It's been quite a while since I last got around to writing anything so I thought I best start off with something topical. Then I thought sod that, I'll write about something relevant to me and everyone else can like it or lump it... or I suppose leave abusive comments, although you really shouldn't do that you naughty trolls.
In the modern world a lot of solicitors like to be lawyers and do lawyery things like consider papers, draft documents and advise clients. I also enjoy that, but I have also come to terms with my additional roles, which include such delights as courier, messenger boy and now long distance delivery driver.
Anyway, the source of this rant comes from the fact that yesterday I ended my Christmas break early, left my girlfriend and our son at her parents to drive for three-hours to Leeds to collect papers for a client's appeal and then drive the three-hours back to my girlfriend's parents to drop the car back to her followed by another two-hours on my bike riding back home (leaving them to enjoy a few more days in Cheltenham). I didn't particularly mind doing that even though I won't get the £100 back I spent on petrol, nor will I be paid for the time I spent on this mission. What I did mind though was that when I arrived, the person I was due to meet had "forgotten" to get the papers. He knew I was coming as I had arranged the meeting with him two-weeks ago and had called him in the morning to remind him. I offered to drive him to collect the papers, but the person who had them wasn't going to be available for 6 or 7-hours. So, I drove back empty handed.
This (finally) brings me onto the subject of this post, which is appealing convictions. In my experience, finding grounds of appeal isn't really difficult. Either the judge made a mistake at trial, in which case it will show up in the transcripts or he didn't. Finding new evidence is a far more exciting way to bring about an appeal to that end I have spent days trawling shipping archives at the National Archive in Kew or interviewing witnesses I've found on the internet etc. I'll even take a weekend out to trace and interview witnesses abroad if need be... I don't even pretend that is a chore!
The hardest part of any appeal in my experience is getting the papers!
In September I went to see two men who both wanted me to appeal their convictions (one for murder and the other for attempted murder) in completely separate cases. One has papers with relatives and it was for him I went to Leeds. I thought getting his papers would be easy, but clearly not. The other had a solicitor at trial who a) is just around the corner from me; and b) by chance used to rent our offices before we took them over... so they are well known to me. Unfortunately, that solicitor has lost the papers. The CPS used to be very helpful in this situation and would happily provide any help they could; however, since the credit crunch they now refuse point blank to provide copies of papers (even when I've offered to pay for the cost of copying).
Papers not appearing is a very common problem; usually solicitors just ignore letters asking for papers... we even have a standard letter to send to other firms threatening to report them to the SRA if they don't cough up the papers ASAP.
If you or someone you know has a conviction you want to appeal, then I highly recommend taking action in this order:
1. Find a solicitor you are happy to work with and have represent you;
2. Instruct them and send back all the papers they send to you (this will include an authority allowing your old solicitor to release your papers);
3. Contact you old solicitor and speak with the solicitor who represented you giving clear instructions for him to send on your papers and provide a name and address (preferably a DX address) for the papers to be sent.
4. Check with your new solicitor whether he has received them and if not repeat step 3.
I promise that doing this will take an extra 10 minutes of your time and will mean your case ends (hopefully with a successful appeal) much earlier, possibly months earlier.
Good luck and happy new year.