How Co-operating Helps You Win Your Compensation Claim

 

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons who specialises in compensation claims.

Daniel Fitzsimmons specialises in compensation claims.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons

My daughter, Olivia, loves watching old episodes of “Sesame Street” on YouTube.

I grew up with the show and, as a parent, appreciate the way the writers combined education and entertainment. Recently we watched a song about co-operation. Enjoy it here.

As the song says, “sometimes there is a job so big, if we want to get it done, we’ve got to bring those birds together and all work as one, and that’s co-operation…”.

In compensation claims I couldn’t agree more.

After the merits of the case, co-operation between legal team and client is the most important factor in winning your compensation claim.

Without it, you might lose your claim completely due to missing court deadlines or failing to get crucial evidence.

Even if you co-operate half-heartedly your claim will take longer, be harder to win, and might be worth less.

For me, winning a compensation claim is as much about being a project manager as it is about legal skills.

I need to assemble and manage a team including experts, barristers, witnesses, my colleagues, and, most importantly, my client.

Only when we all work together can we achieve a successful result.

Compensation Claim Management

An example of co-operation in practice is my client Alan N’s case. Alan received £3,600 for his compensation claim. His claim might have failed if we hadn’t worked together so well.

Alan, a newly qualified pharmacist, was riding his bike to work when he was hit by a van. He suffered various injuries, including cuts and bruises to his elbows and right knee and a puncture wound to his left thigh.

As well as his personal injuries he lost earnings and damaged his bike.

Alan instructed me to pursue his bike accident compensation claim against the van driver. Alan told me that he was on the major road when the van pulled out of a side road and hit him.

I agreed to take Alan’s claim on a “no win no fee” basis. I found the van driver’s insurers with help from the DVLA and sent them details of Alan’s compensation claim.

The insurers failed to admit liability so, at this point, we had a choice to make.

Fight on, all the way to trial if necessary, or abandon the compensation claim.

I explained to Alan that, despite what people tell you, there are no guarantees of success with compensation claims. If you go to trial the other side’s lawyer is equally confident. If they weren’t they would settle before court.

It was a risk he was willing to take.

Compensation Claim Preparation

Alan was sure he was in the right and I agreed, so I put a team together to issue proceedings.

To prepare Alan’s case I asked him to be a willing member of the team. Alan understood this and played his part. He:

  • responded promptly to my phone calls, emails, and letters;
  • provided information quickly so that I could preserve crucial evidence to prove liability;
  • attended a medical appointment on time and gave clear evidence for the doctor’s report;
  • gave a site inspector information to prepare a report to help show that his version of events was correct; and
  • met with me at his home and our offices so I could progress his compensation claim. This involved preparing schedules of losses, court pleadings, witness statements, and other items essential for court proceedings.

The experts I instructed helped by keeping appointments and providing usable reports on time.

And my colleagues at Donoghue Solicitors ensured that I was able to reply to every phone call, letter, and email, and provided me with advice and support when I took the important decision to back Alan’s case.

Court Proceedings for Compensation

After I issued court proceedings the driver’s insurers filed a defence.

They said the accident was not their driver’s fault. They claimed Alan was cycling on the wrong side of the road and he crashed into the van, not the other way round.

As his claim proceeded towards trial we spoke and met regularly to review:

  • the defence;
  • evidence both sides intended to produce at court; and
  • witness statements.

Alan agreed to free up his diary and booked time off work to give evidence at court.

Fortunately, less than two months before trial I was able to use the evidence we had prepared to convince the van driver’s insurers to admit blame. I then negotiated settlement of Alan’s compensation claim.

When I entered into negotiations it was important that I had his co-operation to keep the pressure on. We were in constant touch by email and phone.

By working together to settle his claim Alan received more than double the amount he would have recovered if we took our chances at court.

Compensation Claim Team

By readily co-operating Alan received excellent compensation and ensured that the claim process was a good experience.

It was also a powerful motivator for the rest of the team.

The group I assembled worked well with Alan’s help. We were all committed to the goal of helping him recover the most compensation possible.

This joint effort and expert help ensured that I could present Alan’s case in the best possible way, and at the right time, so that his prospects of success and compensation were greatly increased.

Without this level of communication and co-operation Alan’s case would not have progressed as quickly or as well, if at all.

That’s well worth remembering when dealing with your own compensation claim.

 

For help with your compensation claim, contact me on 0151 933 1474 or through the Donoghue Solicitors website. I am an accredited “Litigator” practitioner member in the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.

 

 

Will Paul Gambaccini sue the police?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who helps people sue the police.

Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who helps people sue the police.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

On Friday 10 October the Metropolitan Police told Paul Gambaccini they will not be proceeding in their investigations over historical sex allegations.

The police arrested Mr. Gambaccini on Tuesday 29th October 2013 and released him under police bail. They did not charge him with any offences.

The broadcaster described his “12 months of horror and trauma” and has supported Home Office plans to limit the time suspects can be bailed without charge.

Speaking to the BBC, Human Rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC criticised the Police for the “unnecessary and unlawful” arrests that have been made during the Metropolitan Police’s “Operation Yewtree”.

If Mr. Robertson is right, Paul Gambaccini might consider taking a civil action against the police for:

  • false imprisonment;
  • psychological trauma;
  • damage to reputation and; if provable
  • lost income.

But will he sue the police?

Paying to Sue the Police

On 1 April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) (“LASPO”) came into force.

The coalition government pushed the Act through apparently to save money and please their insurance company donors.

In the 18 months since it has been in force it has had a profound effect on funding all compensation claims, including cases where people sue the police.

This is why.

Every working day I receive many enquiries from people asking me to help them sue the police.

As a solicitor and Officer of the Court I take my duties seriously. My priority is to act in the best interests of my clients. So I think about how they are going to pay for their cases before going any further.

Contrary to popular perception, claiming compensation isn’t free. The claimant is responsible for their own legal costs. Only if they win can they claim some, or all, of these back from their opponent.

Because of this costs risk, dealing with funding is as important as considering the merits of the claim.

If Mr. Gambaccini came to me I would tell him that there are four potential methods of funding:

  1. Legal Aid
  2. “Before the event” insurance or union backing
  3. Conditional Fee Agreement (also known as a “no win no fee” agreement) with/without “after the event” Insurance
  4. Private Client.

I’m guessing that Mr. Gambaccini won’t be eligible for legal aid. (He probably does not receive qualifying state benefits, or is on a low-income with little or no assets.)

He may have before the event insurance (so-called because it is insurance in place before the claimable incident occurs) or union-backing. In my experience these rarely cover actions against the police. This is because police claims are complicated, high-risk, and often of relatively low value (many are worth less than £5000).

He might ask if I would take the case under a conditional fee agreement. If so, I would only get paid if he won his claim. For taking the risk of not being paid, and delaying payment even if successful, my firm would receive a “success fee” uplift on top of our base costs.

Before LASPO no win no fee agreements allowed me to represent clients with a guarantee that they would recover 100% of their compensation if they won; and walk away scot-free if they lost.

This was because, if my clients won, their losing opponent paid the success fee and, if obtained, the cost of an after the event insurance policy. With no fees to pay, my clients received every penny of their hard-fought damages.

(After the event (claimable incident) insurance provided valuable protection as it would pay for all of my clients’ expenses (called “disbursements”) and the other side’s legal costs if they lost their claims.)

By using pre- LASPO no win no fee agreements my clients did not have to pay legal fees out of their own pockets as private clients. This was a better deal than option 4, which would be the last resort for most.

 “Compensation Culture”

The conditional fee agreement system worked well before LASPO, but the government was determined to stamp out the perceived “compensation culture”, even though study after study showed that it does not exist. In 2010 the government commissioned Lord Young, the Conservative Party former cabinet member, to prepare a report which you can read here. He said:

“The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality.”

He wasn’t the only one who thought that the compensation culture was bogus. Lord Dyson MR, the Master of the Rolls and second most senior judge in England and Wales, said in a 2013 lecture:

‘I doubt very much whether we are likely to see – in the medium term at least – any reduction in news stories expressing concern about our compensation culture. It is something of a mystery to me why the media find the compensation culture such a fascinating subject.’

LASPO Impact

Despite knowing that the compensation culture was a myth, the government’s determination to force through changes led to LASPO.

LASPO removed the innocent victim’s right to recover success fees and after the event insurance when using a no win no fee agreement.  Now winning claimants must pay for those things themselves.

The new rule affects people who bring no win no fee claims of any kind, including civil actions against the police.

If they lose they can avoid paying their own solicitor’s fees with a no win no fee agreement, but must still pay their disbursements and the other side’s costs, as LASPO has forced after the event insurers away from actions against the police.

And it doesn’t just affect people who have no win no fee agreements with their solicitors. Private clients also have to worry about paying for their own disbursements, and more importantly the police’s legal fees, if they lose.

Often cases that go to trial can rack up legal fees of over £50,000.

That’s enough to make even apparently well-off people like Paul Gambaccini think again before deciding to sue the police.

Qualified One Way Costs Shifting Uncertainty

A possible solution to this problem is for the government to extend Qualified One Way Costs Shifting (“QOCS”) to include cases where people sue the police.

QOCS came in at the same time as LASPO and applies to personal injury cases only.

It allows the accident victim to claim compensation knowing that, unless certain exceptions apply, they will not have to pay their opponent’s costs if they lose. They will only have to pay their own legal fees (unless they have a no win no fee agreement) and their disbursements (unless covered by after the event insurance).

(In accident claims after the event insurance is still available because claims are generally easier to predict and the market is much bigger than actions against the police.)

Actions against the police are different to accident claims as, in many cases where people sue the police, they do not suffer injuries, so QOCS would not apply.

But, in theory, it does apply to people who sue the police where they are also claiming personal injury, such as handcuffing injuries to the wrists, police assault injuries, and diagnosed psychological trauma.

Conveniently for the police, over a year and a half on from when LASPO came into force, we still don’t know if QOCS covers the personal injury element alone, or the entire claim.

This uncertainty means that there is a costs risk for the claimant if they suffered an injury, but more so if there is no injury claim.

Rights Under Attack

If Paul Gambaccini is a victim of police abuse and wants to sue the police his decision to go ahead may come down to funding. If he finds a solicitor willing to take his case on a no win no fee basis he may have protection for his own costs, but will still be exposed to significant costs risk if he loses.

He will then have to decide if suing the police is worth the risk.

Don’t misunderstand me. I take on new claims against the police every month.  In the right cases, I am comfortable acting under a no win no fee agreement, knowing that there is a risk I will not get paid. My practice is thriving because police abuse is routine and, provided my clients are comfortable with sharing the risks, worth fighting against.

I am dedicated to helping people sue the police because these cases impact us all. When brave victims of police abuse stand up to the State and seek justice, we are protected. By holding the police to account they improve their conduct, training, and policies. We all benefit, including the police themselves.

But without cases being brought by these determined people and their lawyers, the police are free to abuse the law.

 

If you want help to sue the police contact me on 0151 933 1474 or through my firm’s website.

 

Why won’t a solicitor take my no win no fee claim?

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, explains why a solicitor won't take a no win no fee claim.

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, explains why a solicitor won’t take a no win no fee claim.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

You’ve decided to claim compensation, researched which solicitors’ firm to use, and got in touch with a lawyer.

But the solicitor you contact says they won’t represent you, even using a conditional fee agreement (also known as ‘no win no fee’) agreement.

If you’re in this position and find yourself asking “why won’t a solicitor take my no win no fee claim?” let me give some insight.

Funding Options, including No Win No Fee Funding

Funding for legal cases is something which all solicitors are under a legal duty to consider with their clients at the outset.

As you may know if you’ve read our page about how much it costs to make a police compensation claim, the page on our site about no win no fee accident claims, or the professional negligence no win no fee section of our website, we try to be clear and straightforward in our explanations of the various funding options available. These include:

  • legal aid;
  • paying for your case privately;
  • using before the event or union funding; and lastly
  • no win no fee agreements.

That way you know what to expect when you speak to us, or any other solicitor, about your claim.

Talking about how your case will be funded is important because starting a compensation claim (especially on a no win no fee basis) is a big decision, not least because of costs.

Prospects of Success and Costs

Unfortunately, there is never one simple explanation to answer the question “why won’t a solicitor take my no win no fee claim?”, but some common reasons are:

1.      The solicitor who reviewed your case is not confident it will succeed.

This is the most important reason, as solicitors only take cases on if they are confident that there is a reasonable prospect of winning.

It applies regardless of the method of funding used, even with private clients who pay their own legal fees, legal aid, and union- backed cases.

For a solicitor to:

they must have absolute confidence in the client, their case, witnesses, evidence, and many other things.

Solicitors want happy clients who win. Getting the maximum compensation for clients to help them get their lives back on track is what gets lawyers like me out of bed in the morning.

Losing benefits no one, especially the client, who will have wasted their time and effort in claiming compensation.

So the reasons for declining to act, especially on a no win no fee basis, are not purely selfish.

Of course, solicitors want to be paid for the work they do. (Law firms are not charities; they are businesses. In business, who doesn’t want to earn money?)

And losing a no win no fee case means that the solicitor would not get paid their own costs, which can run into the tens of thousands of pounds and put strain on the firm’s finances.

But there’s more to it than that.

Solicitors are under a duty to act in the best interests of their clients, who are called “claimants” in civil compensation claims.

And changes in the rules which came into force on 1 April 2013 mean that taking a legal case is now a more risky proposition for claimants.

Why?

Because the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) abolished the right of innocent claimants to recover “success fees” and after the event insurance from the losing defendant, or more usually, the defendant’s insurance company.

Success fees uplift the claimant’s solicitors’ fees to compensate for:

  • the risk of taking the case and losing; and
  • delaying payment.

After the Event insurance provides protection for the claimant’s own expenses, such as court and experts’ fees (called “disbursements”), barrister’s fees if necessary, and the other side’s costs.

Being able to recover success fees and after the event insurance from the losing defendant (or their insurers) meant that, before April 2013, the winning claimant would usually receive 100% of their compensation.

(This is why people commonly think of “no win no fee” as free legal representation, when in fact the term means that if you win, there is a fee. It’s just that, before 1 April 2013, that success fee was paid by the losing defendant and not the successful claimant.)

The system in place before April 2013 ensured that the winning claimant’s solicitor could get paid a fair rate (legal costs plus a success fee).

And the after the event insurance protection meant that, if the claimant lost their case, they would still be able to walk away “scot-free” as their solicitor would honour the no win no fee agreement and waive his or her fees, and the insurance would pay for the rest of the claimant’s expenses and the defendant’s costs.

But, since 1 April 2013, if the claimant loses they are only protected for their own solicitor’s fees (under the no win no fee agreement) unless “qualified one way costs shifting” applies. Now they have to pay for their own disbursements, barrister’s fees (unless also working under a “no win no fee” agreement), and the defendant’s costs out of their own pockets unless they can get after the event insurance and agree to pay for it out of their damages (if they win).

Since 2013 the market for after the event insurance has shrunk considerably, so that it is very difficult to get in some areas of law, such as actions against the police.

Without it, taking a case to court and losing could cost the innocent claimant thousands of pounds. Defendants and their insurers don’t instruct cheap lawyers and experts, court fees for running a case to trial alone can exceed £2000, and if you need an expert or two to prove your claim (most cases do), then you are responsible for their costs too. (Experts can’t work on a “no win no fee” basis because their duty to give an impartial opinion means they can’t be influenced to find in either side’s favour by the risk of not getting paid.)

Imagine taking a case to court, losing, and being left with a judgment debt for thousands against your name? You would have to find the money to pay the debt and deal with the impact on your credit score. All because you wanted to make a compensation claim.

For this reason alone, being told that your solicitor will not take your claim on a no win no fee basis, as a private client, or any other way, can be a good thing.

2.      Your claim is of low-value

The small-claims limit, below which legal fees are not paid, is £1,000 in personal injury cases, and £10,000 otherwise.

In principle, this means that most personal injury cases would be eligible for costs if successful.

But not all.

Minor injuries, limited psychological upset claims, and cases where the claimant makes a quick recovery, can mean that costs will not be paid even if the claimant is successful.

As a result, the claimant’s own solicitor’s fees and disbursements would have to be paid out of their damages. In practice, this means that the claimant would be left with nothing.

In other cases where personal injury is not claimed, such as many data protection breach claims, even recovering £9,999 would mean that costs do not have to be paid. Again, the winning claimant could end up with nothing once his or her own legal fees, disbursements, etc. have been met.

Going back to the discussion on After the Event insurance, even if the claimant is willing to pay for the insurance out of their own pockets, the fees can be extremely high, and often more than the total compensation the innocent claimant might expect to recover. So, in the event that the claimant succeeds in their claim, they might end up paying all of their damages over to their own insurer before also having to pay out of their own pockets for court fees, experts’ fees etc.

And that’s before paying the 25% success fee (or more with some firms, not Donoghue Solicitors) to their own solicitor.

With that in mind, why bother claiming at all?

This assessment is known as “the costs/ benefit analysis” and is part of the solicitor’s job of ensuring that they act in the best interest of the client.

Winning, but being left with nothing but debt, is clearly not in their best interests.

3.      Pressure of work

Solicitors are the most heavily regulated professionals in England and Wales. More than doctors. More than accountants. More than anyone.

The hoops they have to jump through to satisfy:

  • the Solicitors Regulation Authority;
  • their professional indemnity insurers ;
  • the Legal Ombudsman;
  • the Information Commissioner’s Office;
  • the Courts (solicitors are Officers of the Court, unlike barristers, and have specific duties to perform there); and
  • many others

mean that running cases is just one part of the job.

Failure to keep the governing bodies happy can result in serious consequences, including being struck off the roll of solicitors, having to close the firm, and bankruptcy.

It is no surprise then that many solicitors will limit the amount of clients they take, even if those people have potentially good claims, because they do not want to risk failing in their duties to their existing clients, governing bodies, staff, creditors, and others.

4.      Personality Issues

Making a compensation claim can be an uncertain business. When clients ask me “how long will it take?” the answer is always: it depends.

It depends on:

  • how much co-operation I receive from my client;
  • how quickly I receive the information I need to decide what to claim for, if at all;
  • if we have funding issues to deal with;
  • how quickly the defendant responds to the claim, if at all;
  • if the defendant fights the claim, and why;
  • if there are witnesses to track down and interview;
  • if we have to issue proceedings to force the defendant to produce evidence;
  • if we have to issue full court proceedings to take the case to trial;
  • if there are settlement negotiations;
  • what court delays we experience;
  • if we go to trial, and if a jury is involved; and
  • if we get paid, and when.

With all this in mind, compensation claims can take anywhere from a few months to many years. It is not uncommon for cases to take two to three years to reach trial.

Having a good working relationship between the solicitor and the client during the time a case is running is vital.

People work best with people they like.

It is for this reason that clients should make sure they have a good fit with a solicitor they like and trust before agreeing to start the relationship. After all, the solicitor will be making demands on their client’s time, resources, and potentially finances.

Solicitors think about whether the client is a good fit too. We can’t win cases on our own. We need our clients’ full, helpful co-operation.  And smart clients know that the solicitor needs to be left alone to do his or her job, that’s what the client is paying for after all. Constant emails, phone calls, and other interruptions not only increase the bill but result in a strained relationship, which is bad for both the lawyer and the client.

What to do if a solicitor won’t take your case on a no win no fee basis

Solicitors are generally free to decline to represent whoever they like. They don’t have to give reasons or enter discussions about why, but the reasons are likely to involve some or all of the issues above.

If the solicitor you approached won’t take your case there is nothing to stop you enquiring with another lawyer. There are over 140,000 solicitors practising in England and Wales so there are plenty of options.  The Law Society’s find a solicitor service is a good place to start.

 

Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, a specialist law firm dealing with compensation claims against the police, personal injury accident claims, and professional negligence claims.

 

 

 

 

 

What Does a Police Solicitor Know About Ethics?

Picture of Actions Against the Police Solicitor, Kevin DonoghueBy Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

I was disappointed to read that another police solicitor is to be investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”) about ethical breaches.

(In this article a “police solicitor” is one who represents police forces and/ or the Police Federation (the staff association for all police constables, sergeants, and inspectors) when dealing with inquests, inquiries, and other matters. They also defend civil actions against the police made by victims of police misconduct and brought by solicitors like me.)

The police solicitor in the story linked above represented the Police Federation and has been interviewed under caution after five Thames Valley police officers gave differing accounts of the death of a man during a search.

The victim, Habib Ullah, died six years ago in a car park in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, while police searched for drugs which they believed were in his mouth.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) initially investigated and received statements from the officers. But it re-opened the case after an inquest into Mr. Ullah’s death was abandoned when new evidence emerged during their accounts.

The IPCC decided to look at the discrepancies between the statements it originally received and the police officers’ accounts given during the inquest. It interviewed the five officers and the police solicitor under caution and then took the unusual step of referring the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, alleging perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The Crown Prosecution Service noted that the police officers’ statements had been altered but declined to prosecute. The IPCC is now pushing for gross misconduct charges to be brought against the police officers. It has promised a full report once the fresh inquest into Mr. Ullah’s death has concluded.

The IPCC has also referred details of the investigation and its findings directly to the solicitors’ governing body, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, for it to consider the police solicitor’s part in the matter.

Hillsborough Police Solicitor Conduct

This is not the first time that a police solicitor has altered police officers’ statements after the event.

Mr. Ullah’s case comes on the back of the ongoing Hillsborough investigations, where it is alleged that South Yorkshire Police’s solicitor helped the Force cover up the truth about the Disaster.

In the Hillsborough Report the police solicitor, an experienced partner at a high-profile firm, was criticised for the “review and alteration” of 116 police officers’ statements. It said that his review recommended to a South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent that the statements remove or alter criticisms of senior officers, but that derogatory remarks about the Liverpool fans should be kept (p.56, para 1.253). As a result:

“the removal of conjecture or opinion was highly selective and officers’ comments on the hostility of the crowd remained as a statement of fact.” (p.325, para 2.11.74)

This was to have far-reaching consequences which negatively affected the outcome of the inquests, Inquiries, compensation claims against the police, and the bereaved families’ long fight for justice. Twenty five years later facts are finally coming out in the Report and the Hillsborough Inquests which should have been known at the beginning. As a lifelong Liverpool FC fan and Kop season ticket holder, this injustice, partial responsibility for which can be laid at the door of the police solicitor retained by South Yorkshire Police, still rankles.

Police Solicitor Conflict of Interest

In the Hillsborough case, it could be argued that the police solicitor had to deal with a difficult conflict of interest: he was representing the best interests of his client (South Yorkshire Police as a whole) while also taking instructions from people who may have harmed it (the senior police officers responsible for the Disaster).

But while this may seem to be a difficult situation, the experienced police solicitor ought to have known how to act.

This is because solicitors, unlike barristers, are officers of the court. The full title of a solicitor is a “solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales”. All solicitors are taught about the weighty obligations of this role during ethics classes at law school.

Solicitors have a duty to the court first, and their clients second.  In the House of Lords case Arthur J.S. Hall and Co. v Simons(AP)[2000] UKHL 38, [2002] 1 AC 615 Lord Hope described the obligations when referring to trial advocates, but this applies equally to solicitors who run cases before trial. He said:

“The advocate’s duty to the court is not just that he must not mislead the court, that he must ensure that the facts are presented fairly and that he must draw the attention of the court to the relevant authorities even if they are against him. It extends to the whole way in which the client’s case is presented, so that time is not wasted and the court is able to focus on the issues as efficiently and economically as possible.” (my emphasis)

In stating these points, the court was emphasising that the solicitor is independent from his client when deciding how best to perform his duties. This right is established in the SRA’s Ten Principles of Conduct which all solicitors are bound to follow. The first three are:

  1. uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice;
  2. act with integrity;
  3. not allow your independence to be compromised.

The fourth rule: “act in the best interests of each client” is the one that the police solicitor would, no doubt, say was guiding his conduct. But you can’t get there without ignoring the first three.

 Ethics in Legal Practice

In day-to-day practice, the Procedure Rules of Court dictate how the solicitor must fulfil his or her duties. They are clear and unambiguous. For example, when deciding what documents need to be disclosed in a civil case, a solicitor should refer to Rule 31.6 of the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) which says:

31.6  Standard disclosure requires a party to disclose only–

(a) the documents on which he relies; and

(b) the documents which –

(i) adversely affect his own case;

(ii) adversely affect another party’s case; or

(iii) support another party’s case; and

(c) the documents which he is required to disclose by a relevant practice direction.

(my emphasis)

By reminding the solicitor that he is under a duty to disclose documents which might harm his own client’s case or support another party’s case, he is reminded that his primary duty is to the court, to uphold the rule of law, and assist in the proper administration of justice.

Equally, witness statements must be verified by a statement of truth, which states that the person providing the statement believes the facts stated in the document are true (CPR r.22.1).

If a witness knowingly provides a false statement without an honest belief in its truth, he or she can be committed for contempt of court (CPR r.32.14).

And if a solicitor is found to have played a part in a witness providing a false statement, he or she risks disciplinary sanctions from the SRA for breaching the Principles outlined above. For that reason the solicitor involved in the Hillsborough cover-up was referred to the SRA and the IPCC has also referred the police solicitor involved in the Ullah case to the solicitors’ governing body.

Police Solicitors’ Role in Institutional Disregard for Ethics

In both the Hillsborough and Ullah cases described here it is important to note that the solicitors involved in alleged ethics violations were external advisers. It would not be fair to tar all police solicitors with the same brush, but it is worth asking whether an institutional disregard for ethical conduct exists within the police. After all, officers’ statements were altered with their consent, potentially leading to miscarriages of justice.

The police solicitor has an important role to play when dealing with investigations and claims against the police, particularly with respect to their ethical responsibilities when reviewing adverse evidence.

By reminding themselves, and their clients, of their duties as officers of the court, they can avoid embarrassing and potentially career-threatening investigations by the SRA, and we can all benefit from the proper administration of justice.

 

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor and director of Donoghue Solicitors Ltd., a law firm which specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him on 0151 933 1474 or via the website https://www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.

 

 

 

How Police Taser Use is Failing Us All

Is the current police taser policy working? A few recent reports about the police’s use of tasers in the UK suggest not.

Picture of police Taser claims solicitor, Kevin DonoghueBy Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

In 2013, police tasers were deployed 10,380 times across England and Wales. The weapons, which discharge an electrical charge said to be 50,000 volts, cause temporary paralysis. As a result, a police taser can be an extremely effective tool to ensure compliance.

But because the weapon can cause serious injury, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (“ACPO”) own guidelines state that a police taser should only be used where:

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

 

Police Taser Use in the News

 

Despite that clear guidance from their own leaders, these recent reports suggest that the officers armed with police tasers are not sticking to their bosses’ rules:

  1. A BBC report states that in the South of England taser use has doubled, leading Amnesty International to express concern about whether they are being used in minor situations instead of the life-threatening or serious violence ones they were introduced to deal with.
  2. Staffordshire Police taser use is three times more than the neighbouring West Midlands Police. The force has the highest level of police taser use per person in the country, and is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) about it.
  3. Lincolnshire Police are using police tasers more than twice as much as neighbouring forces such as Nottinghamshire.
  4. The IPCC questions the point blank use of police tasers.  It notes that the police are officially no longer trained to use the technique of ‘drive stun’, where the police taser is discharged while being held directly against the victim’s body rather than fired from a distance. Despite this, officers are shown that the technique exists and use the police tasers in this way in 16% of cases. The IPCC said that showing officers the option existed but being told not to use it was ‘counter intuitive’. The IPCC commissioner also said that using the taser in this way ‘is purely a means of pain compliance’ which often made the victims of the police taser assaults more resistant.

 

Police Taser Defence

 

With all this recent negative publicity (the oldest story in that group is from 8 April 2014) you might expect the police to go on a charm offensive. But instead of re-assuring the public that the ACPO guidelines are followed, that training will be reviewed, and that the controversial ‘drive stun’ technique will be discontinued, all these reports were defended by the police for various reasons:

  1. Chief Superintendent Paul Morrison head of operations command at Sussex and Surrey police, justified the rise in police taser use by saying it coincided with more officers getting the weapons, and when discussing a case involving the police taser assault on a 14-year-old girl, said “Taser was a low level of force, if you use restraints or baton strikes… they could have led to injuries.”
  2. The Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner said police tasers were often used as a deterrent.
  3. Lincolnshire Police Force’s assistant chief constable, Lee Freeman, said that Lincolnshire’s large rural area is a factor in their comparatively high police taser use; that more of their officers were trained in taser use; and, according to the BBC report, “he said tasers were usually used in circumstances when someone [is] threatening to use violent behaviour.” (my emphasis).
  4. ACPO said that the controversial ‘drive stun’ technique is still shown during training because it could be needed in an emergency. They also questioned the statistics, suggesting that ‘angled drive stun’ (which they said is a ‘viable tactic’) was confused with ‘drive stun’ (the pure ‘pain compliance’ method.)

 

Photo of a police Taser Weak Arguments to Justify Increasing Police Taser Use

 

My thoughts on these responses are:

  1. Ch Supt Paul Morrison’s argument that more tasers equals more use has merit, but to then suggest that police tasers are ‘low level’ weapons undermines his argument. If they are so innocent, why are police tasers being issued to so many officers? Why is Amnesty International involved? Why are the IPCC criticising the police for using them for “pain compliance”?
  1. Staffordshire Police’s point that the tasers are often used as a deterrent is also justified according to the IPCC statistics, but that doesn’t explain why they are using the weapons so much, especially when compared to near neighbours like West Midlands Police, who have a comparable blend of cities, towns, and rural areas to police.
  1. Lincolnshire police say that being a rural force means that they must use their tasers more. This is disingenuous. England and Wales has lots of rural areas where other forces are able to deal with dangerous situations without resorting to the use of police tasers. Derbyshire, for example, only used the weapons 83 times in all of 2013, less than a third of Lincolnshire Police’s total. What did Lincolnshire do before they got their hands on police tasers? Simply let criminals and others they wanted to apprehend get away?

No doubt like Ch Supt Morrison of Sussex and Surrey Police, they would say that if they had to use a truncheon or fist instead that could also cause injury. Perhaps, but often not to the extent of incapacitating someone, who may then fall to the ground and suffer serious secondary injuries, which can be worse than the initial taser shock.

 I am also troubled that, according to the Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, police tasers are “usually” but not always used “in circumstances when someone [is] threatening to use violent behaviour”. The ACPO guidelines above say that the weapons should only be used when the officers or others face violence or the threat of violence. When and why did Lincolnshire Police disregard official ACPO policy? What other circumstances now justify using a police taser?

  1. ACPO’s response to the critical IPCC report on ‘drive stun’ is to defend the tactic, saying that it could be needed in an emergency, e.g when the initial firing missed its target. Are we expected to believe that happens in 1 in 6 incidents? Can’t the police shoot straight?

They also questioned the statistics, suggesting that ‘angled drive stun’ (a ‘viable tactic’) was confused with ‘drive stun’ (the pure pain compliance method). This, to me, seems to be little more than deflecting blame and trying to change the subject to one of how the report was prepared, rather than dealing with the issues raised.

As a solicitor who deals with civil actions against the police on a daily basis, I am not surprised that the police’s responses were defensive. Their mantra when dealing with compensation claims seems to be: deny, deflect, and disrupt. They appear to be taking the same approach with the media.

Police Taser Abuse Defended

 

Tasers can be deadly weapons and, as ACPO themselves state in their guidelines, should only be used as a last resort when faced with violence or a severe threat of violence. The alarming rise in police taser use, the continued use of the painful “drive stun” technique, and Assistant Chief Constable Lee Freeman’s comments suggests this is not happening.

Reading the reports above I am struck that the various police forces respond to challenges by defending their techniques, denying wrongdoing, and challenging the statistics.

This is a systemic issue. Instead of excuses, we need solutions.

It matters because police forces are meant to serve the public, not the state, and an escalation in the use of police tasers suggests that things may have moved too far in the direction of control and compliance.

If the police are to win back public confidence, they need to learn lessons from the seemingly out-of-control increase in police taser use and their bungled media response to it. They could start by properly training police officers using agreed ethical standards which apply to all forces, avoid blaming others, and stop trotting out excuses.

 

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in civil claims against the police. You can contact him via his firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk, or on 0151 933 1474.

 

Image credit: Marcelo Freixo CC licensed

 

Police Assault? You Decide

Photo of Police Assault Clams Solicitor, Kevin Donoghue

Police Assault Clams Solicitor, Kevin Donoghue

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor and specialist in actions against the police

I came across this facebook video of a man being arrested at Freshbrook shops in Swindon. It appears to show police assault a man during the course of an arrest. According to the comments beneath the video, the arrested man was “accused of something he didn’t even do and got let out 2 hours later”.

As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police I often hear from people in similar situations who are keen to make a police complaint and a compensation claim against the police. But can they?

Police Assault Facebook Video

If you can, watch the facebook video linked above (it’s only 56 seconds long) then read the rest of this article.

If you can’t see the police assault video, I think this is what it shows (the audio is unclear at times, so this may not be completely accurate):

A male PC (“MPC1”) and a female officer (“WPC”) are shown holding the Arrested Man (“AM”) to the paved ground. MPC1 is kneeling over the arrested man’s torso. The WPC is holding his legs.  One handcuff is already applied to the AM’s right hand.

MPC1: (into his radio) Can I have someone to Freshbrooks shops please, (warrant?) of arrest, Chris Davidson

MPC1 holds the AM to the ground using his elbow into AM’s throat/ neck area.

AM: I can’t f**kin’ breathe

MPC1: Well stop fighting

MPC1 adjusts his position over the AM, apparently to apply the second handcuff.

AM: I’m quite happy to co-operate

MPC1: You were given the option

MPC1 pulls the arrested man up and applies the second handcuff.

(Unintelligible conversation between MPC and AM)

A female onlooker asks: What are they doing?

A male onlooker replies: Assault

MPC1 pushes the AM to the ground. He holds the AM’s handcuffed hands using his left hand and the right side of the AM’s face with his right hand.

AM: What the f**k?

MPC1: Did you spit at me?

AM: No I didn’t f**kin’ (unintelligible?)

MPC1 holds the AM by his hair/ left ear.

MPC1: Listen, you’ve already spat at my colleague once. Are you going to spit again?

Another male PC (“MPC2”) arrives and kneels opposite his colleague, MPC1.

AM: I did not.

MPC1: Yes or No.

Another male PC (“MPC3”) arrives and stands opposite the WPC next to MPC1

Unintelligble conversation between the officers, then MPC2 says to MPC3 “he’s already cuffed”.

MPC1: Right I have something to say. (You’re under?) arrest. I was going to explain myself.

(RECORDING ENDS)

Interpreting the Police Assault Video

Here’s how I see the video of this potential police assault claim:

Facts

  1. the video and audio is reasonably clear, and does not seem to have been manipulated or edited;
  2. significantly, AM states “I can’t f*ckin’ breathe” and “I’m quite happy to co-operate”;
  3. in response, MPC1 states “You were given the option” and applies the second handcuff. Objectively at this point AM is not resisting arrest;
  4. MPC1 forces AM’s head abruptly downwards, suggesting that AM has spat at him, which AM denies. The denial is plausible;
  5. a female onlooker asks “what are they doing?”;
  6. a male onlooker (possibly the one who is filming out of concern) says “assault”.

 

The Law

1.      False Imprisonment

In the video the arrested man was deprived of his liberty. If this was done without lawful cause, a claim for false imprisonment could be made.

As it would be hard for the police to deny that the officers were preventing the man from leaving, they must justify the arrest by showing that they had lawful authority to do so.

In my experience, the most common defence the police use is that they were carrying out a lawful arrest.

The legal basis for this is provided by sections 24 and 28 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (“PACE”).  In that, the following conditions for a lawful arrest are necessary:

  1. MPC1 honestly suspected that AM was involved in the commission of a criminal offence;
  2. MPC1 held that suspicion on reasonable grounds;
  3. MPC1’s reasons for effecting an arrest amount to a reasonable belief that the arrest was necessary, usually to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question;
  4. MPC1 informed AM of the fact and grounds of arrest as soon as reasonably practicable; and
  5. MPC1’s exercise of his discretion to arrest was reasonable in public law terms because PACE gives a discretion, not a duty to arrest.

Without knowing more about what led to the arrest, it is impossible to say if these conditions were in place.

But it is interesting that, according to one person in the comments section of the footage, the arrested man was released only two hours later without charge. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he has a claim for false imprisonment or police assault, but it could be worth investigating, particularly as MPC1 appears to say ‘warrant’ of arrest when calling for backup.

(If MPC1 was acting under an unlawful police warrant then the grounds for arrest did not exist, and a false imprisonment and police assault claim could be made.)

2.      Police Assault

To avoid a claim for police assault and battery, the police must show that the arrest was:

  • reasonable;
  • necessary; and
  • in the purported exercise of the arresting officer’s lawful powers.

(From s.117 of PACE).

Without these three elements, any and all force will be unlawful from start to finish.

If the purported exercise of the power was unlawful, for example, where:

  • there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion in the case of the arrest; or
  • an unapproved method of restraint was employed;

then AM could make a police assault claim.

In that case, the arrested man would be entitled to compensation for the police assault when the officer:

  • restrained him and held him down;
  • pushed against his neck/ throat;
  • applied handcuffs; and
  • forced him to the ground using his hand against AM’s face etc.

If DNA and fingerprints were taken at the police station that would also be considered a police assault for which compensation could be paid.

If the application of force is in the furtherance of the exercise of lawful powers, then the issue will be whether the application of force itself was excessive.

What is excessive will depend upon the circumstances as apparent to the arresting officer MPC1, not observers like us. In my 15 years of dealing with police assault cases I have never come across a case where the officer says that he used excessive force, and would not expect to here.

Was this a Police Assault?

The facebook video appears to show a police assault for which the arrested man could make a compensation claim.

The force used appears to be unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate.

However, much will depend on the reason for the detention and use of force. Without knowing why AM was being arrested, and what happened immediately before the onlooker started filming, we can’t say if the arresting officer had lawful authority and used reasonable and necessary force. For example, if the arrested man:

  • had just acted dangerously; or
  • the officers had reasonable cause to believe that he had a weapon; or
  • was an imminent risk to them or others;

then the use of force could be justified.

Police Assault Compensation Claim

As this article shows, false imprisonment and police assault cases are never straightforward. I suggest that the arrested man get legal advice about making a police assault compensation claim from a specialist solicitor who deals with claims against the police.

Only after a qualified solicitor reviews all the evidence, statements, custody records, and other things, will he find out if he is entitled to make a police assault claim.

 

If you would like to make a police assault compensation claim contact Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor, on 0151 236 1336 or complete the online form on our website www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk. We deal with compensation claims against the police for people throughout England and Wales.

Donoghue Solicitors is an award-winning compensation claims law firm which specialises in claims against the police, personal injury accident claims, and professional negligence.
25 Hatton Garden
Liverpool, Merseyside
L3 2FE
GB
Phone: 0151 236 1336

Why Electronic Tag Compensation Claims May Increase

Things are about to get more complicated for anyone wearing an electronic tag, and a lot more expensive for Capita PLC.

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

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, explains why.

 

New Electronic Tag Contract

 

This week the Guardian reported how Capita, the public services outsourcing company, has been awarded a six-year contract to fit and monitor the electronic tags worn by about 100,000 offenders a year.

Capita has replaced G4S and Serco, who both lost their lucrative government contracts after overcharging allegations led to them repaying nearly £180 million.

I have previously blogged about the consequences of electronic tag failures. Then, because of my experience of representing people who claimed compensation for false imprisonment after electronic tag errors, I urged the government to think long and hard before entering into any security related contracts with G4S and Serco.  Fortunately for the public, as part of the electronic tag renewal process, the two companies were barred from bidding.

But Capita, the company that won the contract said to be worth £400 million, does not inspire confidence either, having also failed to fulfil its obligations under existing government contracts.

Only three months ago the publicly listed company (‘PLC’) was bailed out by the taxpayer when it failed to clear a backlog of medical assessments for payments to tens of thousands of people with terminal illnesses or disabilities. Presumably Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary who awarded the electronic tag contract, was aware of this before awarding it to Capita.

Conflicts of Interest

By entering into the electronic tag contract, there are two sets of conflicts of interest in play:

  1. The conflict between the government and Capita; and
  2. The conflict between Capita, who hold the contract, and their suppliers.

1. Capita’s failure with the medical assessments contract highlights the fundamental flaw in the government’s decision to outsource the electronic tag contract: Capita, like G4S and Serco before it, is a PLC. As such, its duty is to make money for its shareholders, not to protect the public or those fitted with an electronic tag.

With its very recent history of failure, what makes Chris Grayling think that Capita will manage the electronic tag contract any better than its predecessors?

2. It seems to me that the way Capita have set up the contract is a recipe for disaster. In particular, I question the reasons for outsourcing fulfilment of the technical parts of the contract while retaining overall control.

No doubt with the interests of their shareholders in mind, Capita has partnered with three other companies to provide the electronic tag services:

  • Capita will manage the contract;
  • Steatite will provide the GPS tracking tags;
  • Airbus Defence and Space will do the satellite mapping; and
  • Telefonica will supply the network.

I expect that Capita’s explanation for partnering with these specialist companies is to save money and avoid investing in resources themselves by outsourcing the supply of technology and services.

But, as I pointed out in my earlier blog post about electronic tagging, equipment malfunctions by one company alone can give rise to unlawful arrest compensation claims against the electronic tag supplier (Serco in the case I described). The chances of errors giving rise to compensation claims with four companies involved are far higher.

Electronic Tag Claim Against G4S and the Court

As Mr. W’s case in the earlier blog post proved, paying thousands of pounds in compensation and legal costs is inevitable when the electronic tag equipment fails to do its job and a wrongful arrest is made.

But, and this is where things get worse for Capita, even if the electronic tag equipment works as it should, the company could still be liable for compensation claims for process failures. In a case I am presently pursuing for Mr. D, he will shortly receive compensation from both G4S and the Court Service for wrongful arrest and detention due to administrative failures.

Mr D was granted conditional bail at Leeds Crown Court on a curfew which allowed him to be away from his home only between 12pm-2pm every day. G4S installed the monitoring equipment at his home and fitted his electronic tag.

With such a short period of free time during the day, it was inevitable that there would be a problem at some point. That day came when Mr. D was given a hospital appointment which meant he would have to be out of the house outside of his normal hours. His criminal solicitors got a variation in the curfew from the Court. Mr. D notified G4S, went to the appointment the next day, and called the company when he returned home.

Three days later officers from South Yorkshire Police arrested Mr. D at home for breach of bail conditions for breaking his curfew. He was kept for over nine hours before being released once the Magistrates Court was satisfied that no breach of bail had occurred.

G4S accepts that it was responsible for the error due to a failure in its processes, and will pay compensation and legal costs for Mr. D’s wrongful arrest and detention.

(Mr. D’s case is interesting as it shows that the Court Service can also be liable for electronic tag claims. Despite explaining what happened to the police and Magistrates when he was first arrested, Mr. D was then arrested the next day, and again on the following day.

The Court Service will also pay compensation, as a staff member unilaterally changed Mr. D’s curfew hours, from 12pm-2pm to 1pm-3pm, causing the second and third arrests. This was not requested by Mr. D’s criminal solicitors, who merely sought to change the curfew for the day Mr. D had a medical appointment, and was not communicated to Mr. D or his lawyers. Negotiations are continuing and I will get Mr. D his compensation shortly.)

Electronic Tag Costs

Capita executives may be satisfied with their latest government contract, but as the experience of G4S and Serco shows, getting it wrong can be an expensive business.

People wearing electronic tags suffered wrongful arrests and justifiably made compensation claims against the two companies, who received bad publicity and had to pay out.

Capita will need to be confident that its own internal processes are watertight and that its outsourced companies and their equipment are working effectively. If not, more electronic tag wrongful arrest compensation claims will be made, and those Capita executives will only have themselves to blame.

 

To make an electronic tag unlawful arrest claim, call me on 0151 933 1474, or complete the online form on my firm’s website www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.

 

Charity begins at home for Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Picture of Daniel Fitzsimmons, Kevin Donoghue, and Hannah Bickley, of Donoghue Solicitors.

Daniel Fitzsimmons, Kevin Donoghue, and Hannah Bickley, of Donoghue Solicitors are all taking part in the 3 Peaks Challenge.

Over the weekend of the 5th and 6th July a team from Donoghue Solicitors are attempting the National 3 Peaks Challenge in aid of a local charity, Bootle-based Brunswick Youth and Community Centre. We hope to raise £3,000 so the Club can provide activities to local young people during the summer.

Please sponsor us!

What we’re doing

Photo of Snowdon, which Donoghue Solicitors 3 Peaks Challenge team will climb.

Snowdon

The 3 Peaks Challenge sees challengers attempt to climb the highest mountains of Scotland (Ben Nevis, 1,344m/4,409ft), England (Scarfell Pike, 978m/3,209ft) and Wales (Snowdon, 1,085m/3,560ft). The total distance walked is estimated at 44 km/27 miles, with a total ascent of 3,000m/9,800ft.

Photo of Ben Nevis. A team from Donoghue Solicitors will climb Ben Nevis for the 3 Peaks Challenge.

Ben Nevis

 

We’re aiming to complete the challenge in 24 hours, which will involve driving many miles in a cramped minibus, eating bad food in motorway service stations, and then doing hard hikes in whatever weather the English summer throws at us!

Photo of Scarfell Pike, which the team from Donoghue Solicitors will climb.

Scarfell Pike

 

Why we’re doing the 3 Peaks Challenge

We are raising money for a registered charity, The Brunswick Youth & Community Centre of Marsh Lane, Bootle, Liverpool (or “The Brunny” as most people in Bootle know it).

This is an organisation that we all fully support due to the fantastic work that it carries out for the community in Bootle and the surrounding areas in North Liverpool and Merseyside. The charity provide after-school clubs, a youth club and run various projects that engage with young people to steer them in the right direction in life.

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors, and Keith Lloyd of local charity Brunswick Youth Club.

Kevin Donoghue of Donoghue Solicitors and Keith Lloyd of Brunswick Youth Club.

Many of the staff at Donoghue Solicitors have benefitted as youngsters from the great work that The Brunny performs. It is not funded by the local authority; it is a fully independent charity that relies upon the support and generosity of local businesses and people (Jamie ‘Carra’ Carragher of Liverpool FC and England, and Donoghue Solicitors to name but two).

The aim is to raise funds for The Brunny so that they can run a holiday club throughout the Summer school break. They aim to be open 4 days every week and, on one day each week, they hope to include an outdoor activity such as canoeing or mountain biking. Surprisingly, there is no other organisation like this open during the holidays offering such activities to young people in our area.

Charity Partnership

The Donoghue Solicitors 3 Peaks Challenge is the first in a number of initiatives the firm is taking to encourage healthy lifestyles for its employees.

We have partnered with the Brunny and Sefton Council’s ‘Active Travel Sefton’ project to increase our use of public transport, cycling, walking, and outdoor activities. As a result I expect that everyone here will benefit from better health and well-being.

The 3 Peaks Challenge is an ambitious start compared to leaving the car at home when commuting to work, but I’m sure that, if we can do it, walking or cycling to the office will be easy!

Active Sefton logo

 

What you can do to help

Please sponsor us at our Virgin Money Giving page:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/DonoghueSolicitors3Peaks

We will be live-tweeting our progress over the weekend of Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th July at http://twitter.com/donoghuelaw. Please ‘follow’ us and show your support to the team (Kevin Donoghue, Daniel Fitzsimmons, Hannah Bickley, Jack Fitzsimmons, Carl Smith, and Jane Basnett).

We really appreciate your support and thank you on behalf of The Brunny and the local community for sponsoring us.

 

Image credits: Ben Nevis by Bruce Cowan, Scarfell Pike by Craig Rigby, Snowdon by Bert Kaufmann (all on flickr).

 

 

 

Donoghue Solicitors win the “World Cup”

 

Picture of Daniel Fitzsimmons, team captain of the Donoghue Solicitors 5-a-side football team, who won the "World Cup" recently.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons

We won!

On Tuesday 27 May a team representing Donoghue Solicitors won the Powerleague Liverpool World Cup 5-a-side football tournament.

As a keen footballer outside of work, I put together a crack team of fellow “athletes” to play in the competition.

 

Picture of Donoghue Solicitors' "World Cup" winning 5-a-side football team.

Donoghue Solicitors World Cup Winning 5-a-side Team (left-right): Stefan Valentine, Tom Stafford, Daniel Fitzsimmons (captain), Jack Fitzsimmons, and Kevin Donoghue.

Donoghue Solicitors’ team competed against various other businesses from throughout Merseyside. The games were played at the Powerleague Liverpool (known locally as ‘The Pitz’) Centre in Walton throughout May. For those unfamiliar with the area, this is walking distance to both Anfield (the home of Liverpool FC) and Goodison Park (Everton’s ground). It is possible (but unlikely!) that scouts from both teams were watching!

Proceeds from our entry fees contributed to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. As a lifelong Liverpool FC fan the organisation is close to my heart and one I am always keen to support.

Poetry in Motion

Donoghue Solicitors played as Ireland (in “home” green shirts) and beat five other teams on our way to the final, conceding only two goals during the run. In the final we beat Knowsley Council’s Spain team 7-0.

Like at work, this was a real team effort. Everyone chipped in with at least one goal in the final.

And although we didn’t get to play as England, hopefully our win will inspire Steven Gerrard and the rest of the England team to victory in Brazil this summer!

Picture of the 5-a-side "World Cup" winners' trophy at Donoghue Solicitors' offices.

The 5-a-side “World Cup” winners trophy proudly displayed at Donoghue Solicitors’ offices.

 

 

Why the Police Should Change Their Body Camera Policy

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Police Misconduct Claims Solicitor

Kevin Donoghue, Police Misconduct Claims Solicitor

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor
Yesterday the Metropolitan Police confirmed that they will trial the use of body camera technology with 500 front line officers based in 10 London boroughs, starting with Camden.

This follows successful trials of the equipment, which records what the officer sees and hears, in Devon & Cornwall and Bedfordshire.

If successful, the year-long trial will be extended further. It is anticipated that 10,000-20,000 Metropolitan Police officers could eventually use it.

Other forces are watching with interest and are expected to adopt body cameras if the test is successful.

Speaking to the BBC, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, praised the introduction of the cameras, stating that they would help both in the fight against crime and to ‘hold us to account’.

It is expected that the body cameras will only be used when the police respond to incidents and during stop & search operations, rather than during day-to-day interactions. The Commissioner says this is because leaving the cameras on all the time would be ‘too intrusive’. To deal with the risk that vital evidence may be missed, every body camera will have a 30 second ‘buffer’ built in (where they are constantly pre-recording) so that when an officer turns the camera on, footage for half a minute beforehand is also included.

The limited use of body cameras was supported in a radio interview by Rachel Tuffin, the Head of Research, Analysis and Information at the College of Policing, who said that there are issues about data storage. The Met also plan to keep the footage for only 31 days (unless requested to keep it in evidence).

To counter suspicions that officers would deliberately not turn their body cameras on, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said that ‘if that happens we will challenge them about it… and take action appropriately’.

He anticipated that in ’90 odd percent of the time’ body cameras would be used by the police officers when responding to incidents.

But is this good enough?

Why Wearing a Body Camera Puts Police on ‘Best Behaviour’

A year-long study of body cameras worn by the police in Rialto, Southern California, found that complaints against police officers dropped by about 88% and crucially, the use of force fell by 60%.

Why?

Because in the words of Corporal Gary Cunningham, “it has changed my behaviour and makes me more aware that someone’s watching”.

Significantly, in the Rialto study the officers were told to systematically record every interaction they had with the public. They were not, as with the Metropolitan Police, given a judgement call to make about whether an interaction with someone was routine or something more serious. As a result, they were used to doing everything ‘by the book’, leading to the dramatic reductions in complaints and use of force.

Picture of a police officer wearing a body camera.

Police Officer Wearing a Body Camera

Weak Arguments Against Body Camera Use

The Rialto study showed that filming every interaction worked. I disagree with Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s suggestion that the use of a body camera may be too intrusive given the obvious benefits in the fight against crime and dealing with police misconduct.

While I acknowledge that there may be privacy concerns, the Metropolitan Police have missed an opportunity by giving their officers the option of turning off body cameras during certain interactions with the public.

What happens when a seemingly innocent situation turns into something more? Without the requirement that body cameras must be used every time when dealing with the public, police officers may not turn on the equipment until it is too late, if at all, so crucial evidence of criminal wrongdoing could be missed. The 30-second ‘buffer’ will probably not be enough in many situations.

Also, if the cameras can be deliberately turned off when police officers abuse their powers, evidence of police misconduct will not be recorded. This would not be good for the Metropolitan Police, who may mistakenly defend a ‘rotten apple’ police officer in an expensive compensation claim.

And it is likely that if a member of the public complains about a police officer’s conduct and finds out that the body camera was not used, the lack of video evidence may be considered deliberate and sinister.

I also disagree with the suggestion by Rachel Tuffin that there are issues about data storage. I find this especially hard to believe. If the world’s video can be stored on youtube, why can’t the police access similar servers?

And, the Metropolitan Police’s plan to keep the footage for only 31 days (unless requested to keep it in evidence) is also questionable.

This time period is identical to that for police-held CCTV footage. Very often I am approached by people who have suffered as a result of police misconduct after 31 days have passed since the incident. They ask me to get the police’s CCTV footage to help claim compensation or make a police complaint. By the time they get in touch vital footage is often deleted.

I suggest that body camera footage be kept for 12 months. It would help clarify incidents, result in quicker resolutions, and save considerable costs dealing with complaints and police misconduct claims. As the footage is stored ‘in the cloud’ this should not cause a problem for the data server holders who can simply delete it after 12 months instead.

The Metropolitan Police are adamant that the body camera tests are intended to find out “how to do it, not whether to do it”. As a solicitor who specialises in actions against the police, I recommend that, for the sake of his own officers as well as the public, the Commissioner immediately change his policy to make sure that body cameras are used during every interaction with the public, and that the footage is kept for twelve months and not one.

If you want a solicitor who will help you to sue the police contact me, Kevin Donoghue, on 0151 933 1474 or via my firm’s website www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk

Image credit: West Midlands Police on flickr.