Monday, 22 April 2013

The Ministry of Justice will kill Justice

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Solicitors are preceived to be rich. They're perceived to be parasites who live off the misfortune of others, who care little for Justice, use the rules purely to their clients' advantage, care little for the "victim" and are only interested in making money.

I remember one "client" who told me what I had to do despite what he wanted me to do being wrong and stupid telling me, when I sacked him, that I was "just like all the rest, only in it for the money". The fact that he wasn't paying me and he hadn't bothered to assist me in applying for legal aid was lost on him.
I wasn't getting paid to listen to his abuse.

The Ministry of Justice has recently launched a "consultation" on the future of criminal legal aid. Lijke most, if not all, Government "consultations" its not a consultation about the policy, but a consultation about implementation. Opposition is seen as self-serving, self-interest. The fact that what is beng proposed is clearly unworkable and wrong, is neither here nor there.
Suggest alternatives, we are urged. The country can't afford our overly generous legal aid system
Apparently just over £1 billion is spent on criminal legal aid. Is it? Where are the figures?

Most people don't care about legal aid. Most people don't get into trouble with the Police and have little sympathy for those who do. Most people have little empathy with an offender and most people assume that if you have been arrested then its because you've done something wrong. In a time of cut backs and job losses spending money on some "drug addicted scrot of a burglar" isn't a great rallying cry.

When arrested for the first time Mr or Mrs Ordinary will rarely ask for the Duty Solicitor usually because:
1 the nice arresting Police Officer has advised that if they do ask for a Solicitor it will cause delay; and/or
2 only the guilty get a solicitor  "and as I'd done nothing wrong I thought I'd just get on with it myself".

Most people, having listened to the nice Officer and/or having made a free choice to deal with the interview themselves regret that decision once they have been charged to Court. "I wish I'd got you when I was being interviewed", they say.

A Police Station is not a place for the faint hearted.  Police Officers are driven to resolve a crime. That means if they can charge someone (or, these days, give them a caution) the jobs a good'un. Crime reported, crime detected. It's a fair cop.

What if you are innocent. What if you didn't do what has been alleged. How do you deal with the Police. How do you get to see the cctv evidence? What do you say? "All we want is for you to tell the truth and to tell us your side of the story".
But what is the truth?

Its 3 in the morning. You are a bit hung over. You're sure that she came on to you. "Yes she did. She came on to me and she said, let's go upstairs. She was drunk, I think. But she wanted it."
How were you to know she was 15. You're only 17 yourself.

On another day, your girlfriend is in the nick:
"Look,darlin', she walked up to me and she said "You're nowt but a fucking slag!" She spat in my face so I grabbed her by the hair, there was a tussle, I remember that.We fell to the floor. The bouncers got involved. He grabbed me by the hair. I'd forgotten about the glass in my hand, honest I did.
Section 18? What's that?"

Does it all seem so simple and easy and straight forward now?

When you are in the Police Station, would you want a Solicitor who knows what they are doing? Who is experienced. Who attends the Courts regularly?

The Ministry of Justice wants to end that. They want to end your right to choose. They want to restrict the numbers of firms who can offer criminal legal aid and restrict your right to choose. Why? Because they say it will save money? Will it? Probably not.

Because they want Big Business like G4S and Serco and other companies to get involved. The friends of Government advising suspects. There will be a Price Competitive Tender process. The cheapest will win. Cheap means poor quality. Poor quality means poor advice.

Your rights will have been removed.

Maybe you don't care. Maybe it doesn't matter to you today.

But one day it might.

Please sign this petition.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Could you appoint me as an attorney to manage my mother’s affairs?

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At Emmersons Solicitors we are often approached by people who would like to become an attorneyon behalf of their parent or partner. This can be as a result of a medical crisis or because social services have become involved with an elderly person.

However, we always have to advise that it is the person who is in difficulty (the donor) who willbe our client. In the first instance we need to establish whether or not they are capable of giving us instructions. At this stage the donor may be in hospital, in a care home or simply unable to make the journey to our office. If we are advised that the problem is early dementia, or mental incapacity because of a recent stroke, then we would seek the opinion of the donor’s doctor regarding their Mental Capacity to instruct us.

I have been to visit clients in care homes who seemed to be incapable of giving me instructions
and who had difficulty in understanding why I had visited them. However, upon their GP completing
a Mental Capacity Checklist it has transpired that they do have capacity. It may be that they were
very tired or dehydrated during my first visit.

As members of Solicitors For The Elderly Emmersons Solicitors always follow their guidance in determining capacity. This is very important, not only to protect our clients, but also would-be-attorneys from accusations of fraud or duress.We keep detailed notes of meetings with clients in case a family member should try to challenge a decision.

We find it is better if all relevant family members discuss matters together before we meet with a client to draw up the documents. In most cases there are one or two family members or close friends who support a client. It is often better if they can be present during at least part of our meeting. This can make a client feel more at ease.

As the attorney(s) will be taking on a lot of responsibility it is better if they and the donor canreach decisions together. Sometimes families have left it too late and it is impossible for their relative to give instructions. If this happens it may be necessary to apply to the Court of Protection to manage the patient’s affairs.

This would happen if a house had to be sold or an agreement with a care home had to be signed to pay fees. Without legal standing no one has the right to sign documents agreeing to use a patient’s money. The Court of Protection procedure is far more cumbersome and expensive than the Lasting Power of Attorney route. The Court has the right to interview the person acting (the Deputy).

Sometimes the interviews can take up to three hours; the court needs to be satisfied that the deputy is not abusing their position. To avoid all of the above the best course of action is to think about appointing an attorney(s) now.

This will allow you to make decisions about your future whilst you are still able to do so. If any family member has the early signs of dementia, or has had a stroke, you should seek help immediately.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Conveyancing is easy, so why does it take so long?

Share | The buying and selling of houses can actually be quite complicated. No two cases are the same. It is obviously more complex than buying your groceries or even a new car. There is more to your dream home than a can of soup!

It is essential for the buyer’s solicitor to raise the correct enquiries and check the title deeds to the property. There are many types of searches, in fact there seems to be a never ending array of new searches on offer.

At Emmersons Solicitors we provide clients with a summary of the main types of search and why they are necessary. In one case recently we discovered that the entrance to a mine shaft was only 50 yards away from the front door of a property our client was about to purchase. Needless to say they didn’t go ahead.

Is the land you think you are buying owned by the seller? It may be that years ago money changed hands in respect of an extra strip of land but neither party instructed a solicitor to deal with the registration at the time.

In all cases where a mortgage is involved, your solicitor is not just acting for you but also your lender. They have very strict requirements that solicitors must follow. The demands of lenders are many. They are extremely cautious having been too lax prior to the recession. Many have lost money as a result.

In addition there is a huge amount of fraud taking place at the moment in respect of property sales and purchases. A favourite trick is for someone to spot an empty property, find out who owns it, impersonate them with numerous

documents and then sell that person’s home without their knowledge.

At Emmersons Solicitors, we have extra ID checking facilities in place; we require proof of the source of funds in order to avoid money laundering. Our staff regularly attend money laundering courses. Nearly every month there is a new scam taking place on a national basis. Last week alone the Law society alerted us to six new scams.

So what should you be looking for in a solicitor?

Speed of service- Emmersons has a state of the art case management system so that cases can be turned around in about half the usual time. In one recent case we had a new build matter ready to exchange in one week. We also have access to the Land Registry online service; this means that we can obtain documents in hours rather than days.

An ethical firm – Look for the Conveyancing Quality Mark scheme awarded by The Law Society. This means that a firm has reached a high standard in terms of service offered to clients.

A clear indication of costs – Don’t always plump for the cheapest firm. You need quality of service, a property solicitor who checks documents properly and who is able to protect you as you deal with the biggest purchase of your life.

If you haven't made your will yet, here are some good reasons for doing so

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Many people now cohabit instead of marrying, including same sex couples. They think that they will be provided for if their partner dies. Without a will your next of kin may inherit everything instead of your partner.

Do you have children from more than one relationship? If so you will need to specify  how much of your estate they are to inherit and why.

At Emmersons Solicitors we have designed a comprehensive questionnaire covering a range of issues that you should consider when making a will. We can also advise on the best way to reduce the potential for care home fees. Our aim is to ensure that your wishes are carried out without anyone being able to challenge your will. It could cost thousands of pounds and a lot of heartache if a will is challenged.

We also deal with Powers of Attorney and Contested Estates.
0191 2846989

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Spring Starts and Budget Day

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Since I last posted we have had the Six Nations Rugby championship which Wales won in fine style against England in Cardiff just last Saturday. Ireland didn't win it.

Italy played well at home and were unlucky not to do better away from home.

My friend Mary Beaman died and we buried her near Galway. She was 93. I've known her all my life, all 51 years. She was a beautiful woman, who laughed and chatted and drank a little whiskey and took her faith very seriously. She loved the Catholic Church. I am from a Presbyterian background. She taught me not to judge people based upon my preconceptions of what I decided they believed or thought, but to listen and to treat each person as an individual.

We have had snow. Goodness how we have had snow.

We've had Red Nose Day. How many more children must die on BBC televison before the injections and nets that are needed are provided. What do the countries in which these people live do with their money? yet in a tiome of economic turmoil so much generosity was shown by the people of the UK on RND

In our own country there are children celebrated for being carers of ill parents or grandparents when the truth is their childhood has been stolen from them to save a proper care and support package being delivered by the NHS and local government social services.

Perhaps the most annoying thing was the media storm created by a report from the Legal Ombudsman about complaints by Family clients "The price of separation: Divorce related legal complaints and their causes". One would have thought that the whole system was in a mess and problems were rife. The number of complainants equates to about 0.5% of all those who got divorced in one year. The media loved it. Lawyers ripping off clients was the main angle.

Problems do occur. That's because the process isn't perfect and people aren't perfect.
Costs are a concern. How to keep costs down? Try and do most of the leg work yourself. Don't use the Solicitor as a counsellor. Communicate only as and when necessary. If there are problems then talk to the Solicitor face to face instead of starting an email exchange.

Be realistic about what you can achieve for the money you can afford. Compromise on minor issues (do you really want the goldfish or the porcelain ducks?) and try to isolate the important issues and then compromise on them.

Obviously going to Court may have to be the answer. Some parties just will not compromise. In those circumstances be prepared. The best advice in Court is to remain calm, answer questions succinctly, clearly and honestly and avoid an argument or hysterics.

Listen to the advice of your Solicitor. Dont listen to the advice of well-meaning friends. Just because they have gone through a divorce doesn't make them an expert on pension sharing or child contact issues.

The best advice is to approach the issues through Collaborative Family Law. This is when you and your Solicitor sit down with your spouse and his/her Solicitor and negotiate a compromise.

In relation to contact issues Mediation may be the betetr approach as for you it will be less costly. But when it comes to financial matters our advice is to consider very seriously the Collaborative Family Law route.

Better than going to war and having a huge bill. Watch the video and find out for yourself what it is all about.

Emmersons Solicitors 0191 2846989 and ask for Jacqueline Emmerson or Helen Taylor or Louise Martin.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Another year gone.

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What a year for sport. The 6 Nations in rugby culminated in Wales winning a Grand Slam (and then falling apart in the Autumn).

Ulster and Leinster played out the Final of the European Rugby Cup at Twickenham and Ulster lost. But I was there and what a great day that was.

However the Olympics and Paralympics proved to be the shining glory of our Summer. What a magnificent showpiece for British athletes, for athlets from all over the world, for sportsmanship and for the UK. It was great.

For me, however, the Ryder Cup fightback of Europe was the sporting higlight. It exemplified all that is great in sport. Dogged, determined ambition and belief. Sportsmanship from all participants. The crowd in fine voice yet friendly (overall). It was a great example to business. Effort, leadership, clear goals, energy, support and praise can result in dreams being realised.

IPP was abolished-sort of-in that it can't, from 3 December, be imposed upon someone convicted after that date. However it still exists as a punishment for those convicted before then and for those already sentenced to IPP. Hopefully the Parole Board will receive new regulations from the Secretary of State for Justice (who must be the worst person ever to occupy that role).

Chris Grayling is the wrong man at the wrong time. His attitudes are best reserved for the back benches. He is not a Statesman nor a leader. He is inept. He will be found out and replaced very soon.

Our business has gone through some changes. We lost and gained a conveyancer. We lost and gained some support staff. We lost and gained an accountant and gained a practice manger. Our business is growing and we have spent money on software to make the conveyancing experience better for our clients. We demand higher standards of work from our staff and ourselves and they are delivering.

Our prison law department is growing. We have undertaken more private client road traffic casework than before.

We are building a reputation in relation to high value divorce settlements through our involvement with Collaborative law and because we dont over-charge the client.

The future looks rosy.

I have had my usual run-ins with SRA and LeO. I find it hard to understand why people who claim to understand what it is like to be a Solicitor feel they must create more and more layers of bureaucracy just so one can do what one needs to do. It makes little sense. The problem is that neither the SRA nor the LeO are prepared to listen to me or Solicitors or The Law Society. The Legal Services Commission, however, is listening. What a refreshing change?!?

My hope for 2013 is that those Solicitors and others regulated by the SRA who cannot comply with the Code of Conduct are "struck off". I hope to see Solicitors jailed who have paid bribes to clients to entice them away from other Solicitors. I hope that the SRA will finally realise its limitations and empower local law societies to act as "Police Officers" or mini Courts or both to preserve the ethical standards of the profession. The SRA is a toothless, slow regulator which engenders little or no fear in those it regulates. The move to Outcome Focussed Regulation is perhaps the biggest mistake the SRA has made. It would also be nice to see The Law Society lead its members just as the Law Societies in Scotland have done over criminal legal aid contributions.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

John Terry

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It just goes to show what money can buy you. John Terry is charged with a minor public order offence. People charged with the offence can only have a trial in the Magistrates' Court. Obtaining legal aid is problematic. Only if one has the relevant lack of income and lack of capital would one pass the Means Test. If one is at risk of custody would one pass the Interests of Justice test. Therefore the ordinary employed person would have to represent himself or pay for legal representation.

Even then the ordinary person would only be able to pay for probably a one day trial-not 5 days.

Is it right that John Terry should be able to pay for a QC and a lengthy forensic examination by his lawyers of the case against him? Is it right that most other people don't get that level of Justice?

Why is Justice able to be bought?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Emmersons offer to help Armed Forces Personnel

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Are you aware that 30th June 2012 is Armed Forces Day?  This is the day which has been targeted to raise awareness of the work undertaken by the men and women serving in our Armed Forces and the excellent job that they do. It is a great opportunity for members of the public to show their support for our troops. 

Emmersons Solicitors has always been a great supporter of our Armed Forces and since they opened for business 14 years ago have always strived to do all that they can to help service personnel and their families.  They often carry out work on a pro bono basis for service personnel who are unable to afford to pay their legal fees. “We often assist soldiers suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have dealt with some very young soldiers who have come into contact with the court system because they have lost control as a direct result of things they have witnessed in such places as Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan” says Michael Robinson, partner in the firm. 

When Emmersons opened their second office in Gosforth they took the opportunity to raise funds for SSAFA Forces Help . “Our launch evening for our Gosforth office was a great opportunity to bring together the SSAFA volunteers from the North East and local businesses. The volunteers give up a great deal of time to help existing and retired armed forces personnel. They are always looking for extra volunteers to help them” says Jacqueline Emmerson.

Emmersons connection with the Armed Forces continued with the appointment of Louise Flynn as a Family Law Solicitor. Louise was previously based at a firm at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire.  Working in the Garrison, she gained a wealth of experience dealing with Armed Forces divorces and dissolutions.  Through her experience she learned that the divorce rate in the forces appears to be higher than in civilian life.  There are several factors that impact on an armed forces divorce in a unique way.  Forces pensions and terminal grants are taken into account when dealing with the divorce, especially if the client is close to receiving the payments.  Housing needs for the family and contact arrangements tend to be at the forefront. 

“On this Armed Forces Day we will be thinking of the impact that being in the armed forces has on family life. We at Emmersons are supporting our forces. If any forces personnel require legal assistance during the next two weeks they should contact us to see if we can offer them free help” says Senior Partner  Jacqueline Emmerson who is also Honorary Solicitor for SSAFA Forces Help in the North East of England .

 Emmersons Solicitors are based at 52 John Street, Sunderland SR1 1QN and 145 High Street Gosforth NE3 1HA. For further information contact Jacqueline Emmerson on 0191 2846989, Michael Robinson on 0191 5676667 or e mail

Co-Operative Funeral Services on Channel 4's Despatches

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As a solicitor dealing with probate work I have often been shocked when I see funeral bills from the Co-op. When compared to independant funeral directors they seem to be nearly double the price. All was explained when I watched Despatches last night. Their undercover reporter showed the public the hardline selling tactics employed by the Co-op.

This links to the fact that some families who were using Co-operative funeral services were hararrssed by the Co-op into using their legal teams for the probate work. I have heard about one family who were contacted four times in the two weeks after the death of their relative. The calls were to pursuade them that they should use Co-operative legal services. This is shocking behaviour.

 My advice would be to use your local funeral director. In Newcastle upon Tyne I have had dealings with a very nice firm in Wideopen called Duckworth Funeral Directors. They were nearly half the price of the Co-Op. I am not on commission I just feel strongly that people ought to be aware of what is going on.

 Jacqueline Emmerson

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Emmersons Solicitors secures Law Society's Conveyancing quality mark

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Emmersons Solicitors with offices in John Street Sunderland and High Street, Gosforth has secured membership to the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Scheme - the mark of excellence for the home buying process.

Emmersons Solicitors underwent rigorous assessment by the Law Society in order to secure CQS status, which marks the firm out as meeting high standards in the residential conveyancing process.

Law Society President John Wotton said that the Law Society introduced CQS to promote high standards in the home buying process.

“CQS improves efficiency with common, consistent standards and service levels and enables consumers to recognise practices that provide a quality residential conveyancing service.

"Buying a home is one of the largest purchases anyone will make in their lifetime, so it is essential that it is done to the highest standard by a solicitor. There are many different conveyancing service providers out there, making it difficult for home buyers to identify those which can ensure a safe and efficient level of service.”

Michael Robinson says: "Emmersons Solicitors is delighted to have secured CQS status. It is recognition of the high standards we provide to our residential property clients and is a signal to future home buyers of the excellent service level we provide at what is often a stressful time for many people.

“The award of CQS status to us reflects the dedication with which our Property Law Team work towards making the client’s journey through the property maze as easy and stress free as possible.  

“The overall beneficiaries will be clients who use Emmersons Solicitors when buying a home. They will receive a reliable, efficient, cost effective service as recognised by the CQS standard."

The scheme requires practices to undergo a strict assessment, compulsory training, self reporting, random audits and annual reviews in order to maintain CQS status. It is open only to members of the Law Society who meet the demanding standards set by the scheme and has the support of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Building Societies Association, Legal Ombudsman and the Association of British Insurers.

For more information on the Law Society's Conveyancing Quality Scheme visit

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Having spent some time away from the office, what joy it is to return!

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We went to London to see the Queen. Actually only my wife got to see her and the rest of the Royal Family on their "barge" as it floated down the Thames. We all saw Gloriana and the rest of the small boats. Next day we visited the Thames again and saw the tall ships at Tower Bridge and watched that Bridge open and close as ships passed through.

First day back had a long round trip to Hull to meet a client who has a Parole Board hearing soon. He is serving an IPP sentence. He is well over tariff and appears to have been set to one side by the system. Like a large number of prisoners serving IPP he is languishing in jail waiting for someone to confirm that his risk is assessed as low so he can be moved to Open Conditions. Thereafter a period of time will pass-perhaps 1-2 years-before he is released back into the community, subject to licence conditions for at least 10 years if not life. He can then be recalled at any time by Probation. Recall means he is arrested by the police and held in a police cell before being taken back to prison. Once recalled he may start an appeal process but most lilely he will remain in custody until he can show that he has learned his lesson and is again assessed as low risk.

Why so long in custody? (This particular client has served 3 times his tariff of two years) Because the courses do not exist to process IPP's more quickly and a one size fits all approach means that only recently his educational needs have been addressed. Why has it taken nearly six years to address the real, underlying problems?

Recall can be for an actual breach of the conditions imposed o the licence or for a perceived risk of breach.

IPP is costly and although it has been scrapped by LASPO it remains unreformed for those cutrrently serving an IPP. The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke QC is thinking about introducing regulations under LASPO about how IPP prisoners are processed by the system and assessed by Probation and prison staff. A major area of contention is the use of trainee psychologists to assess prisoners for dangerousness. Too much of what is written is subjective opinion as opposed to factual evidence. Opinion of an expert is fine but often the opinions expressed by trainee psychologists could not be said to be the opinions of experts givien the lack of experience and expertise of a trainee psychologist.

The Parole Board and prison staff and probation officers and everyone involved with IPPs is risk adverse. Any excuse to say "no" to a progressive move through the prison estate from Cat A or B, to C and then D (Open) and then Release on Licence is usually taken UNLESS there is no possible reason for saying "No".

Recall rates are high. Indeed recall is usually placing more prisoners back in prison than Magistrates and Judges are sending new prisoners. Probation Officers must be seen to be tough and cannot take a risk. Imagine if a person committed a minor breach of the licence conditions and then went on to commit a crime? What would the papers say? Who would be blamed? Better to recall to prison for a minor breach and then argue for a release. This happens too often. The Probation Officer plays Prosecutor and Advocate at the same time.

It is also true to say that a prisoner who has the beneft of expert prison law advice is usually going to get through the IPP sentence quicker. This is because the expert advice is usually what the prisoner does not want to hear-that IPP is a life snetnec, that progress is achieved through acquiescence and through displaying to everyone in the prsion system that one has learned the lessons that the courses offer. A prisoner serving a determinate sentence can do whatever he/she likes and will be released (subject to recall, perhaps). The IPP prisoner does not have that luxury. Maintaining innocence is the biggest mistake an IPP prisoner can make. Unfortunately there are support groups and "experts" willing to support those maintaining their innocence. It is an easy thing to do if serving a determinate sentence-but for an IPP it is a disaster.

The biggest mistake to make is to assume that discrepancies in the evdience of witnesses is a major flaw in the prosecution case. Surely if one witness says one thing and another says a similar thing but inconsistent to another witness that must mean that the defendant is innocent and any conviction is appellable? Wrong. Grounds for appeal are limited. A Jury has heard all the evidence and convicted the defendant. This is not to say that innocent people are not convicted of crimes that they have not committed. It is to say that maintaining innocence and seeking a route to appeal is a sure fire way of spending longer in jail than is necessary. It depends, I suppose, on what matters to each individual. I have represented people who have, according to them, never committed any of the offences of which they have been convicted and who are unlucky enough to have been accused of similar offences by unrelated complainants over a period of time.

I have also represented those who have been falsely accused. They have not been convicted. Most have not been charged. The good work in relation to such cases starts in the Police Station and in how one communicates with teh Police. Too many people try to undertake this work themselves "because they are innocent" and then seek advice when charged.

However, over 20 years, I can honestly say that I have not represented one person who was not convicted of an offence or who did not plead guilty to an offence that they had in my view committed. Some have reluctantly, and upon advice, pleaded guilty when they have disputed the accuracy of the evidence by undertaking the minutiae analysis of what each witness has had to say described above without being able to view the big picture. It is a bit like being able to analyse spelling mistakes in a sentence or phrase whilst ignoring the author's message. The meaning is clear.


Family and friends usually join in the denial cycle because they too can't or won't see the big picture. Ultimately the prisoner suffers by staying in custody for far too long "to prove a point". What point? Being innocent is one thing. Maintaining innocence after conviction quite another thing.

We are robust at making the Crown disclose the evidence it has and in seeking out further evidence. I am quite happy to advance a defence which is in fact a defence. We robustly defend each and every client's case. We use experts in forensic analysis and in investigation to explore every raesonable possibility.

But we also give realistic advice. Clients decide to plead guilty and they are given time to think about what they want to do. Some choose to have a trial. That is the right of every defendant, however a person convicted after trial serves longer in jail than a person who pleads guilty and a person who maintains his innocence and is subject to life sentence will remain in custody for a very long time.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The future is anything but bright

Share |There is a lot of excitement in the legal world at the minute over issues which do not directly affect those outside it but which may do in the future.

The first is whether Pro Bono work should help fill the gap left by Government cuts to legal aid. The President of the Law Society and others have suggested that the answer is "yes". Those of us who have worked in legal aid for years get either angry or cynical when City lawyers talk about the Pro Bono work they do. One firm suggests its lawyers should do 14 hours each year. For legal aid lawyers pro bono ie doing work for the good of one's fellow man or woman or child for no remuneration is a daily event.

The other issue is the Trainee Solicitor minimum salary and associated to that is education of law students and trainee Solicitors. The minimum salary is an impediment to a legal aid firm employing a trainee unless that trainee is already qualified in some way to undertake work, appear at Court in family cases or go to a Police Station. For a legal aid firm trainees are very expensive and only if they are able and willing to do more than shadow an experienced Solicitor and do research will a legal aid firm be able to afford to employ them.

In larger firms potential trainees are employed as paralegals in the hope of getting a training contract. This has lead to employer abuse of power and dreams of trainees becoming nightmares.

There are too many people qualifying from Law School with Legal Practice Course qualifications looking for training contracts.

In Northern Ireland a system of apprenticeships exists which means that those who spend money on the Northern Ireland equivalent of the LPC are guaranteed a job. Training is on the job and at college by way of block release. Trainee Solicitors are Apprentices. This system could work here in England and Wales.

There is a system of "apprenticeship" available through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives can result in qualifying as a Solicitor. It takes time. It involves academic testing. You can earn as you learn.

So what? Pro Bono encourages the government to cut more. If Solicitors and barristers fill the gap then there is no gap for the poor and the vulnerable to fall through. This means that the Government can say it was right to cut legal aid because actually it was not needed. Ultimately the poor and vulnerable suffer. Firms move away from legal aid because Pro Bono doesn't pay the rent. Thus creating an even bigger gap.

Unless legal education is reformed to make it acceptable to legal aid firms to employ trainees or apprentices there will be fewer legal aid solicitors. In an already grey market young blood is hard to find. The poor and vulnerable will lose out again.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Exciting news at end of April

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More exciting news from Emmersons.

John Griffith, formerly of Michael Purdon and Co, Newcastle upon Tyne, is now employed at Emmersons as a Prison Law Solicitor and Supervisor.

We have made progress since we started offering advice and representation in Prison Law and now believe that we have a settled and experienced team who can deliver first rate advice and representation throughout Great Britain.

You can contact John at or by phoning 01915676667.

So who does own our love nest?

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As Emmersons Solicitors deals with property law and family law we have cases that crop up that often cover both areas. People often assume that as they put money into a house they must own it, others assume just because they live in a house that they must have a legal interest in it. Two recent cases highlight the complexity.

In the first case David and Billy had bought a house together. However, they were short of money for their deposit so Billy’s father gave them a lump sum to help with the purchase. The couple were about to split up and the question arose as to how much money each of them was entitled to from the sale of the house. Billy said that his father would need his money back first. What we needed to consider was whether or not Billy’s father had an interest in the property, had he meant to loan the couple the money or was it a gift to the two of them? Was he on the title deeds as being an owner, was his share of the property specified in a trust deed? Neither Billy nor David had a clue, and this is often the case.

If your parents are giving you money as a deposit for a house all of the above should be considered. If a dispute arises over the issue then ultimately, in this case, Billy’s father would have to become a third party in court proceedings. The cost of the proceedings in many cases could be more than the money given/loaned in the first instance.

If money is to be repaid then a trust deed should be set up showing this and the fact should be registered at the Land Registry as part of the initial Conveyancing process.

However, the solicitor helping the purchasers would need to be made aware of this at the time. This would protect the parent making the loan, especially if one of the parties died before the money was repaid or was declared bankrupt.

This leads me on to the next case. John and Sally, who had both been married before, were going to buy a house together using the proceeds of sale from their previous properties. However, John’s house didn’t sell fast enough and so Sally bought the house in her name only. Later when John’s house was sold he put all of his sale proceeds into the new house. However, he discovered that it was going to cost about £500.00 to have his name added onto the title deeds. He thought this was expensive and so left matters. Fast forward ten years and Sally was declared bankrupt. The Trustee in Bankruptcy declared an interest in the whole property. John was left with legal fees of well over £500.00 to persuade the Trustee that he had a 50% interest in the property. Fortunately for him he was able to provide an audit trail showing that he had used his money to reduce the mortgage and so could prove an interest in the property.

If you think that the legal ownership of your home needs to be reconsidered then don’t wait ten years, seek help now.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Exciting news at end of April

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More exciting news from Emmersons on 30 April 2012. It just gets better and better!!   

Why on earth would you wish to pay for a PPI claim?

Share | You dont have to. All you have to do is:-
1 Check with your bank, mortgage company and credit card company if you have paid for Payment Protection Insurance.
2 If you have and it doesn't apply to you then tell the relevant institution you wish to claim it back.  
3 If the financial institution mess you about then complain in writing to them and to the FSA
The FSA gives guidance on use of CMCs (Claims Management Companies) here

“You are right. It is draconian.” POCA

Wise words uttered to me by a client who was embroiled in the final stages of the POCA process. He had been convicted of possession with intent to supply and at the end of his trial the Judge considered confiscation.

As my client had committed a lifestyle offence the Financial Investigator (usually either an accountant or former Police Officer specifically trained to be an FI) was entitled to ask for information about and to look into all transactions, accounts, dealings etc going back 6 years from the date of the offence.

A section 18 POCA 2002 had been ordered. That compelled my client to disclose full details in accordance with a Court Order about all bank accounts, all possessions, all cash that he had in his possession or control or had given to others. Failure to comply with this request can lead to an adverse inference being drawn when the Court considers how much has to be paid to the State and how much time you will do if you don’t pay up.

The FI then drafts a s16 POCA2002 Statement of Information which is in reality a huge fishing net. The FI’s role appears to be to seek out and find as much money as possible that can be confiscated. This then causes the Defendant to respond by way of a s17 POCA2002 Statement explaining the who, what, where, why, when and how about the money and possessions. This statement is a sworn statement and therefore if it contains deliberately lies can of itself result in a conviction for Perverting the Course of Justice.

There are certain aspects of the process thereafter which are patently unfair. Let’s imagine that you and your partner own a house together. Because you are a lovely man you have gifted 50% interest in that property to your partner. The FI and the Court are able to take the entire value of the property into account. Your partner is not a party to the proceedings. She can only intervene if there is a Restraining Order or if enforcement proceedings are to be taken through a Receiver. Receiver’s are rarely appointed as they are expensive. What can your partner do?

After some time the Court will then decide how much you should have to pay to the State. The Court will consider the Benefit you have had and the Recoverable Assets. If the RA figure is lower than the Benefit figure then that is how much you will be ordered to pay ie the lower figure.

One client recently thanked his lucky stars that he had not married his partner of 30 years and she owned their home in her sole name. He had no legal interest in that property. The value of that property was removed from the calculation and the State got about £900 instead of £90000. The FI had assumed they were married because she had adopted the client’s surname.

The Police and the Courts are very enthusiastic about POCA because the money recovered is used in part to fund the Police and the Courts. That’s why the FI is often characterised as a “dog with a bone”.

If you don’t pay up you get time added to your sentence and you still owe the money when you are released.

The most difficult thing for Defendants to get to grips with is the fact that the POCA proceedings are civil in nature (so the strict rules of evidence of a criminal trial do not apply) yet can be punished through custody and the Act places obligations upon the Defendant to be pro active and to provide information or suffer the consequences eg loss of home, car, cash and extra jail time.

POCA is draconian and either this year or next the National Crime Agency, when it comes into being, will take over the Serious Organised Crime Agency functions. POCA is a popular weapon in the armoury of those who pursue criminals because it is draconian and because it brings in money to the organisation. Recently SOCA on its website trumpeted a success in relation to a £35 million money laundering operation and the conviction of the two men accused of running it. Now the POCA process is to begin.

If you are likely to face a POCA process then you need to get advice as soon as possible.

Michael Robinson

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What has your choice of Solicitor got to do with HSBC?

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You want to buy a house. You go and see your lender and arrange a mortgage. You go and choose a Solicitor. The lender tells the Solicitor that funds are available. You buy your house. Simple!!

Not quite. First of all did you know that your Solicitor is also acting for the lender. Your Solicitor has obligations and duties owed to the lender in relation to the amount of money borrowed and the security that the property offers.

Many lenders operate a panel system which involves allowing only certain firms to undertake work on behalf of the borrower and the bank-or the borrower pays twice-for the bank's solicitors and for their own.

HSBC operates a panel of 43 throughout Great Britain. The panel is orgainised by Countrywide-a firm of licensed conveyancers.

The lie told by HSBC to customers who query when offered a loan why they cant use their own Solicitor is to be told that they can and that things should move along a lot easier as HSBC's legal advisers will be doing most of the work anyway. This is not true. It is not true that most of the work is done by HSBC's legal advisers and it is not true that HSBC's insistence on this process doesn't cause delay.

Stories about this have appeared in the Guardian and Which?, The Consumer Group  havs also raised concerns.

The Law Society Gazette has covered the story but the truth is HSBC don't really give a damn about the lender. The only public comment was the press release about the launch.

Campaigning against this unnecessary restriction on choice is the Bold Group which has started an epetition.

Why does it matter? If you wish to call in to see your Solicitor you will have to travel a fair distance to see them. You will only be able to meet face-to-face if you happen to live near one of HSBC's panel firms or you are willing to travel. Otheriwse its the telepehone or email or maybe an internet portal so you can review the progress. If this method of working suits you then fine. But many people prefer to be able to call in and see their Solicitor and HSBC's system takes away that choice.

There are plenty of alternatives to HSBC if you wish to take out a mortgage to buy a property.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Of course the house is insured...what could go wrong!!

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Jacqueline Emmerson, Senior Partner at Emmersons delivers a timely warning for Executors of a will-and to others with responsibility for someone else's property.

As a solicitor dealing with Probate and Lasting  Powers of Attorney I have noticed that

Increasingly  properties are not insured. This can of  course lead to disastrous consequences.

 In one case recently, a man had died and his son  asked me to deal with the probate in respect of

 the estate. As part of my usual enquiries I wanted  to know with whom the deceased’s house

 was insured. After searching through mountains  of paperwork my client came to the conclusion

 that the property was uninsured.

He decided that as it was in a fairly safe area and that as the contents of the property were

of little value it was pointless paying for expensive insurance. Unfortunately there was

then a leak from the property which caused considerable damage to

 the neighbouring house.

Of course the first thing that the neighbour wanted to know was who

 was insuring the empty property because he  wanted to make a claim.

 In another case, a client was managing a property  on behalf of an elderly relative who was living

 in a care home. The property needed tidying up  before it was placed on the market for sale. We

 did discuss the issue of insurance. However, as  empty property insurance is quite expensive and

 as this property was to be placed on the market  within a month my client decided not to insure

 the same. The day before the property went to  auction vandals started a fire and the roof and

 walls suffered serious damage!

If you are managing a property on behalf of an elderly relative, especially if you are their

Attorney, then you must manage it with all due diligence. In the two cases above consideration

was given to insuring the properties. The clients in question made their decisions having weighed

up all relevant factors. Neither had foreseen the consequences that ensued.


"You should deal with house insurance on an urgent basis if you are dealing with a probate or if the owner has had to go into a home."

Many insurance companies will extend existing insurance for a number of months as long as the

property is inspected on a regular basis and all water supplies are switched off. It can be more

difficult to obtain insurance when there has been none. Some companies insist on window locks

being fitted to all downstairs windows and five lever mortice locks on doors. Many well-known

insurers will not deal with empty property insurance. We have managed to find some specialist

brokers who will offer this service though for some reason will not deal with our clients

directly. Instead they ask us to deal with them on behalf of our clients.

 If you have insurance please make sure that you  print off your policy and keep it with your copy

 will. It is often difficult to find out which policies  a deceased person, or someone with a mental

 incapacity has if they bought them online. If you  are helping an elderly relative please make sure

 that their property is insured.

 A related topic is the matter of door keys. If someone has recently died or had to go into a

 home you should consider changing the locks  to their property as a matter of urgency. If you

 are an executor of an estate or an Attorney for  someone then you have a responsibility either to

 the beneficiaries or the owner of the property  to protect their interest.


Friday, 30 December 2011

The end of 2011

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Change is never easy. Sometimes when we reach the end of a year all we have to think about is what has gone wrong in that year. maybe a loved one has died, or personal circumstances have changed or work has suddenly become more pressurised. Growing older causes one to think about where one has reached on life's journey.

Really what we all need to do is look at what we have. Consider the good that has happened. Think about the joy one has given to others. Appreciate one's gifts and treasures. 

If one measures success in terms of material acquisitions then satisfaction is never guaranteed. There is always more that one "wants", more that one "needs".

If one however seeks contentment - as opposed to happiness - and recognises that life is the experience one is having as opposed to a dream or fantasy world somewhere else, then true happiness will follow.

We have had many changes at Emmersons this year. We have been disappointed and elated. We have welcomed 5 new members to the team and seen some colleagues depart. 

There are many challenges through Government policy eg the cutting of legal aid, but we are content, we are positive. The world is changing - not ending, and we are fully prepared and able to meet the challenges of 2012.

We wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year-and we hope you achieve contentment. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Richard Twyford joins Emmersons Solicitors

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Emmersons Solicitors has welcomed a new recruit to its property law department, further strengthening the depth and breadth of its services, as North East Times reports.

Richard Twyford has recently been appointed at Emmersons Solicitors, and brings a wealth of experience in both Residential and Commercial property law to his new role.
Having originally practiced in the North East, before moving to the south of the country, Richard has returned to his roots and is thrilled to be joining Emmersons Newcastle and Sunderland offices.
He comments: “Emmersons was too good an opportunity to pass up and I am looking forward to it; I have a lot to get my teeth into and I want to make the most of it. The business has grown a lot over the last couple of years and it’s great to be coming in at this stage to try to take it on to the next level.”
As part of his training, Richard worked with his father, who is also a property lawyer and once worked for Linklaters, one of London’s most prestigious law firms. Since qualifying, Richard has dealt in all areas of Residential and Commercial property, such as the creation and renewal of leases for commercial property, planning law and the purchase and sale of businesses, ranging from pubs and shops to factories and niche companies – “all of which bring their own slightly unique challenges,” he says.
In addition, he has personal experience to draw upon when it comes to anticipating clients’ requirements as his wife owns her own business, which Richard helps out with.
He explains: “I understand what it takes to run a business from day to day so I can understand what our commercial clients need and what their priorities are.”
Speaking of her decision to appoint Richard, Jacqueline Emmerson, partner in Emmersons Solicitors, comments: “Richard has integrity, technical knowledge, extensive commercial property experience and the ability to communicate easily with clients.
“You don’t often get the breadth of Richard’s experience on the High Street. It means we can offer everything the bigger firms are offering but with a more personal service and at reasonable prices.”
This item first appeared in the November issue of ACCENT magazine