In this issue:-
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by Alex Chessum
Paying for everyday items by direct debit is easy and straightforward.
It’s extremely common with car insurance providers. You pay for your car insurance by direct debit every month and the policy expires at the end of 12 months.
When the 12 month is coming to the end, your car insurance provider writes to you, or as is more likely nowadays, emails you the reminder letter that the policy is due for annual renewal. The certificate of insurance for the next 12 months is included. The policy for the next 12 months looks fine. “You don’t have to lift a finger.”
You renew the policy, the direct debit amounts continue to be taken from your bank account and nothing changes.
A few month later a police car stops you.
You are not speeding.
You haven’t been drinking.
The police officer tells you that you are driving without insurance.
But you tell the police officer that you pay by direct debit.
The police officer checks and there is no insurance in place.
When you ring up the car insurance company they tell you the direct debit was never taken and they have cancelled the policy.
They wrote to you but you have never received a letter. They propose to send you a copy of the letter. But you’re now facing a criminal prosecution.
I acted for a client who found themselves in this exact position: Assuming that the direct debit was being taken and driving whilst completely unaware that no valid insurance policy was in place.
Driving without insurance is a strict liability offence; if you don’t have valid insurance in place you are guilty. Your intention or whether you are reckless do not factor into whether the offence can be proved.
Being guilty of driving without insurance carries a minimum penalty of 6 points.
If you already have 6 points and receive another 6 points you become a “totter” and are automatically disqualified for 6 months.
So what are your options in this scenario?
Whilst your honesty and your reasonable belief do not play a part in whether you are guilty of the offence, you can argue that there are ‘special reasons’and therefore you should not receive 6 points.
As a lawyer I had to find previous cases where the Courts had explored what could constitute ‘special reasons’.(For the purpose of this article I am focusing purely on the offence of driving without insurance. I will address drink driving in a separate article.)
The case of R v Wickens (1958) identifies 4 criteria that must be established for special reasons to exist. Special reasons go to the heart of how the offence has occurred. On behalf of my client I submitted that not being insured to drive by virtue of the direct debit not being taken without their knowledge and the insurance cancelled without their knowledge met the Wickens criteria.
It greatly assisted my client’s case they had kept the paperwork sent by the car insurance company before the policy was due to expire. This supported the client’s honest and reasonable belief that they were insured up until the police stopped them.
The client had also kept a note of the conversation which they had with the insurance company after the police stop. The note showed the steps the client had taken to try and work out why the insurance was not in place. It also supported the point that my client did not know about the letter the insurance company had allegedly sent out saying that the policy was cancelled but the client had never received.
Fortunately for my client, the Magistrates found there were special reasons and did not endorse my client’s licence with any points. The Magistrates ordered an absolute discharge (they did not receive any formal punishment).
There is a lot of caselaw that identifies what is not a special reason, for example, if your license is endorsed with more points you will be disqualified (by virtue of “totting”). The fact you do not have previous convictions is not a special reason.
For further advice on any driving case give us a call.…..
I’m a proud member of Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way. This week they are raising awareness of the difficult issues involved in divorce and lobbying Parliament – you can read about it here
Resolution membership is about the approach I take to my work. This means that as a Resolution member, I will always seek to reduce or manage any conflict and confrontation, support and encourage families to put the best interests of any children first and act with honesty, integrity and objectivity.
I know from experience working as a family law professional, that clients reach the best outcomes when they are helped to understand and manage the potential long-term financial and emotional consequences of decisions. This is why I use experience and knowledge to guide my clients through the options available to them.
As a Resolution member, I have signed up to a Code of Practice that will demonstrate to clients the approach I will always take. The Code promotes a constructive approach to family issues and considers the needs of the whole family, in particular the best interests of children.
If you decide to work with me, this means:
I’m signed up to the Resolution Code and because of this I work with a network of other like-minded professionals, including mediators, financial planners and family consultants, to make sure I’m helping my clients find the right approach for them.
Mental health issues are some of the most common reasons people find themselves in the criminal justice system. There is very often a grey area surrounding how ill you have to be for medical intervention and this results in many falling between the cracks because they are just not ‘ill enough’. At Shentons we frequently deal with vulnerable clients with mental health difficulties and as such many of our fee earners have had specialist training in this area. Our mental health specialist Harriet Parker (Criminal Solicitor) spent two days in London at the Law Society extending her knowledge with Mental Health First Aid England.
Here Harriet Parker gives us her insight into this problem
“Have you ever considered how lucky you are to have good health; does this ever extend so far as your mental health? The criminal justice system brings people from all walks of life to the doors of Shentons. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They are frequently perceived as ‘different’, ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’, but having spent time getting to know numerous clients with mental health difficulties they are just that…people, like everyone else.
Mental health difficulties present themselves with hundreds of different symptoms and affect all walks of life. Sadly a very high percentage of the people I deal with at the police station and court suffer from a vast variety of mental health conditions, such as Schizophrenia, psychosis, Bipolar, Personality Disorder, OCD, depression, anxiety – the list is endless.
I recently had the opportunity to train with Mental Health First Aid England in London at the Law Society. I already had a good foundation of mental health knowledge, but this allowed me to take a step back and look afresh at those people suffering from mental health problems. It is all too easy to be impatient or cast a view on someone because of what they say or how they behave. However, this training allowed me to see mental health issues with ‘new eyes’ and assess why someone may present in different ways. Clients with mental health problems are often terrified of the situation they find themselves in, but frequently are unable to articulate this.
Shentons previously had a long standing client (we’ll call him ‘Daniel’) who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The client struggled immensely with this label. Schizophrenia strikes fear into the heart of the public, the condition is frequently hyped in the Media, who refer to violent schizophrenics whose actions grab the headlines. The reality is that it is far more likely that an individual with mental health problems will hurt themselves rather than hurt anyone else. Moreover, a condition such as schizophrenia can be managed quite effectively in the community with the correct treatment.
Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone whilst a child is trying to grab a parent’s attention in one ear? It is near on impossible to stay focused and listen to what someone is saying when the child is talking in the other ear. Put yourself in the same position as Daniel, trying to remain focused in a formal Court setting, whilst due to mental health issues three other voices were talking to him at the same time.
These voices spoke so strongly to Daniel, they told him not to live at his home. It resulted in him sleeping rough for a week until he came to us at Shentons. We spent theextra time needed with him to work out what had happened and to get him back safely into his property. He wasn’t able to process what he needed to do as his mental issues had completelytaken hold of him. We took on the fight for him because he wasn’t able to.
When I am taking a client’s instructions and advising them I’m not just listening to what they are saying. I look at how they present, their body language, and most importantly their understanding of my advice. A look, a glance or a posture can give so much more away about how a person is dealing with a situation and their understanding of what is happening.
At Shentons we specialise with dealing with clients with vulnerabilities, and pride ourselves on going the extra mile for our clients. Any Court process is a daunting one for any individual, but layer this with the added difficulty of a mental health condition it can become overwhelming. If you or anyone you know needs assistance at the police station or court, do not hesitate to call us.”
by Jon Whettingsteel
Whether or not you are a fan of The Archers on Radio 4 you will heard about the recent storyline involving Helen Titchener who stood trial for stabbing her husband. There are no spoilers below and I won’t reveal the verdict!
Helen’s trial was the culmination of a storyline lasting more than two and a half years with Helen being a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband Rob. The abuse, as is frequently the case, escalated over time. Rob’s suspect behaviour began in February 2014 after Helen spent a long time preparing a meal for Rob which he then refused to eat, saying he ‘didn’t like tuna’ and on New Year’s Eve 2014 Helen selected a dress which Rob decided was ‘too revealing’. In 2015 matters escalated, with Rob forcing himself on Helen resulting in a friend noticing bruising around Helen’s wrist. Rob continued exhibiting controlling behaviour, including stopping Helen driving and isolating her from her friends by convincing her he was ‘looking after her’ and she ‘didn’t need anybody else’. Rob convinced Helen she was the one with issues and persuaded her to see a psychiatrist. This conduct is sometimes referred to as ‘gaslighting’; a reference to the play Gaslight in which a husband makes his wife believe she is losing her mind.
Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight
Due to Rob’s behaviour Helen was isolated from her friends and family and had few people to turn to for help; it took some time before she found the courage and strength to tell her close friend who convinced her to phone a helpline and seek assistance.
Matters went full circle and during dinner one evening in April 2016 when the couple were eating a tuna pasta, Rob denied ever saying he didn’t like tuna and Helen must have imagined it. When Helen told Rob she was leaving him and an argument ensued, Helen stabbed Rob.
Although this trial marks the end of one aspect of this story, it is far from over with the couple now pursuing court proceedings for their two children.
This story, and subsequent media coverage has done an excellent job in highlighting the changes in legislation which included the definition of domestic violence to include ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse.’ This includes emotional, financial and psychological abuse, not just physical. The length of time over which this story had unfolded has also served to illustrate how perpetrators of domestic abuse seek to manipulate and control their victims over time, sometimes over a period of years.
Women’s Aid report that in England and Wales two women are killed by their partners or ex-partners every week and 95% of female survivors of domestic violence report being victims of coercive control.
As well as women it is important to remember men can also be victims of domestic violence with The Office for National Statistics releasing figures stating for the year ending March 2015 around 1.3 million women and 600,000 men in England and Wales reported being victims of domestic violence. There is a stigma for men in reporting the issue which is still considered a ‘taboo’ subject.
In April 2013 Michelle Mills received a prison sentence after being convicted of murdering her boyfriend Edward Miller who had been subject to a history of physical, verbal and emotional abuse from Miss Mills.
The family department at Shentons have a number of years of experience in helping victims of domestic violence as well as those that have been accused of perpetrating domestic abuse in both a family and criminal capacity. We believe it is important not just to put in legal measures to protect victims of abuse and their childrenm, such as Occupation and Non-Molestation orders but also in working with a number of local agencies to provide them with ongoing support. We recognise that many need more to overcome the trauma of past experiences and we have strong connections with a number of local agencies who can offer long term support and assistance, such as the Women’s programme at The Trinity Centre in Winchester.
To seek advice about any of the above issues or any family matters please call our offices on 01962 844544. All calls will be treated in the strictest confidence.
We are proud to announce that our Lisa Warriner has now become a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives. Lisa began working towards this qualification 15 years ago when she started studying whilst at home with her children. Over her years at Shentons she has built a portfolio of cases and passed around 8 exams to finally make her eligible for this qualification. We are immensely proud of Lisa and her fantastic achievement.
Adequate housing is one of the most important and vital aspects of people’s lives. It seems to have become more and more difficult to secure suitable accommodation with people not being able to afford to buy or put down a deposit, rental prices increasing and lack of social housing.
The threat of losing your home often results in extreme stress and anxiety with the worry of ending up on the streets. It is apparent that many people are not able to access legal services which could help them save their home. When facing eviction, legal advice is crucial, especially for vulnerable people who are unable to represent themselves. The law on housing is often complex and is set out in various pieces of legislation, old and new, and so specialist advice is extremely important.
It is no secret that over the last few years legal aid has been cut in many areas restricting people’s access to justice. Legal aid for housing matters has been reduced in scope, however it is still available for assistance and often representation in relation to the following areas: possession proceedings (eviction), anti-social behaviour injunction proceedings, unlawful eviction, harassment in the home, some housing disrepair and challenging local authority decisions on homelessness and allocations.
With continuous reductions in legal aid fees, offering legal aid services is not appealing for law firms who must keep their businesses running. There are now only a limited amount of firms who hold legal aid contracts for housing. The Law Society’s legal aid deserts campaign highlights that “almost one third of legal aid areas have just one and – in some cases – no solicitors who specialise in housing and whose advice is available through legal aid”. The Law Society are urging the government to urgently commission an independent review into the sustainability of the civil legal aid system.
Here at Shentons we do hold a legal aid contract for housing matters. We are one of only four firms in Hampshire and the only firm in the Winchester area to offer legal aid for housing services. We offer specialist housing advice and our staff are also experienced in assisting vulnerable clients, to include people struggling with disability, drug/alcohol and mental health issues.
We recently helped a client keep his accommodation after he was served with a Notice to end his Licence due to allegations of anti-social behaviour. Licensees have very little protection from eviction, however we spotted that the landlord had not followed their appeals procedure and had conflicting evidence in regards to the allegations. The landlord agreed to rescind the Notice.
In another matter we represented a vulnerable client in an application for an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction. Although some of the allegations were accepted, we were able to obtain a medical report confirming that the client hadn’t taken his medication at the time of the incidents and therefore had little control over this behaviour. We negotiated with the landlord and reached an agreement to adjourn the proceedings generally. This meant that no Orders were in place against the client and he would only have to deal the proceedings again if there were any further incidents.
If you need assistance with a housing matter please do contact us for a legal aid assessment. We would mirror the Law Society’s view that “early legal advice on housing matters can make the difference between a family being made homeless or not”
by Rachael Cole
Following on from our award for Dementia Friendly Business of the Year, the staff of the firm have voted to support Dementia Friendly Hampshire for the next 12 months. The firm will be raising money through a number of activities in the next year; we were all inspired by our very own Lys Pollard who dedicates her time to being Chair of the action group Dementia Friendly Winchester. Julie Eden from the charity said ‘We are over the moon to have been chosen as charity of the year by Shentons.’