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.

How Donoghue Solicitors Keep Working Despite the Coronavirus “Stay at Home” Order

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who explains how his firm has adapted to the coronavirus stay at home order.

Kevin Donoghue explains how his firm has adapted to the coronavirus “stay at home” order.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors

In a short period of time, coronavirus (Covid-19) has upended the country, caused devastating losses, and impacted our working lives. The government issued a “stay at home” order on 23 March 2020 to help slow the spread of infection and support the NHS. It has three parts:

  1. Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes
  2. Closing non-essential shops and community spaces
  3. Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public.

The order will be reviewed in three weeks, but it might be extended. I expect it will.

Adapting to the Stay at Home Order

This is how Donoghue Solicitors has adapted and the steps I have taken to look after clients and staff:

  1. Because we specialise in compensation claims, Donoghue Solicitors is not considered an exception to the second point (above). So, our offices are temporarily closed.

But we are still open for business.

All staff are now working remotely, and I have told them not to visit clients. This is in line with government recommendations to limit exposure to the virus.

  1. Donoghue Solicitors has invested heavily in IT and infrastructure to enable remote work. I anticipated a “work from home” order and prepared as follows:
  • I bought staff fast, new, laptops in advance of the lockdown. I got software installed and paid for licences to enable remote working.
  • The new equipment means that my team can connect remotely to our dedicated servers to:
    • work on our clients’ cases, and
    • review enquiries for legal help.
  • We are also using video conferencing and other secure systems to maintain contact and work together.
  1. I have put systems in place to handle new enquiries by phone and website. As before the shutdown, requests for legal help are taken by members of our new enquiries team. Every enquiry we receive gets full consideration by a qualified lawyer and a response. It might take a little longer due to us working remotely, but the process is the same as before the lockdown.
  2. Calls to our offices are diverted to the remote working team. Our lawyers continue to make and receive calls with clients and others. I would ask people to be patient if they do not get straight through and use email or our website contact form where possible. Client emails and website enquiries are getting through to us without difficulty.
  3. I am monitoring website enquiries and social media. I am available if anyone has any problems getting in touch. Feel free to reach out on our twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts.

Why We are Reducing the Risk of Covid-19 Infection

I hope that setting up remote working and taking these steps will reduce the risk of covid-19 coronavirus infection to staff, clients, and other visitors to our offices. It should help lessen the burden on the NHS and other front-line workers. And, by staying at home and practising social distancing, my team will stay healthy and on the job.

All of us hope that these stay at home measures will be temporary, and that we can soon get back to working in the office. Practising law is a team effort, and best done when we’re together. But, in the meantime, the lawyers at Donoghue Solicitors are using technology to adapt to the new and difficult circumstances in which we all find ourselves.

Contact Kevin Donoghue for help with your compensation claim here.

 

 

How we’re dealing with Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Photo of Kevin Donoghue Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors, explains how his firm is dealing with coronavirus.By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, I would like to reassure you that we are closely monitoring the spread of the virus and taking precautionary actions.

We have put measures in place to limit the impact on our clients while reducing the risk of infection and transmission. These include:

  1. not meeting clients face-to-face in the office or at their homes for the foreseeable future. As usual, we are available to meet virtually by Skype, Facetime, and Google hangouts. We will also keep in touch by phone, email, and post. (Any disability requirements can be addressed. Contact us if this temporary restriction impacts you.)
  2. remote access capabilities, alternate work locations for employees if required, and continuity plans for critical operations.
  3. all staff have been advised on prevention measures as recommended by the government. These include sanitising workspaces, following handwashing guidelines, and avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth. They are under strict instructions to stay home if they feel unwell and to contact the NHS for advice.

While it is impossible for anyone to predict the spread of the coronavirus and fully understand its impact, it does not alter our focus on continuing to serve you as well as possible. We have the people, technology, and tools to do just that.

On a personal note, I hope everyone stays safe and well in these unsettling times. My focus is the safety and well-being of our clients, employees and the communities we serve, and my thoughts are with those who have been impacted.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Will an ITV Documentary Help End Sexual Abuse by Police Officers?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who specialises in sexual abuse by police claims.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue previews an ITV documentary about sexual abuse by police officers.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

ITV is showing a documentary at 10:45pm tonight (Tuesday 15 October) about sexual abuse by police officers. I urge you to watch “Exposure: Predator Police Uncovered”.

The documentary will shine a light on the widespread issue of sexual abuse by police officers of female victims of crime. The programme-makers report that:

  1. a police or community support officer is convicted or dismissed for sexual misconduct every five days in England and Wales.
  2. between April- October 2018, police officers were seven times more likely than doctors or teachers to be dismissed for sexual misconduct.

This is despite officers being bound by strict rules about police abuse of position for a sexual purpose, which is defined as:

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public. This includes: committing a sexual act, initiating sexual contact with, or responding to any perceived sexually motivated behaviour from another person; entering into any communication that could be perceived as sexually motivated or lewd; or for any other sexual purpose.”

Vetting Failure Enables Sexual Abuse by Police

The definition above targets police officers and staff members. But they are not the only ones to look at.

Police forces are failing the public at an institutional level. Many do not properly vet police and support staff. This means that sexual predators are recruited and employed by the same institutions tasked with defending the public against these criminals.

Zoe Billingham, of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, explains in the video clip below that

“Vetting is the first line of defence in protecting the public from police predators.”

She described the scale of the problem by saying:

“Too many forces, over half, are not vetting staff as frequently as they ought to.”

This means that

“about 35,000 people who ought to have current and up-to-date vetting, either working in policing or alongside policing, didn’t have that vetting in place.”

Notably, this vetting failure led to Cheshire Police employing (former PC) Ian Naude. He was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl and jailed for 25 years.

Common Themes

I have helped many victims of police abuse of authority for sexual gain in my work. Sadly, there are common themes. Police sexual predators:

  1. choose their victims carefully. Vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic abuse and young people, make for easy targets. The documentary-makers found that about ¾ of victims on their research would be considered vulnerable.
  2. use the considerable resources of their organisations to pursue their victims. This includes access to police national computer databases, use of police vehicles, home visits in uniform etc.
  3. apply grooming techniques, such as manipulation, coercion, threats etc. to persuade victims to agree to sexual contact and/ or cover it up.

The consequences of sexual abuse by police officers are often devastating. As I explained here, victims can suffer long-term psychological damage as a result.

Police Culture

This criminal misconduct is made worse by police officers failing to listen to victims and adopting a siege mentality. Often, they will go to great lengths to avoid seeing what is right in front of their eyes. The police will defend, deny, and deflect rather than deal with a sexual predator in their ranks. In the two years to March 2016 fewer than half of (48%) of all the police abuse of authority for sexual gain cases it identified were reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now Independent Office for Police Conduct) for an independent investigation.

Convictions, publicity, and official reports from HMIC show that police officers at all levels have been aware of the issue of police sexual predators for years. And yet the problem continues. I hope tonight’s documentary will change that and spur action.

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

 

 

 

Why Police Corruption Goes Unpunished

Photo of Solicitor Kevin Donoghue who explains why police corruption goes unpunished.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor and specialist in civil actions against the police, explains why police corruption goes unpunished in this blog post.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Today I had to do something I did not want to do. I told a potential client that I could not help him bring a seemingly good claim on the merits.

This is why.

What Crown Prosecutors Say Happened

In 2008 Richard Diaper was just 17 years old when he was brutally assaulted with a baseball bat at a garage in Tonypandy, Rhondda, South Wales. His attackers repeatedly struck Richard to the head while he was getting cash.

Richard suffered nasty injuries and reported the attack to South Wales Police. Detective Constable Marc Hopkins investigated it. The police arrested five men on suspicion of serious assault. It appeared they mistook Richard for someone else.

Richard gave a statement to the police and co-operated fully. Then he started getting threatening phone calls telling him to withdraw his statement. He told DC Hopkins, but the officer played down the calls, failed to formally record Mr Diaper’s report about them, or follow up by investigating phone records. He also ignored orders to seize the accused mens’ phones and the clothing they used during the assault.

Richard also got a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Manchester drugs underworld offering him £3,000 to drop his statement. He reported this to the police too.

Most unusually, DC Hopkins went to Richard’s home while off-duty. He advised the 17-year-old to take the money and withdraw his statement.

Richard felt intimidated by the senior police officer. Mr Diaper felt like he had no choice and did as he was told. DC Hopkins countersigned a form to end the investigation. The case against the five men collapsed.

Six years later the police contacted Mr Diaper about DC Hopkins’ handling of the investigation. Professional Standards Department investigators said that it was alleged DC Hopkins took a bribe to get Richard to withdraw his statement. Richard was shocked and upset. Richard, his mother, and a friend all co-operated with the investigation and prosecution.

DC Hopkins denied the allegations and the case went to Cardiff Crown Court for a jury trial.

Crown Court Trial

DC Hopkins claimed that the allegations against him were false. He said that his (now ex-) wife, Tina Burton, reported him to the police “out of pure malice” after their marriage ended badly.

Ms Burton gave evidence that the owner of the garage where Richard was assaulted was a friend of DC Phil Simmons, one of DC Hopkins’ colleagues.

She said this officer told DC Hopkins that there would be a substantial amount of money for them if Richard withdrew his statement. Ms Burton reported that DC Hopkins later came home with a “wad of cash”. (The jury was told DC Hopkins was paid £5,000.)

 After a trial the jury found the South Wales Police officer guilty of perverting the court of justice. Recorder Eleri Rees sentenced Hopkins to four years in prison. He said,

“You had an unblemished record as a police officer. And that makes it all the more astonishing you were corrupted in this way. Your actions were cynical and motivated by greed and you have shown little remorse.”

And the Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales Police described DC Hopkins’ conduct as

“an appalling example of police corruption”.

DC Hopkins was dismissed from South Wales Police. Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis found that he had breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour and said

“This matter has undoubtedly brought the police service and specifically South Wales Police into disrepute with our communities.”

Legal Assessment of this Police Corruption Case

I’m not exaggerating when I say that civil actions against the police are among the hardest legal cases to win. The deck is stacked against innocent victims of police corruption. They have to fight an arm of the State, the most well-funded and motivated defendant there is. Cases can take years. There are no guarantees of success.

Despite this, I have a proven record against the police, especially South Wales Police. Richard contacted me because I have nearly two decades’ experience in this niche area of law. He wanted an honest, realistic appraisal of his case.

To the inexperienced, his case appears straightforward. A criminal conviction for perverting the course of justice is compelling evidence of wrongdoing.

Not so fast.

When I looked at Richard’s case I noted the positives, such as the officer’s criminal conviction, but also the negatives.

These included the effects of the limitation period, which prevents claimants from issuing proceedings out-of-time. In Mr Diaper’s case my assessment went like this:

I considered his potential losses and causes of action. It appeared that Richard could sue the Chief Constable of South Wales Police for the acts or omissions of his officer, DC Hopkins. Richard could potentially bring a civil action against the Chief Constable for the tort of misfeasance in public office.

I then moved on to deal with the issue of delay.

The incident giving rise to a potential claim happened in 2008, when Richard was just 17. Because he was not yet an adult at that time, the courts would allow six years from Mr Diaper’s 18th birthday for the limitation “clock” to expire.

So it appeared Mr Diaper, who turned 24 in 2015, contacted me four years too late. But some civil claims against the police benefit from time-limit flexibility under the Limitation Acts. Could Richard use them to apply for relief?

Sadly, in my opinion, no. Unlike say, the three-year personal injury time limit, the six-year time limit which applies to misfeasance in public office claims cannot be extended.

So a claim against South Wales Police was bound to fail due to the delay.

But what about compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority?

Richard would not succeed there either, even though he was seriously injured. This is because

1. he failed to support the prosecution, and

2. is considerably out of time. (There is a two-year time limit on CICA claims.)

Lesson

Richard kindly agreed to me bringing attention to his situation in the hope that it will help others.

He is understandably disappointed. I am too. I work hard to help victims of police corruption get the justice they deserve. The delay means that a South Wales Police officer’s misconduct will go unpunished.

Don’t delay if you want to bring a civil action against the police. Contact me on 08000 124 246 or complete the short online form here.