree a “Part 36 offer” to settle the claim. This is an offer on terms, including time limits. They should normally be accepted within 21 days to avoid costs consequences later.

But the insurers ignored the offer, so Mr Deary’s court proceedings continued towards trial. We had more work to do. With our help Owen filed a formal witness statement with a further statement of truth. We also had to consider and deal with the defendant insurer’s documents, correspondence, and court filings.

As the trial approached the insurers offered to “drop hands”. This suggestion meant that both parties would walk away. Owen would not receive any compensation or legal costs, and the insurers would not claim any costs against him.

We discussed the offer. Mr Deary rejected it on our advice, even though he knew it was likely that his case was going to trial and he would have to give evidence.

We filed trial bundles, booked and briefed a barrister, and made sure Owen was prepared to give evidence.

Just three days before trial the insurers got in touch. They accepted Owen’s Part 36 offer from six months earlier. This meant that his road accident claim was settled and the court hearing vacated.

We sent Owen his damages and dealt with legal costs. His case is over. But no amount of compensation could make up for the affront Owen felt when the insurers wrongly raised fundamental dishonesty.

Impact of the Civil Liability Act

Insurers play the system to cheat innocent, genuine people out of compensation. It didn’t work in Owen’s case, but he was lucky. He had lawyers willing to stand by him to trial. Next year, when the Civil Liability Act (2018) comes into force, most road traffic accident victims will be expected to bring claims without expert legal help. Will insurers keep using these tactics to put off genuine claimants? Regrettably, I expect so.

Jack Hudson is a Chartered Legal Executive and expert in road traffic accident compensation claims. Contact him here.

 

How a Joint Settlement Meeting Helps Everyone

 

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, a Chartered Legal Executive who encourages participation in joint settlement meeting ADR.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, a Chartered Legal Executive and specialist in civil actions against the police, explains why joint settlement meetings are a good idea for all parties to litigation.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

I recently helped negotiate settlement in a civil action against the police. The case, which you can read about here, was unusual because it was settled during a Joint Settlement Meeting, a key part of alternative dispute resolution used in civil litigation.

This is why:

  • joint settlement meetings are a good idea
  • the police wrongly avoid them, and
  • I encourage the police to embrace ADR and JSMs in particular.

What is a Joint Settlement Meeting?

A Joint Settlement Meeting (JSM for short) is a meeting between the parties to try to settle a compensation claim. JSMs are used in the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) of civil litigation claims to

  • resolve disputes
  • promote amicable settlements
  • reduce legal costs
  • preserve court resources
  • avoid the stress of court trials.

Compensation claims often settle at these meetings because the parties (usually) meet in face-to-face discussions. And, to aid negotiations, settlement offers can be made on a “without prejudice” (off-the-record) basis.

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

The Civil Procedure Rules promote ADR because “Litigation should be a last resort”. The Rules state that:

“the parties should consider whether negotiation or some other form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) might enable them to resolve their dispute without commencing proceedings.”

Both sides can seek to settle claims through ADR at any time. ADR includes:

  • mediation
  • negotiations
  • arbitration.

Courts expect the parties to take the obligation to enter into ADR seriously. This is shown by the word “should” in the quote above. If the parties unreasonably refuse this requirement it:

“will be taken into account by the court when deciding who bears the costs of the proceedings.”

What is Special About Joint Settlement Meetings?

Formal joint settlement meetings are part of ADR. But they take place after court proceedings have started. They are usually (but not always) held face-to-face. The parties can also hold virtual Joint Settlement Meetings using video and/or telephone conferencing by agreement. I expect this will happen more given coronavirus (covid-19) concerns.

How Do JSMs Work?

Usually, both claimant and defendant (or an authorised representative) meet at an agreed venue. They set up separate meeting rooms. The lawyers then meet in a “neutral” third room to discuss the case.

They shuttle between this room and their clients/ representatives as negotiations progress.

Both sides are expected to take part in good faith discussions to try to deal with the issues between them. They can put forward settlement offers about liability (responsibility) and quantum (claim value) at any time during Joint Settlement Meetings.

And in my experience as a specialist in civil actions against the police, seeing the whites of your opponents’ eyes can be invaluable in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their case.

Meeting face-to-face also helps because, even if the parties do not settle the claim that day, narrowing the issues can result in settlement later.

Why the Police Avoid ADR and JSMs

It is no wonder that the drafters of the Civil Procedure Rules encourage both sides to use ADR and JSMs. But the police seem reluctant to use them, despite the carrot-and-stick incentives. Why? I can think of three reasons. They:

  1. don’t want to appear “weak” after filing a formal defence denying liability
  2. have (virtually) unlimited resources to fight claims, and want to send a message that every claim will be fought to trial
  3. may find it easier to avoid settlement negotiations, which require senior officers’ approval and police force accountability.

There are more, no doubt.

Why Police Forces Should Embrace Alternative Dispute Resolution

But each one of these excuses to avoid joint settlement meetings and/or ADR can be challenged:

  1. There is no weakness in trying to settle a claim. Litigation is inherently risky. Both sides think they can win and might consider their case “open and shut”. But if a case goes to trial the prospects of success are 50:50, making every trial a calculated gamble. The risks are heightened when you consider things outside the parties’ control, like the whims of judges and juries, and the performance of witnesses. Exploring the possibility of settlement is a good thing. It gives the parties certainty, avoids wasting court and police officer witnesses’ time, and saves the police and their lawyers hassle and expense.
  2. The police are publicly-funded. This arrangement is great gift to their in-house litigation lawyers. Unlike claimant solicitors, salaried police lawyers do not have to justify their fees or take the risk of not being paid under “no win no fee” agreements. Instead, they can rely on taxpayer funding while they delay, deny, deflect, and try to wear out their opponents. With budgets in the millions of pounds, police lawyers are protected from their own inefficiencies and excesses. And yet legally-qualified police lawyers are under a professional duty to act in the best interests of their clients: Chief Constables of the UK’s police forces. These senior officers are expected to justify their outlay on police misconduct compensation claims. With that in mind, police lawyers should help them settle claims using ADR and JSMs where appropriate.
  3. Contrary to some views, seeking settlement in a police compensation claim is often easier than going to trial. Why? Because it forces the parties, including senior police officers, to take a critical look at police misconduct. Senior officers might find this hard to confront when their officers’ and force’s reputations are on the line. Settling claims can also have political consequences. Media scrutiny often follows. And yet, doing the hard work of resolving litigation without a court trial helps how the police are viewed. The public and politicians know that the police do not always get it right. How senior officers handle police misconduct and seek to learn from mistakes is crucial in re-building trust.

Positive JSM Outcome

I should give credit where it is due. As I mentioned earlier, our client’s case was settled because the police sensibly agreed to a joint settlement meeting where we could resolve his claim. This saved a lot of time, money, and stress. But this approach should be the norm, not the exception. ADR and JSMs work for everybody and I encourage the police to use them.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive who specialises in civil actions against the police throughout England and Wales. Contact him here.

Why I am Proud to Employ Chartered Legal Executives

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who employs chartered legal executives

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains his pride at employing chartered legal executives.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Yesterday was a good day.

It was when my colleague Jack Hudson was admitted as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

Because Jack is a practising lawyer he is a “Chartered Legal Executive” and gets to use the letters FCILEx after his name.

This is fantastic news for Jack personally and professionally. It is the result of years of hard work and dedication. It is also important for our clients and their opponents in their civil claims.

Jack Hudson, FCILEx directory listing on the CILEx website.

Jack Hudson’s official CILEx directory listing.

Why Jack’s FCILEx qualification matters

Jack is now part of an exclusive club. He is a fully-qualified lawyer who is authorised and regulated by CILEx. (You can check this by searching for his name here.)

CILEx is one of only three regulatory branches of the legal profession. The other two are the

  1. Law Society, which regulates solicitors like me, and
  2. Bar Council, which regulates barristers.

CILEx regulates 20,000 legal professionals. It:

  • offers an alternative route to legal practice
  • helps people become lawyers without the time and expense of studying at university. Instead, CILEx members combine classroom studies, evening and weekend coursework, and on-the-job training.

Becoming a Chartered Legal Executive is not easy. Jack had to:

  • work for years “on the job” as a Trainee Chartered Legal Executive
  • dedicate long hours of study and show immense personal discipline.
  • take, and pass, many exams
  • prepare a work-based learning portfolio, showing how he put his learning into practice.

The portfolio is a big project. CILEx use it to verify that applicants meet 27 different learning outcomes.

Meeting the 27 criteria is not easy. But Jack works at Donoghue Solicitors, where our lawyers have significant responsibilities and challenging work. Jack only qualified after an assessor approved his portfolio.

All this toil means that Jack has proven his worth to:

  • CILEx
  • our clients
  • their opponents and lawyers.

He deserves the title of “Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives”.

Photo of Jack Hudson, Chartered Legal Executive

Jack Hudson is a Chartered Legal Executive who works at Donoghue Solicitors.

Fellow Chartered Legal Executives

Mr Hudson now joins his colleagues Daniel Fitzsimmons and Kemmi Alfa. (They are also Chartered Legal Executives and Fellows of CILEx.) All three offer expert, fully-qualified legal advice, and a commitment to the highest standards of client care.

This is not “lip service.” They have to swear an oath showing this. It says:

I promise to discharge diligently my duties and responsibilities as a Chartered Legal Executive. I will protect my independence as a lawyer, uphold the Rule of Law, and act at all times with integrity. I will justify the confidence and trust that is placed in me by my clients, the courts, the public and by my profession.

The oath means that when clients instruct Daniel, Kemmi, and Jack they can be confident that they have:

  1. the benefit of a qualified lawyer, who is
  2. acting in their best interests.

Pride

On a personal note, I am immensely proud of Jack, Daniel, and Kemmi. All three qualified as Legal Executives under my supervision. Developing the next generation of lawyers is a big financial and time commitment for me and my firm. But it is a task we undertake willingly. Seeing my colleagues fulfil their ambitions is hugely satisfying. And it means that our clients get representation from best-in-class lawyers. Well done Jack!

Contact Jack Hudson, Chartered Legal Executive, for help with your compensation claim here.

 

 

 

Five Reasons Why the Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group Resignations Matter

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discusses resignations from the Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue considers the impact of resignations from the Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

A number of civil society organisations recently quit the National Police Chiefs Council’s Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group.

The resignations of human rights group Liberty, Inquest (I am a member of both groups), Stopwatch, the Open Society, academic Dr Mike Shiner, and others was partly because their input was being ignored. Dr Shiner, an associate professor at LSE and one of the resigning members said that,

Police representatives have not valued our expertise, treated the issues we have raised with the level of seriousness they warrant, followed through on commitments made to the NTSAG, or constituted the group to engender meaningful consultation. Accordingly, we can no longer continue as members.

And

The NPCC has effectively sidelined the group and is using it for decorative purposes, creating a false impression of consultation and engagement.

Lucy D’Orsi, deputy assistant commissioner, said that the Group “was formed to provide expertise, critical appraisal and advice to police on the use of Taser.” It included representatives from the police, the Independent Office for Police Complaints, and other interested bodies.

What the Taser Advisory Stakeholder Group Resignations Mean for the Public

I am troubled by this development and the reasons behind it. Their resignation affects all of us because:

  1. The police’s use and campaign for more Tasers was already controversial. Human rights advocates firmly believe that Tasers should only be used as a last resort. Better alternatives exist, including de-escalation, or, where that fails, approved physical restraint techniques. The mass resignation exposes the conflict between how the stun-guns are perceived by the police and those who hold them to account.

Tasers are classed as firearms, which is why they were initially issued to trained firearms officers only. They are potentially deadly weapons, as the cases of Dalian Atkinson and 17 others show.

And yet, senior officers describe them as “a low level of force”. (Think about how absurd that comment is for a moment: what firearms do you know of that cause only “low-level force”? I can’t think of any.)

Even when not deadly, Tasers can cause serious injuries. The weapon is designed to incapacitate but causes other known effects, including:

  • puncture wounds and burn injuries caused by the Taser’s metal barbs and electrical discharge
  • cognitive impairment comparable to dementia
  • temporary paralysis. This causes secondary injuries, such as head injuries, from falls. For example, one of my clients sustained a brain injury after being Tasered and falling on to a marble window ledge. We allege unjustified Taser use and his civil action against the police is ongoing.

Nearly a fifth (30,548) of our 156,833 officers are trained to use Tasers now, and that number is set to grow. Police forces like Kent, Northamptonshire, and Durham already have a policy of issuing Taser weapons to any front-line officer who wants one.

And, as I previously noted, more Tasers = more use. Last year their use increased by 39% to over 23,000 incidents. This percentage increase was on top of previous years’ increases and more than double the 2016 total of 11,000 deployments.

But to get a Taser, officers are given just three days’ training with an annual refresher course. Despite this shockingly-brief training, the failure rate is 15-20%. This means that one in five officers fail to show the required skills or judgement to handle a Taser.

I expect that the number of Taser incidents will increase without the check on power provided by the Advisory Group’s resigning parties.

  1. The government, egged on by the police and powerful lobbying organisations including the Police Federation, seems intent on getting more of these weapons into the hands of police officers. It reserved £10 million in September 2019 to arm 10,000 police officers. The home secretary, Priti Patel, announced the cash boost by saying:

“I’ve been completely appalled by the recent spate of serious assaults on police officers, which is why I’m giving chief constables the resources to dramatically increase the number of their officers who carry tasers.”

In March 2020 the Home Office announced another £6.7 million to pay for 8,155 more Tasers. This is on top of the many Taser “stun-guns” currently in service.

Aside from solicitors like me who represent victims of police misconduct, the wider public is right to be concerned about this dangerous use of public funds and the lack of oversight caused by the Taser Group resignations.

  1. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people (BAME) are 7 times more likely to be victims of Tasers than white people. And in 2018, more than half of children Tasered were from BAME groups. These statistics are more alarming when you consider the 39% year-on-year increase. It only adds to grievances with how the police conduct themselves. And it raises concerns that inexperienced officers with itchy trigger fingers will use their Tasers on BAME people. Who will speak up for them now human rights representatives on the Taser Advisory Stakeholder Group have resigned?
  1. Tasers are also disproportionately used against vulnerable people, including those suffering with mental health issues. The police have also Tasered children as young as 11 and pensioners as old as 77. Is this how we want to treat those most in need in our society?
  1. We are in difficult times already because of coronavirus (covid-19). The government passed emergency legislation: The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020. The country is anxious and on lockdown. The potential for abuse of power is great. The police seem to be (wrongly) treating breaches of their new-found powers as public order offences, resulting in wrongfully prosecuted cases, such as this one in Newcastle.

Officers may misunderstand the law and consider their authority tested when someone correctly refuses to comply. They may be more tempted to resort to the use of force (and their shiny new Taser weapons) to effect their wrongful interpretation of the law. People will get hurt, or worse. And, if my clients’ past experience is anything to go by, the police will try to cover up their rush to use force.

The police and public would benefit from legal and moral guidance from the experts in Liberty, Inquest, and the others during this challenging time for our country.

Consequences for the National Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group

Pro-Taser campaigners within the National Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group will no doubt feel emboldened by the recent resignations. And they will be relieved to avoid more uncomfortable questions from Liberty, Inquest, and the others.

But, without guidance from these organisations, as I previously described, the public may feel a legitimate sense that the Taser Stakeholder Advisory Group is a sham, and that the UK is becoming a police state ruled with an iron fist. Without the watchful eye of human rights organisations like Liberty, there is a risk that:

  1. the public will suffer due to increasing Taser misuse, and, as a result,
  2. the police will undermine the fundamental principle of policing by consent. Without this, public order itself is at risk, making the police’s difficult job harder.

By dismissing the concerns of the resigning parties and giving them no alternative but to leave the Group, the National Police Chiefs Council and police representatives have done more harm than good.

Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors. Contact him here.