Metropolitan Police Joke Is On You

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Director of Donoghue Solicitors in Liverpool.
Kevin Donoghue, Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Q: How many Metropolitan Police officers does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: None. They pay someone else to do it at £100 a time.

Sadly, this is not a joke.

According to this report in The Telegraph,  the Metropolitan Police (‘the Met’) has agreed to pay Interserve PLC, a maintenance firm which describes itself as ‘one of the world’s foremost support services and construction companies’ up to  £100 every time a lightbulb needs replacing ‘urgently’.

Lightbulbs cost anywhere from £1.98 upwards according to the B&Q website, although it is likely that a large company like Interserve gets them far cheaper.

Their contract with the Met has been in place since 1999. They recently extended the contract for the southern half of the Metropolitan Police’s estate for another 7 years. The total cost of the contract is £300 million. For that, the Police Force gets various services as shown on the Interserve website, including building facilities management.

 

Photo of a broken lightbulb. The Metropolitan Police pay up to £100 a time to replace broken lightbulbs.
Would you pay £100 to replace this?

Metropolitan Police austerity?

The entire cost of the contract is met by the taxpayer.

This comes at a time of ‘austerity’ when the coalition government has cut police funding. As a result, in London alone up to 65 police stations are to be closed, and there has been a reduction in the total number of police officers by 16,000, meaning that there are now fewer police than at any time since September 2002.

With this in mind, it is astounding to me that senior management at the Metropolitan Police approved a deal which pays a company £100 to change a lightbulb. Whose bright idea was that?

As the Solicitor Director of a law firm, one of my many responsibilities is keeping a close eye on finances. I have obligations to our ‘stakeholders’ (clients, staff, bank, suppliers, and regulator) to ensure that we remain solvent and well-managed. I can only imagine what would happen if, like the Metropolitan Police’s management, I agreed a 7 year contract to pay an outside company £100 each time we needed to change a lightbulb.

I suspect our many stakeholders would think I was joking. But for taxpayers and those who have lost their jobs in the Metropolitan Police during the austerity cuts, contracts like this are no laughing matter.

Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors, a law firm which specialises in accident claims and actions against the police. Contact him for expert legal advice on 0151 933 1474 or via his firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.

Photo by Kevin Galens.

Do the Police Know the Law in Breach of the Peace UK Cases?

Picture of Kevin Donoghue Solicitor who takes breach of the peace UK claims
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

As a solicitor who deals with breach of the peace (UK) claims, I am worried by the police’s apparent lack of knowledge of the law.

Despite the law in UK breach of the peace cases being straightforward and well-established, it is often abused or misinterpreted by the arresting police officers.

This results in innocent people suffering unnecessarily.

So, I am using this blog post to help the police, and their trainers, understand the law.

Breach of the Peace UK Definition

The law in breach of the peace UK cases is well established, and should be known by all ‘bobbies on the beat’.

The leading authority is the Court of Appeal case of R v Howell (1982), which you can read by clicking on the link.

Howell shows the legal elements of this ‘common law’ offence.

Unlike ‘statutory offences’ which are passed in Parliament, breach of the peace law has developed over years of cases passing through the courts.

Howell brought the legal authorities together.

The definition of breach of the peace used in that UK case is that the behaviour of the person involved caused the police officer (or private citizen) to believe that:

  1. a breach of the peace had or would occur; and that
  2. it related to harm which was actually done or likely to be done to a person or, in his/ her presence, their property.

The R v Howell case also confirmed that the police (or a private citizen) have the power to arrest without a warrant where:

  • a breach of the peace was committed in the presence of the person making the arrest;
  • there was a threat of a breach of the peace being renewed; and
  • although no breach had been committed, the person making the arrest reasonably and honestly believed that such a breach would be committed in the immediate future.

So, provided the police follow the straightforward guidance in Howell, they ought to be able to justify arrests for breach of the peace.

But, as the examples below prove, when the arresting officers don’t follow the law about breach of the peace in the UK they leave themselves open to compensation claims for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, and assault, among other things.

(I am a practising solicitor in England & Wales so my breach of the peace cases and the laws I refer to relate to those geographical areas in the UK only.)

Miss B’s Breach of the Peace UK Claim

Miss B received substantial compensation and full legal costs after an unlawful arrest and detention for breach of the peace.

You can read the full case report of her breach of the peace UK claim by clicking on the link.

Miss B is a ‘night owl’. After a neighbour called the police in the early hours of the morning complaining of a disturbance, they went into her home and arrested her for a breach of the peace.

She was taken to a local police station, booked in, given a ‘safety gown’, and kept for 10 hours before being taken to the Magistrates Court.

At court she denied a breach of the peace. Later, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case.

She was referred to Donoghue Solicitors by her criminal solicitors as we specialise in actions against the police.

Applying the law in Howell, it was obvious to me that Miss B was innocent of the criminal charge of breach of the peace. The elements of the offence, which I outline above, did not exist.

So, I agreed to represent Miss B in her claim against the police on a ‘no win no fee’ basis and submitted a claim for false imprisonment, trespass, and police assault.

As well as basic damages, I claimed aggravated and exemplary damages to punish the police for their arbitrary and unconstitutional behaviour.

The police fought the claim so I had to issue court proceedings and prepare for trial.

But after discussions with their solicitors in which I pointed out the lack of legal authority for the arrest, I persuaded the police’s solicitors that the arresting officers had failed to apply the law and settled Miss B’s claim out of court.

Gary Wilson’s Compensation Claim for Breach of the Peace in the UK

I have just settled Mr Wilson’s claim. (He has agreed to me providing his full name and details.)

Mr Wilson was arrested for a breach of the peace by a Police Sergeant and held by the police for two days before being released without charge.

You can read his breach of the peace compensation claim case report by clicking on the link.

Gary was called by his brother to go to a nearby block of flats, where their cousin was sitting on the roof. When he arrived, the fire service had cordoned off the area with red and white tape. Mr Wilson stayed behind the tape and offered to help.

The police were also there. A Police Sergeant told Gary to leave, saying he was in breach of the peace. He refused, telling her that he was not in breach of the peace, and that he had not done anything wrong.

She walked away, and later returned, telling him again to leave or ‘be locked up’.

Gary stepped back further from the cordon to call his family to get help for his cousin.

The Police Sergeant and another officer then arrested him, forcing him to the ground with a ‘leg sweep’, before taking him into a police van.

While waiting, his cousin came down from the roof.

Rather than releasing Mr Wilson, the police officers took him to a local police station, where he was booked in for a breach of the peace.

And, rather than release him after being charged, he was kept over the weekend until he could be taken to the Magistrates Court. The prosecution offered no evidence and he was released without charge.

Mr Wilson contacted me following an internet search.

Like in Miss B’s case above, I applied the Howell definition of breach of the peace UK law and, on Gary’s version of events, considered that the grounds for arrest did not exist.

As a result, I submitted a claim for false arrest, police assault, and aggravated and exemplary damages.

The police made a low offer, which we rejected, then denied liability.

So, again acting as a ‘no win no fee’ police claims solicitor, I issued full court proceedings and prepared Gary for his day in Court.

After receiving a formal defence from the police, they entered into meaningful negotiations. Gary’s breach of the peace UK claim settled for three times the original offer, plus full legal costs.

Why I am Helping the Police Avoid Breach of the Peace UK Claims

This blog post has taken me some time to write.

I appreciate the irony in a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police giving the police information which they can use to learn from the errors of their colleagues. This may result in less breach of the peace claims being made in the UK.

If so, that is fine by me.

I would rather have no clients bringing breach of the peace claims than see innocent people locked up.

I urge the police to read this post carefully, learn the law they are supposed to uphold, and avoid their colleagues’ mistakes. If they don’t, they should know that I will continue to bring breach of the peace claims against them.

 

Please note that although every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the information in this blog should not be considered legal advice. Contact me direct for that by completing the form on the www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk website or by calling 0151 933 1474.

 

How Police Misconduct Investigations Weaken Public Trust

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Police Misconduct Claims Solicitor
Kevin Donoghue, Police Misconduct Claims Solicitor and Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

A report in the Sheffield Telegraph  got me thinking about police misconduct in road traffic accidents involving the police.

It said that in the three years to March 2011, South Yorkshire Police cars were involved in more than 1,152 road traffic accidents. These road accidents injured 214 people, who received almost £750,000 compensation from the Force. South Yorkshire Police used 750 vehicles at that time, which also had to be repaired or replaced at public expense following road traffic accidents, making the true cost to the taxpayer far higher.

Remarkably, despite the high number of car crashes, only four police officers were disciplined for police misconduct for motoring offences in the accidents, with two more investigations under way.

So, according to South Yorkshire Police, only 0.3% of all the reported road traffic accidents involving their officers resulted in disciplinary action.

‘So what?’ you may ask.

The answer:  the effect on public trust in dealing with police misconduct.

Police Misconduct in Complaints Proceedings

Last year I blogged about South Yorkshire Police and wondered at the time if their claims that they have changed since Hillsborough were true.

(You can read my blog post here.)

In that piece I reported on the lengths South Yorkshire Police allegedly went to to cover up wrongdoing in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster.  According the Hillsborough Investigation Panel, the Force:

  • changed 164 junior police officers’ statements;
  • deliberately misinforming the media; and
  • fabricated a defence.

This was police misconduct on a massive, institutional scale.

In my blog post I explained that fabricating evidence is still an issue within the police and referred to one of my clients, Mr. D, who had been assaulted with CS gas by a Special Constable with another police force. The Special Constable gave a statement saying that my client head butted him to justify the use of this (potentially deadly) force.

The officer made his statement just half an hour after the alleged assault when events would have been fresh in his mind.

Mr. D was arrested on the basis of the Special Constable’s word alone, and was to be prosecuted for the serious crime of assaulting a police officer.

Thankfully, the Special Constable’s story unravelled when CCTV footage was found which showed that my client did not assault him. As a result, the prosecution against Mr. D did not go ahead and he instructed me to make a compensation claim against the police.

He made a formal complaint against the police which was conducted internally and supervised by a senior officer.

Rather than apologise and admit the police misconduct in providing a misleading statement, the Special Constable changed his story to say that the assault occurred off-camera.

This was also untrue but my client’s police complaint was still rejected.

So far as I am aware, no further action was taken against the Special Constable despite giving false statements which amounted to police misconduct. Instead, he was given ‘management advice’ about writing statements in future.

Police Misconduct covered up

I often represent clients with similar stories in their claims against the police.

Innocent people are prosecuted because of false or misleading testimony from police officers who are held in a position of public trust. All too often the police’s version of events is accepted without question.

This can lead to serious miscarriages of justice where innocent people are wrongly convicted.

But if my clients are lucky enough to avoid criminal convictions and then make complaints against the police about police misconduct, the police complaints procedure kicks in.

In recent years the procedure has changed so that, in all but the most serious of cases, police complaints are dealt with internally.

This means that an investigation into police misconduct by a potentially rogue officer is supervised by a senior police officer within the same police force.

In theory the senior police officer is impartial but the person making the complaint cannot be sure. Even if the senior officer is independent, what assurance can he or she give that they are not biased towards their own colleague?

Also, the evidence of the officer under investigation is taken into account, even if, like in my client’s case above, it can be shown to be inaccurate.

All this means that, in my experience, police complaints are only upheld in the most clear cut cases of police misconduct.

Photo of a police car road accident which may have led to a police misconduct investigation.
Did a police misconduct investigation take place after this road accident?

Police Misconduct in Road Traffic Accidents

Where police misconduct is shown, disciplinary proceedings against the officer(s) involved can result in various penalties, ranging from training or ‘management advice’ to dismissal from the force.

In road traffic accidents, the procedure is similar, but it involves an even closer personal connection with the police officers involved.

Here the system means that the police do not need to pretend that the investigating senior officer is impartial.

As Police Federation chairman Neil Bowles explained to The Telegraph: “All police road traffic collisions are treated very seriously, let alone if some cause casualties, and all are investigated by a supervisory officer.’ (my emphasis)

So, when investigations into police misconduct in road accidents are conducted by close colleagues, and the bar is set so high for police complaints and disciplinary proceedings, is it any wonder that less than half a percent of all the road traffic accidents reported by South Yorkshire Police resulted in disciplinary action against the police officers involved?

David Crompton, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, insisted in this BBC interview that his Force ‘was a very different place in 2012’ from the Hillsborough-era.

Can we really believe him?

Does he think that the present system of investigating police misconduct in road traffic accidents maintains public confidence in the police?

Until a more transparent way of investigating police misconduct is introduced, I don’t.

 

Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, a niche law firm representing clients in their civil actions against the police and personal injury accident claims. Contact him for help with your police misconduct claim on 0151 933 1474 or go to the website: www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.

 

Image (cropped to fit): cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by infliv: http://flickr.com/photos/26616529@N03/3871157689/

 

Are Breach of Peace Compensation Claims Worthwhile?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors, experts in police harassment compensation claims.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors

I have just settled Miss B’s compensation claim for unlawful arrest due to an alleged breach of peace. This is the fourth such claim she has pursued against the police.

It is interesting because unlawful arrest breach of peace cases are quite unusual and, as Miss B’s case shows, claiming for breach of the peace is worthwhile financially and personally.

Breach of Peace Claims

The police arrested Miss B on six occasions between August 2010 and March 2011.

(You can read a case report about her first arrest here.)

So far, I have recovered over £14,000 in compensation for her for:

after the police arrested her for alleged breaches of the peace relating to four of the arrests (she is not claiming for the other two). Details of these four arrests are provided below.

Breach of Peace Arrest

The right to make a compensation claim began in August 2010 when a neighbour called the police in the early hours of the morning complaining of an alleged disturbance at Miss B’s home. When they got to the house the police found no evidence of a disturbance.

Despite this, the police went into Miss B’s home (which she shares with her mother), arrested her, and took her to a local police station where she was charged with a breach of the peace.

Miss B was injured in the arrest by the police’s handcuffs. At the station the police took her fingerprints and DNA. She was humiliated by having her clothing removed and given a ‘safety gown’.

The police kept Miss B in a cell overnight. After 10 hours she was taken before the Magistrates to face a charge of breach of peace. She denied it and promised to fight the case.

Later, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges.

The next time Miss B was arrested, in November 2010, her mother needed urgent medical attention at home. Miss B called an ambulance. The ambulance staff contacted the police.

Miss B, wary of how the police treated her in August, refused entry to the police but invited the ambulance staff in. The police ignored Miss B’s clear instruction not to go into her home, and again went inside and arrested her for a breach of peace.

This time she was arrested and detained for about 30 hours.

In mid-December 2010 Miss B was called upon by the police to investigate an alleged disturbance. Yet again she was arrested for a breach of peace. This time she was detained for 27 hours.

Two days later she was arrested and detained for another alleged breach of the peace. This time the police forced entry into her home by using a battering ram.

Miss B was taken to the same police station and Magistrates’ Court as before, but sensibly the proceedings were discontinued there and then.

Compensation Claim for Breach of Peace Arrest

Parry Welch Lacy, Miss B’s criminal solicitors who represented her professionally throughout, referred her to my firm, Donoghue Solicitors, after the last arrest.

(We often receive referrals from other solicitors because we specialise in compensation claims against the police and are experts in dealing with police compensation claims.)

I reviewed all of Miss B’s arrests with her. It was not difficult to conclude that she was eligible to claim unlawful arrest breach of peace compensation.

Each time she was arrested for an alleged breach of the peace her version of events was never accepted. The police simply came into her home, despite clearly being told not to, and arrested her.

Miss B is a ‘night owl’ who became known to the police. It seemed that, once the circumstances of her first arrest were made out, the police simply repeated the pattern.

Picture of 'Justice' at the Old Bailey. Donoghue Solicitors helped a client get justice for her breach of peace compensation claim.

The Law in this Breach of Peace Claim

Unfortunately for the police, the law was not on their side.

To justify the arrests for a breach of the peace the police had to satisfy the test described by Lord Justice Watkins in the 1982 case of R v Howell:

‘We are emboldened to say that there is a breach of the peace whenever harm is actually done or is likely to be done to a person or in his presence to his property or a person is in fear of being so harmed through an assault, an affray, a riot, unlawful assembly or other disturbance. It is for this breach of the peace when done in his presence or the reasonable apprehension of it taking place that a constable, or anyone else, may arrest an offender without warrant.’ (My emphasis)

There is no evidence that harm was being done, or likely to be done, on any of the occasions described above.

So the police did not satisfy this test each and every time they arrested Miss B for the alleged breach of the peace.

The case of Liversidge v Anderson (1942) made it clear that every arrest by the police is unlawful unless they can justify it. This puts the burden of proof on the arresting officer.

I took the view that because the police could not satisfy the Howell test Miss B had good claims for false imprisonment.

Once false imprisonment is established it follows that the police assault (using handcuffs and taking DNA), detention, trespass, and prosecutions were also not justified.

I also argued for aggravated and exemplary damages given the police’s conduct when time and again they ignored established law.

These damages are meant to compensate the victim of police misconduct for injury to feelings and to punish the police for their arbitrary, oppressive, or unconstitutional behaviour.

I argued that this pattern of arrests over the course of 7 months went beyond reasonable conduct.

(You can read more about the types of damages I claimed on Miss B’s behalf here.)

Reasons for Claiming Compensation for Breach of Peace

Miss B was reluctant to pursue a compensation claim against the police but the police’s conduct gave her no choice.

She instructed Donoghue Solicitors to:

  1. claim compensation from the police, and
  2. to try to stop the pattern of repeated arrests for breach of peace.

So far I have recovered over £14,000 compensation plus full legal costs for Miss B.

She did not have to appear in court to take her civil actions against the police and the police’s conduct seems to have improved after Donoghue Solicitors got involved.

The police officers in her area are no doubt aware that Miss B will fight any future arrest and detention, and that we will aggressively pursue a compensation claim against the police on her behalf.

Because of this, they will think twice before arresting her and hopefully they will have received more training on grounds for arrest, particularly for breach of the peace.

I know that she is happy with the outcome and considers that making a compensation claim against the police was worthwhile.

 

If you want to claim compensation for an unlawful arrest due to an alleged breach of peace, contact Donoghue Solicitors on 0151 933 1474 or fill out the online form on this page.

 

 

Image: cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by John Linwood: http://flickr.com/photos/johnlinwood/352842329/

 

 

 

 

 

Three New Year’s resolutions for a claim against the police

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, specialists in helping people claim against the police.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

As a solicitor who specialises in helping people claim against the police, I spend a lot of my time dealing with the various police forces in England and Wales.

I am sorry to say that I could use some of my time more productively if those same forces and their solicitors behaved differently.

It is common practice for the police and their solicitors to:

  • delay progress on cases;
  • misplace, edit, or redact evidence which may help prove the claim against the police; and
  • fight losing cases or make ‘low-ball’ offers.

All these:

  • cause unnecessary hardship to innocent victims of police misconduct;
  • increase legal costs (which have to be paid by the taxpayer); and
  • only serve to damage the reputation of the police in the eyes of the judge and jury who eventually get to hear the claim against the police.

So, with these things in mind, here are three New Year’s resolutions for the police forces and their solicitors:

1.Think of the police force’s money as your own

I am constantly frustrated by how police forces and their solicitors behave as if money is no object.

In my experience, filing unnecessary applications at court and fighting claims to trial is their preferred approach.

Even in a straightforward claim against the police, the solicitors representing the police forces behave as if they have winnable cases when they know that experienced solicitors like me who deal with no win no fee police claims would not take poor cases.

For example, in the case of Mr. M (read the case report here), the Chief Constable and his solicitors fought this claim against the police until the eve of the trial even though a complaint against the police force had been upheld by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

By doing so, they wasted valuable funds which could have more properly been spent fighting crime.

2. Treat people making a claim against the police as you would want to be treated

I often come across cases of police misconduct which could have been avoided.

Some clients tell me that they are only making a claim against the police because they feel mistreated, and that they would not be suing the police if the police officers had been more civil with them.

Again, referring to Mr. M, he was (unlawfully) arrested and processed at a police station. The police took £325 from his wallet and returned the empty wallet to him when he was released.

He went to the station to demand his money. A police officer threw the money at him over the desk and asked ‘can’t you take a joke?’.

Mr. M was rightly outraged at the police officers’ conduct, complained, claimed against the police, and won compensation.

But the conduct of the officers involved was made worse by the actions of the police force and its solicitors. They denied liability throughout and refused to make any offers to settle his claim, adding to the stress he already felt about the police’s misconduct and having to claim against the police.

Although Mr. M did not have to suffer through a trial, the fact that the police force and its solicitors settled the claim the day before, when no new evidence had been produced, shows that they could have dealt with it earlier and saved him a lot of unnecessary stress.

I wonder how the police force’s solicitors would have felt if they, or one of their families, were treated like this?

3. Respect your opponent in the claim against the police

It is not easy to be a solicitor who specialises in helping people claim against the police. You can only become one after years of training, both at law school and ‘on the job’. It is hard work that has to be a passion. This type of work does not pay as well as others.

There are no ‘fat cats’ here.

Recent Government policy has made it harder for solicitors who help people claim against the police. (I blogged here about last year’s changes to the funding of personal injury claims, which often include police claims.)

So only specialist solicitors who see a good claim against the police at an early stage can continue to practice in this area of law.

As a result, only the best claims against the police are pursued by expert solicitors.

Police forces and their solicitors know this but I still see examples of their poor conduct more worthy of a 17-year-old insurance clerk than an experienced solicitor.

For example, my clients H and A (read the case report here) were assaulted in their home as a result of a botched search warrant raid.

Not unsurprisingly, the police force’s solicitors denied liability, claiming that the officers acted lawfully.

They also claimed that neither client was injured (despite seeing photographs as proof) but made a ‘without prejudice’ offer to settle of £4,000 which was to be shared between H and A.

As an experienced solicitor who helps people claim against the police on a daily basis, I was confident that the offer was insulting to my clients and that they were telling the truth about their injuries.

I obtained medical evidence, issued proceedings, and eventually settled their claims for £18,000, four times more than the original offer to H, and five times more than the original offer to A.

The police also had to pay full legal costs, which were considerably higher as I had no choice but to issue proceedings due to their denial of liability and ridiculous low offer.

The police force involved and their solicitors clearly thought they could get away with this, and they may have succeeded if they were dealing with someone who does not deal with claims against the police every day. Respecting me, their opponent, would have saved the police a lot of money and time.

 New Year’s Resolution for Police Force Solicitors

I urge any police forces and their solicitors who read my blog to make a New Year’s resolution to learn from these examples.

My clients are innocent victims of police misconduct. By the time they come to me for help with their claim against the police they have suffered enough.

Don’t make it worse for them by dragging cases out unnecessarily and making no offers, or insulting ones.

How you would feel if you were the person making the claim against the police?

Wouldn’t you like to restore some goodwill by treating them with respect?

If thinking about the innocent victim doesn’t get you to change, what about the wasted money that could be spent fighting crime?

Whatever the reason, make 2014 the year you change the way you deal with claims against the police.

 

Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, a specialist law firm dedicated to helping innocent people claim against the police.

Contact him on 0151 933 1474 or via his firm’s website https://www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk/actions-against-the-police/.

How criminal solicitors helped future victims of wrongful arrest

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, specialists in helping people claim against the police.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

At a packed Law Society Special General Meeting on Tuesday 17 December, the Law Society leadership lost a vote of no confidence.

For victims of wrongful arrest by the police (also known as ‘false imprisonment’), the vote might turn out to have important consequences.

Criminal solicitor, James Parry of Liverpool firm Parry Welch Lacey led the campaign. He is convinced that the Government’s proposed cuts to criminal legal aid would be devastating for criminal lawyers.

The Government’s plan to cut the legal aid budget would see criminal solicitors’ fees reduced by 17.5%. As many firms already run on shoe-string budgets, the reduction is likely to put a great number of experienced criminal solicitors out of business.

At the meeting in London Mr. Parry said that the Government’s proposals ‘threatened the very existence of the criminal justice system’ and called on the Law Society leadership to take a more aggressive approach in fighting the cuts.

But despite losing the vote of no confidence, the President and CEO of the Law Society have not resigned. Instead, the President, Nick Fluck, insists that they ‘will redouble our efforts, reaffirm our commitment to cuts and continue the fight’.

Wrongful Arrest Representation

So, why does this matter, and how might it affect future victims of wrongful arrest by the police?

Simple: expertise.

Criminal lawyers like James Parry have many years’ experience in their fields. They know the criminal law, and police procedures, inside out. They routinely represent clients at police stations and in courts. They know the good, decent police officers, and those who will try to take advantage.

Importantly, they know when someone has been a victim of wrongful arrest and how to handle that situation in a police station or court. Then the innocent victim has the best chance of success in their compensation claim against the police.

These solicitors also have the right contacts, so they can put the wrongful arrest victim in touch with expert solicitors to represent them in this specialised area of law.

So what happens if solicitors like Mr. Parry and his fellow campaigners against the Law Society leadership are forced out of the profession by Government cuts? Will their replacements be up to the job?

I doubt it.

It does not take a massive leap of imagination to anticipate that without expert representation at the police station some police officers will take advantage.

As a result, wrongful arrest cases will increase, and more innocent people will suffer due to police misconduct.

Criminal Solicitors Role in Wrongful Arrest Cases

So this affects us all.

As the case report of my client Mr. D shows (click on this link to read it), even after his wrongful arrest the police made him wait for a (criminal) Duty Solicitor before releasing vital information which he could use to show that a police arrest warrant had been negligently obtained.

Mr. D waited 13 hours in police custody. How much more would it have been without expert advice from his criminal lawyer?

Similarly, Mr. D’s wrongful arrest claim succeeded because he instructed expert lawyers in my firm, Donoghue Solicitors, to pursue his police warrant claims.

As we are a specialist firm who deal with police misconduct cases we were able to fight and win his claim when others might not.

Access to Justice and Expertise Threatened

Having the necessary expertise is essential when representing people in criminal and civil cases.

By forcing the vote of no confidence this week, Mr. Parry and his colleagues have reminded the Law Society leadership of their duty to fight the Government on the cuts and so keep the profession intact.

By doing so, they have done us all, and especially future victims of wrongful arrest by the police, a great service.

If you are a victim of wrongful arrest by the police and want expert help with a compensation claim, contact Donoghue Solicitors on 08000 124 246 or see our website for more details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Declaration of Human Rights still matters

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Personal Injury Solicitor and Director of Donoghue Solicitors.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors

 

Today, 10th December, 2013, is the 65th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration (read it here) sets out the basic human rights and freedoms to which everyone is entitled, no matter where they live.  You may be familiar with the principles in the Declaration, such as Article 1, which states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

As a solicitor who specialises in suing the police I rely upon the Declaration, and the laws brought in to enforce it, to help my clients claim compensation and hold the police accountable for their actions.

Read on to find out how the Declaration still protects us and helps innocent victims when suing the police after an unlawful police search warrant.

 

The Declaration of Human Rights and European Law

 

Article 12 of the Declaration says:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. 

To give a legal framework to the Declaration, the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) was drafted. It came into effect in 1953 and created the European Court of Human Rights.

All 47 member states, including the UK, are required to follow the ECHR.

The principles in Article 12 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights can be found in Article 8 of the ECHR:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights. Relied upon when suing the police.

The Human Rights Act and Compensation Claims

 

In the UK, the Human Rights Act (1998)(‘HRA’) was passed to:

‘give further effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights’.

It applies to all public bodies (except Parliament in some roles), so includes all police forces.

Article 8 of the ECHR is repeated in Schedule 1 of the HRA.

 

Court Powers When Suing the Police

 

If the police breach a person’s rights under the ECHR and HRA, the Court can:

grant such relief or remedy, or make such order, within its powers as it considers just and appropriate.

This means that people suing the police can claim compensation, which is the usual remedy in cases where there has been a breach of Article 8 ECHR.

 

Suing the Police under the Human Rights Act

 

So, in principle, public bodies in the UK are supposed to respect the right to private and family life and a person’s home under Article 8 of the ECHR and HRA. But what happens when they don’t?

My clients, H and A, asked me to help them with suing the police following a botched police search warrant raid at their home.

H and A are father and son.

H is registered disabled with chronic back pain. His son, A, is a student.

They were the lawful owners of their home, 28 [Blank] Avenue. They were at home in their bedrooms asleep at around 8a.m. when they were woken by the sound of their front door being smashed open. They thought they were being burgled, and only found out minutes later that the police, who were dressed in plain clothes, were performing a raid.

A police officer dragged A out of his bed by his hair, scratched his face, and gave him a black eye. The policeman then pulled A’s pyjama bottoms down, humiliating him, hit him in the ribs, and pushed him by his face against the bedroom wall. A was then taken downstairs where he met his father.

Despite being disabled, H was also assaulted by the police. The policemen pushed him on to the newel posts at the top of the stairs. He then fell to the floor, hit his face, and was dragged downstairs.

Both men were ordered to sit on the couch and, for the first time, the terrified family were told that the people in their home were policemen executing a search warrant.

H and A repeatedly told the police that they must have made a mistake. Eventually, the police checked their warrant and realised that they had gone to the wrong house.

My clients were later advised that the address they meant to go to was 28 [Blank] Close, not [Blank] Avenue.

The police left 45 minutes later promising to send someone to fix the door.

Both H and A needed medical treatment. They also suffered psychological upset.

The European Court of Human Rights. Cases can be decided here when suing the police.
The European Court of Human Rights

 

 Article 8 ECHR compensation claims

 

The men instructed me as I am a solicitor who specialises in suing the police. They wanted:

  • an apology;
  • to claim compensation; and
  • to make the police think twice before repeating their actions at someone else’s house.

I agreed to act as a no win no fee police claims solicitor in their police search warrant claims.

I claimed compensation for H and A relying on a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR, negligence, and trespass. It was obvious to me that, in addition to the negligent mistake and trespass of my clients’ home, there was also a Human Rights issue as the police failed to respect my client’s right to privacy, family life, and home.

The police disagreed, so I issued court proceedings. They later accepted trespass but denied everything else.

Amazingly, even though my clients had been assaulted by police officers, the police force said that there was no evidence of injury, and that the raid only lasted 20 minutes, not 45.

I obtained medical reports to prove the physical and psychological injuries and prepared the case for trial.

I kept the pressure on so that the police realised they must apologise and agree to settle my clients’ claims, or answer for their actions at court.

After negotiations, A received five times more compensation than the police originally offered; H received four times more.

Importantly, they received an apology from the police and both men were satisfied that, even though their Human Rights had been breached in the raid, suing the police gave them a worthwhile remedy and that lessons had been learned.

 

Effect of the Declaration of Human Rights

 

Suing the police can be stressful and difficult, but sometimes it is a necessary step.

By taking proceedings, my clients H and A received justice and also helped the police fulfil their obligations under Article 2 of the Declaration which states:

‘Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…’

The Declaration of Human Rights is as relevant today as it was in the years immediately after World War II. Then, the international community was determined to avoid another devastating global conflict. Now, as H and A’s unfortunate experience shows, the abuse of power by agents of the State is something that must be kept in check.

The Declaration of Human Rights may be of pensionable age, but that’s no reason for it to be retired.

 

If you want help suing the police contact me, Kevin Donoghue, at Donoghue Solicitors, by completing the on-line form on our website or calling 0151 933 1474.

 

Image credits
Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Val Kerry: http://flickr.com/photos/artmakesmesmile/2516476754/

European Court of Human Rights: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Eugene Regis: http://flickr.com/photos/eregis/1435267748/

 

 

 

5 free tools to find out if your personal injury solicitor is an expert

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Personal Injury Solicitor and Director of Donoghue Solicitors.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

How do you know if your personal injury solicitor is really an ‘expert’ in accident claims?

When you first speak to him or her you may only get their name and title.

You might feel awkward about asking them for their professional qualifications, so that without any further information you have no idea if they are truly capable of dealing with your personal injury claim, or if they are specialists in another area of law.

Luckily, the internet has come to the rescue. By using these five free tools you can quickly and easily check your personal injury solicitor’s credentials, and give yourself peace-of-mind. Ready? Here we go.

 

1.                 The Law Society’s ‘find a solicitor’ service

The Law Society, the representative body of solicitors in England and Wales, maintains a register (or ‘roll’) of solicitors through its regulatory arm, the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

To see if your personal injury solicitor is included on the roll, meaning that they are professionally qualified and properly regulated, go to the Find a Solicitor service (click on this link) and enter the solicitor’s last name. If you also have it, enter their first name, firm, and location.

You will be taken to a page where you can find their roll number, admission date, firm details, areas of law they specialise in, and details of any accreditation schemes.

This is a good place to start your research as it confirms basic details of your solicitor, but you will want to find out more.

2.                 The Law Society’s Personal Injury Accreditation Scheme search

 

Once you know that your legal representative is a qualified solicitor, how can you find out if he or she is an expert in personal injury law?

Answer: ask the solicitors’ own representatives, the Law Society.

According to the Law Society’s website, solicitors who have been appointed to the Law Society’s expert Personal Injury Panel:

‘go through rigorous examination and testing to demonstrate that they have a high level of knowledge, skills and experience in dealing with personal injury cases.’

Getting appointed to the Personal Injury Panel is hard. Less than 1,000 of all practising solicitors (over 130,000 in 2013) have been accepted to this expert group, which the Law Society calls a ‘community of excellence’.

To find out if your lawyer is a member of this élite group of personal injury solicitors, try these free tools:

i)             Review your personal injury solicitor’s entry through the ‘find a solicitor’ service (see 1. Above). You’ll find out if they are a member of the Personal Injury panel by checking if ‘Accreditation schemes: Member of the Personal Injury Panel’ is shown. If this is not listed under ‘Areas of law’ your solicitor has probably not been appointed to the Panel. (See below for why you can not be certain.)

ii)            Download the list of members from this page and see if your solicitor is among them. (Warning: this is a long .pdf document which is updated monthly, so if your solicitor has been appointed to the Personal Injury Panel more recently than that they may not show up on this list.).

iii)           go to the Law Society Approved website and type in the postcode of your solicitor’s office. If the firm’s name comes up, you will know that someone there is appointed to the Personal Injury Panel (but it might not necessarily be your solicitor).

3.         The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (‘APIL’) Accreditation Scheme Search

 

In a similar way to the Law Society, the APIL accreditation scheme show details of personal injury solicitors (or other legal professionals) who have been independently assessed by APIL as having sufficient experience, ability, training, and commitment to the rights of accident victims.

APIL is a group of around 4,500 specialist personal injury lawyers who are dedicated to personal injury claims victims.

The APIL accreditation scheme has been in place since 1999. Members must commit to 16 hours of specialist training in personal injury law each year, and their levels of experience are reflected in their status within the organisation. For example, Senior Litigators must have at least five years’ experience, be capable of running cases without supervision, and be prepared to take cases to trial. They can also provide training and supervision to others within their own firm.

You can check if your personal injury solicitor is a member of APIL, and their status, by clicking here and entering their details.

4. The APIL Accredited Practice Search

APIL also have accredited practices.

They are law firms which are assessed and approved by the organisation and have at least one lawyer of ‘Senior Litigator’ status or above.

The firms must:

  • be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority;
  • show a high standard of ‘client care’;
  • be committed to training and development;
  • have low supervision ratios;
  • have a documented quality assurance procedure; and
  • agree to have their performance monitored by APIL to make sure standards are maintained.

You can search APIL’s database of accredited firms here by entering the name of your personal injury solicitor.

If the firm is accredited, a box will appear confirming that it is an ‘Accredited Personal Injury Practice’.

 

5. Online reviews and personal recommendations

The above tools will give you great information about your personal injury solicitor’s qualifications and accreditations. But what are they like to deal with? To find out the answer to that, ask for personal recommendations from friends and family.

If they are not available, reading reviews on sites like www.google.co.uk can help.

The firm’s website, blog, Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn profiles may also help you by giving you details of your personal injury solicitor, their professional accreditations, and any legal articles they have written which demonstrate their knowledge.

Why an expert Personal Injury Solicitor is a good choice

It’s worth taking the time to research your solicitor before instructing him or her. After all, you will be relying on them to look after your accident claim and may be working with them for some time.

Note that these tools may not be accurate or up to date. If in doubt, ask your personal injury solicitor directly. Gaining qualifications and accreditations is hard work, so they will be more than happy to tell you.

I hope that by showing you these free tools you will choose the right personal injury solicitor to look after your accident claim.

 

If you want to speak to an expert solicitor about personal injury claims, contact me, Kevin Donoghue, on 0151 236 1336 or via my firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.

 

Should Serco and G4S continue electronic tagging?

 

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors

I read on the BBC website today that Chris Hyman, the Chief Executive of Serco, has resigned. This follows yesterday’s resignation of G4S’s Chief Executive, Richard Morris.

Both companies provide security and other services, such as electronic tagging, to the UK government. The use of electronic tagging has doubled between 2005-2011. In 2010-11 80,000 people were tagged.

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, reported in July that Serco and G4S had been audited and are being investigated for overcharging.

The audit revealed a ‘significant anomaly in the billing practices’, and that since 2005, Serco and G4S submitted charges to the government for electronic tagging of offenders who were:

  • still in prison,
  • no longer in the UK, or
  • had died.

What is electronic tagging?

Electronic tags are monitoring devices which are usually fitted to a person’s ankle. Their purpose is to give details of the wearer’s location. Under normal circumstances, they cannot be removed by the wearer.

Electronic tagging is used with offenders under:

  • early release from prison,
  • community-based sentences,
  • home detention curfews,
  • restrictions away from specified locations, such as football grounds,
  • house arrest or other control orders, and
  • the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005

For those under curfew, electronic tags work by sending a signal to a transmitter which is fitted in the home of the person being monitored.

The transmitter’s sensitivity is adjusted to limit the reception range to the boundaries of the property so if the tag wearer leaves home during the curfew an ‘unauthorised absence’ report is sent to the monitoring company’s control centre, who then notify the police of the breach of bail conditions.

This usually leads to a warrant for arrest being issued for a further court attendance to review bail conditions.

 

Photo of Jermaine Pennant who used electronic tagging during a football game in 2005.
Jermaine Pennant, a football player who wore an electronic tag.

Electronic Tagging and Wrongful Arrests

Although electronic tagging is a popular, and increasing, form of offender management, their use can result in wrongful arrest claims against the police.

My client Mr. W, a pensioner from South Wales, claimed compensation from Serco after their electronic tagging equipment and administrative failures led to him twice being wrongfully arrested and held by the police.

He was granted bail at Gloucester Crown Court on the basis that he agreed to have an electronic tag monitor fitted. This was to ensure that he did not break a curfew requiring him to be at home in his flat between 9p.m. and 7a.m..

The next day a technician from Serco, the private company who provide the monitoring equipment to the court service, came to Mr. W’s home and fitted the tag.

The day after the electronic tag was fitted, an ‘unauthorised absence’ report was sent by the transmitter in Mr. W’s home.

Serco contacted him the following day when he confirmed that he was definitely at home that night.

They sent a technician to his home and moved the transmitter box from his living room to the bedroom.

However, a further unauthorised absence was recorded overnight a week later.

Serco attended again as Mr. W insisted he was at home that night as well.

The equipment was checked again, but the following day my client was arrested and taken to a local police station where he was held in a police cell while the report was investigated.

The police established that the transmitter equipment was not calibrated correctly so that the unauthorised absence report was incorrect.

Although Mr. W was released an hour later, his unlawful arrest and detention was unjustified.

Photo of a prison cell, where people with electronic tagging are wrongfully arrested are held.

Unreasonable demand for access to electronic tagging equipment

Six weeks later Serco issued another report for breach of bail conditions, this time for refusing entry to allow the transmitter equipment to be serviced.

The refusal of access report came from a visit at 11.51p.m. when a technician from the company called at Mr. W’s home without warning for a regular service visit.

Not unreasonably, my client refused access and told the technician to come back at a more convenient time.

A week later the police arrested Mr. W again and held him at the same police station. They found out that there was no bail condition regarding access to his home, let alone at nearly midnight, so released him 1 hour 20 minutes later on the basis that he was not in breach.

Electronic tag compensation claims

Mr. W contacted Donoghue Solicitors as we specialise in civil actions against the police and other detaining bodies, such as Serco and G4S.

When I reviewed the evidence, initially Mr. W’s claims against Serco appeared strong.

But they defended proceedings on the basis that once they had provided the unauthorised absence and access refusal reports it was the police’s responsibility to investigate the information provided before acting on it.

The police rightly argued that this would mean that they would be second-guessing every report given to them, and refused to accept any responsibility for Serco’s errors.

I successfully showed that Serco, and not the police, were to blame for their faulty equipment, installation and reporting errors.

Compensation was agreed in an out-of-court settlement at £2,500 plus legal costs.

The consequences of incorrect electronic tag reports

The government has passed its file to the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the allegations of over-charging by both Serco and G4S in relation to electronic tagging.

I hope that they will also consider the many reports of electronic tagging errors, such as Mr. W’s above, which result in:

  • upset and distress for the electronic tag wearer and their families;
  • compensation claims for false imprisonment; and
  • unnecessary inconvenience to the police.

The resignations of the men at the top seem to be a way to keep the existing government contracts, and ensure that negotiations on new contracts are not prejudiced.

My advice to the government would be to think long and hard before entering into negotiations with either company for security related contracts.

 

If you have a claim for wrongful arrest due to an issue with an electronic tag, contact Donoghue Solicitors on 08000 124 246, or go to our website and complete the online form.

 

Images:

Jermaine Pennant cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by tony o: http://flickr.com/photos/1863/5004491336/

prison bars cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Michael Coghlan: http://flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/5997920696/

Why some accident claims victims could suffer a triple injustice

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, accident claims lawyers
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that it will not be raising the small claims limit for accident claims. The current limit is, and remains, £1,000.

The decision not to increase the small claims limit (for now) is a great relief for most innocent accident victims, who can continue to receive independent legal representation from the solicitor of their choosing when making personal injury claims.

(Below the £1,000 threshold no legal costs are payable to innocent accident claims victims, unless a court orders otherwise.)

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told Parliament today that the government was not raising the small claims limit ‘until we can determine the impact of our wider reforms on motor insurance premiums’.

Those reforms, which included deep cuts to legal costs and changes to case management introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) (‘LASPO’) in April and July 2013, have been extended to include a panel of independent medical experts to assess ‘whiplash’ claims, which the government wants to have in place by next year.

How motor insurers pushed for reforms to accident claims

Not unsurprisingly, it was motor insurers, who have to pay claims and legal costs, who pushed hard for an increase in the small claims limit for accident claims to £5,000.

They said that there is a ‘compensation culture’ here in the UK (read more about why that is not true here) of which ‘whiplash’ claims were the worst example of fraud.

By increasing the small claims limit, they argued, fraudsters would be discouraged from taking their car accident claims cases to court. So, they said, those claims and their associated costs would simply disappear.

The motor insurers argued that all motorists would benefit from reduced insurance premiums as a result of fewer payments to whiplash claimants.

Government consultation on accident claims

The argument for ending ‘whiplash’ claims was both simple and attractive to both the media and Conservative Government.

The Government has consulted on an increase to £5,000 on numerous occasions over the past few years, but decided against a raise each time, finding no evidence of the ‘compensation culture’ described by the biased insurers.

In 2010’s review, Conservative Lord Young of Graffham reported that the myth ‘is one of perception rather than reality’.

The most recent consultation was published in the summer following a House of Commons transport select committee report which recommended keeping the current £1,000 limit in place.

It would appear that the Government listened.

Picture of a car and ambulance after a road accident

Triple injustice for innocent accident claims victims

In January this year I submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice arguing that the existing reforms due to be implemented under LASPO were unfair on accident victims, their solicitors and staff, and the wider communities they come from. You can read my letter to the government here.

Even though the LASPO reforms were implemented in April and July, I still believe that by changing the system for dealing with personal injury claims and reducing the costs payable to claimant solicitors; innocent people are put at a disadvantage.

Thankfully, because of the efficient business model we have at Donoghue Solicitors, I am pleased to confirm that our clients are still receiving the same excellent service as before, despite the changes.

However, it concerns me that insurers are not working under the same costs restraints in road accident claims, and that the savings they are achieving are not being passed on to motorists in their entirety.

It may well be that, as a result of the LASPO changes to the system and insurers paying less out per accident claim in damages and costs, insurers will have:

  • more money to spend on funding their defences,
  • more opportunities to delay and deny legitimate claims,
  • push more hopeless arguments at trial, and
  • otherwise cause increases in costs and delay.

All of which means that some innocent accident victims will suffer a triple injustice:

  1. when they pay still inflated motor insurance premiums as the full savings under the LASPO reforms are not passed on,
  2. when they are injured through no fault of their own, and
  3. when their legitimate accident claims are denied or delayed due to insurer sharp practice.

Surely that was not what the government intended with the LASPO reforms?

 

For help with your accident claims call Donoghue Solicitors on 08000 124 246 or contact us.

 

Image: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Paul Walker: http://flickr.com/photos/30591976@N05/4365461433/