Beyond Parents: The Family's Role in Separation


By Rachael Cole, Partner

When parents separate and the arrangements for children are decided, grandparents and wider family members are often forgotten. Bad feeling between the parents can result in families taking sides and lead to the exclusion of certain family members from the children’s lives.

We often see cases where a child is unable to spend time with one of their parents due to safeguarding concerns and this has resulted in the child not being able to maintain links with anyone from that side of the family. The extended family however play a very important role.

Children will often have behavioural and emotional difficulties when their parents are separating and often experience feelings of loss. By providing a sense of belonging and love, the wider family can help to ease the transition and ensure that the children feel supported during this challenging time.

Parents can promote family relationships by encouraging routines to continue, such as sleepovers with grandparents or cousins, even if these are with the other side of the family. They must look at things from the child’s point of view, rather than making decisions which could be impacted by grief or anger arising from the relationship breakdown.

There are also things that grandparents and the wider family can do to help. It’s important for them to try and remain impartial and avoid getting drawn into arguments between the parents. They can offer support but must respect that ultimately, the parents are the decision makers.

If things are particularly hostile between the parents, family third parties can be useful to assist with handover arrangements to prevent children witnessing arguments and negative feelings. Family members can even step in to supervise contact between a child and parent where there are safeguarding concerns.

The time children spend with family members is usually down to the parents. Sadly, we often see grandparents who are being prevented from seeing their grandchildren, leaving them feeling helpless. Court applications to consider contact between children and extended family members are rare. There is no automatic entitlement; permission of the court must be obtained, and certain criteria must be met. There are however other options, for example, families can attend mediation to try and reach an agreement which benefits the child.



by Edward Sutch, Paralegal

As family lawyers, we are well-versed in cases involving domestic abuse, including the concept of 'gaslighting' which has been recently recognised by the court as a form of abuse.

Gaslighting is a form of coercive control and emotional abuse by which an abuser manipulates their victim into questioning their own reality and feeling responsible for any problems in the relationship. The aim is to gain control over the victim.

Many people will say that arguments are normal in any relationship, but at what point does the relationship become abusive?

Over time, this can destroy the victim’s confidence and self-esteem, and leave the victim doubting themselves to the point where they become completely controlled by the perpetrator.

This often overlaps with a narcissistic personality. Narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. They often belittle others to boost their self-worth and lack empathy towards other people's feelings. Narcissists have an overwhelming need for attention and admiration and can behave arrogantly.

Signs that your partner may be ‘gaslighting’ you include:

  • They distort the truth and insist that you did something you know you didn’t do;
  • They will discredit your version of events;
  • You often feel confused, anxious and that you are questioning your beliefs;
  • They try to convince you that you are “crazy” or mentally ill.

If you are concerned that you find yourself in an abusive relationship and would like to know more about your options in terms of the next steps and protection, you can contact our experienced family team for confidential advice.

Financial Abuse and the Cost of Living Crisis


by Olivia Cameron, Trainee Solicitor

The cost of living crisis has led to many households across the UK facing financial strain, making it challenging for some families to afford basic necessities. Financial hardship is a major factor in conflict and stress in the home.

Financial abuse is used as a means of control over another person and some abusers are using the cost of living crisis to justify further restrictions of access to money resulting in their victims becoming even more dependent on them.

Through our work assisting victims of domestic abuse, we have seen financial abuse manifest in a number of ways, including:

1.  Control over finances: Abusers often try to take control of all aspects of their partner’s financial life, including limiting access to money, controlling bank accounts, or taking over decision-making regarding budgeting and spending.

2. Forced debt: Abusers may force their partner into debt or ruin their credit, making it challenging for them to leave the relationship, particularly with the increased cost of living.

3. Preventing employment or education: Limiting a partner's ability to work or pursue education can contribute to financial dependence, leaving them vulnerable in a situation where the cost of living is rising.

4. Stealing or misusing funds: Directly taking money from the victim's accounts or misusing shared finances can contribute to financial instability.

Those suffering from financial abuse at the hands of their partner often face the impossible decision of whether to remain in an abusive relationship or attempt to leave only to face further financial hardship. In cases in which a person has been subjected to financial abuse for a number of years, when they leave the relationship, they often find themselves with a large amount of debt, limited earning potential and no idea how to manage their own finances, which, in turn, leads to further financial difficulties.

We work with clients everyday who have experienced domestic abuse.

Our team provides legal assistance for obtaining a divorce and court orders, and can also direct clients to charitable organisations that can help with the aftermath of domestic abuse.

Covert Recordings


by Sophie Marsh, Paralegal

In a world where everyone is always on their phones, recording incidents can seem like a good idea, but is it?

Often in family proceedings, parties can feel like they have no choice but to provide the court with hard evidence. Clients often ask us whether recordings can be used as evidence in family court proceedings, and although covert recordings are not illegal; the use of them in family proceedings are generally discouraged. The court will often view them negatively due how they are obtained. If a child is present in the recording, then the court is highly unlikely to accept this as evidence due to:

  • The effect it may have on the relationship with the child.
  • Whether the child needs to be told about the recording.
  • The child needing legal representation.
  • Requirement for the child to give evidence.

An example of this happened in a 2016 court case, where a father sewed a device into his child’s clothing to find out what was being discussed between the child and their social worker. The Judge was critical of the father’s actions, saying “it is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings, whether or not the child is aware of its presence.”

However, this does not mean that the court will not accept covert recordings. In a recent matter of ours, the Judge decided that the recordings were relevant and proportionate to the case. The reasoning given was because it did not have any effect on the children’s welfare, nor did it lead to the children needing representation or giving evidence.

In conclusion, parties should think carefully before applying to the court for the use of such recordings, as it can often backfire, however in exceptional circumstances it can benefit the court. If you require support in family proceedings, contact our family team.

An Alternative Route into Law


by Alexander Longden, Paralegal

My first introduction to law was in 2022, with a work experience stint at Shentons. At the time I was at college, feeling underchallenged and lacking motivation, with vague aspirations of becoming a firefighter or pursuing a trade.

As part of my course, I was required to undertake work experience, and I found a placement at Shentons. I was lucky enough to attend a week-long criminal trial at Winchester Crown Court, and I was captured. The intricate and complicated world of solicitors, judges, barristers, clerks, and courtrooms was fascinating to me.

As with most people, my perception of the legal profession was through the theatrical lens of media, with shows like Better Call Saul painting a glamorous (though perhaps fantastical) image. The feeling of watching a real trial unfold was truly captivating; it stirred a genuine interest in a career path that I hadn’t ever considered.

Returning to college after such an interesting week was difficult, particularly as I believed pursuing a career in law would mean the financial burden and stress of university. Since the age of 12, I have been keen to work, taking on local paper rounds, manual labour, and kitchen work.

Therefore, it was a welcome surprise when I received a call from Shentons just a few weeks later, asking me to take on some temporary work on reception. I was excited to be back in the legal world that had so greatly captured my interest, and so I took them up on the opportunity.

I was soon offered a permanent role as a Legal Secretary in the Family Department, scrapping my uninspiring college course to work alongside a brilliant team, helping those in need get justice for themselves and their children. I thrived in my newfound role, fuelled by ambition and determination to make a real impact in people’s lives. Last year, I was promoted to Paralegal and embraced the increased responsibility and involvement in my team’s caseload.

Shentons have been incredibly supportive throughout every step in my career so far, recently offering me a Solicitor Apprenticeship. This opportunity allows me to qualify as a solicitor without following the traditional university path. This alternative path, where I can simultaneously work and train as a Solicitor, was a revelation. The realisation that there are career avenues for people who struggle with the rigours of traditional education is incredibly encouraging.

Working in Family Law is an intricate balance of stress and reward. Our matters are often fraught, with cases of abuse, neglect and addiction being all too common. However, being instrumental in rebuilding someone’s life, safeguarding the wellbeing of children, seeing victims of abuse find solace, and standing up for those who can’t advocate for themselves are rewards which far outshadow the difficult aspects of Family Law.

A Career Defining Case


by Harriet Parker, Partner

There are moments in your career that you know you will never forget.

In the recent past I found myself called to the police station at the very end of a 24 hour duty. Several men were being investigated for murder. The victim had been shot with a firearm in a drug-related ‘execution’. Two men had requested Shentons and I went on to spend the next 3 days in interview at the police station. In the end one of my clients was charged with providing an alibi to those who had committed the murder and the other was released without charge.

The case proceeded to trial in almost unique circumstances. We were still subject to severe covid restrictions meaning that the trial had to be undertaken over two separate court rooms linked by video. Every defendant had two barristers and the drama was intense. The trial lasted for weeks and at one stage involved the possibility of ‘bugging’ the defendant’s vehicles with covert recording devices.

In the end all the defendants were convicted of murder, except my client who was acquitted. Although you can never guess why the jury reached the decision they did; one differentiating factor was the advice given at the police station. The other defendants had refused to answer any questions in interview whereas I had advised my client to answer questions at the final stages. I didn’t want to subject him to hours of police questioning which can become oppressive, but I felt it was important that he put forward his account at that final opportunity. Police interviews for serious offences run in a very set manner and from my experience I was able to judge the right moment for my client to answer questions and explain his position. The fact that his explanation had remained the same throughout the months of investigation and court proceedings clearly counted for something with the Jury.

Harriet Parker is a Partner of the firm and has worked in Criminal law for over 15 years.  She heads up our Criminal Team who cover a wide range of offences from speeding to murder and everything in between.

Under Arrest: A Parents Guide


by Chloe Jay, Partner

Chloe Jay, Partner, answers your questions on what you can do if your child is accused of a crime.

My son has been asked in for an interview with police – will I be allowed to go with him?

It is important to establish whether your son is being interviewed under caution, (which means the police suspect him of involvement in a crime,) as opposed to being interviewed as a witness. If he is under 18 years of age the law dictates he must have an appropriate adult present for an interview under caution. It may well be that you can fulfil this role provided you have not witnessed something material to the case which could exclude you. The role of the appropriate adult is to facilitate communication between the young person and the police, they cannot provide legal advice. It is always best therefore to ask for a lawyer to attend and advise on the merits of the case as well. If your son is aged 18 or over then he would only have an appropriate adult if he were to be considered mentally vulnerable in some way.

My daughter is 12 years old and has been accused of shoplifting, could she be prosecuted?

In a word, yes. The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10. This means that any child over that age can be arrested, prosecuted and sentenced at court. It depends whether the police are called to deal with the matter and whether your daughter accepts her involvement in interview. She may then be eligible for an out of court disposal such as a youth caution. Obviously though she shouldn’t accept this if she hasn’t committed the offence and it would be wise to seek legal advice.

My son has been accused of controlling/coercing his partner and I feel like our lives are on hold until the outcome of the investigation. What can we do?

I recently had this exact situation and I was able to work with the family to influence the police investigation. It was clear there were potential witnesses who had seen the couple together, the police were unaware of them and I explained their significance so that statements could be taken. I was also able to point towards text messages on the phone that would be relevant to our client’s case. In the end the police took no further action and the matter was dropped.

My daughter is subject to strict bail conditions set by the police that seem unfair. What can we do?

Firstly, you should try to negotiate with the police officer dealing with the case and put forward your points as why the conditions are impractical and unfair. If they are not prepared to amend them then there is a provision in law to take police bail conditions to the Magistrates Court. The Court can then intervene and vary the conditions if they agree with you. You must submit an application to the Police and Magistrates Court in writing.

Meet the Team

Meet Rachel Coombes, a Solicitor in our Criminal Law Department.

Rachel was first drawn to Law when she was choosing her college subjects, it was something totally different to her previous school subjects and the challenge of the course appealed.

After finishing her law degree, Rachel briefly worked at a local firm in their Conveyancing Department but her passion was always for Criminal Law. She joined our Crime Team in 2018, initially providing secretarial support to the team before being offered a Training Contract and becoming a Solicitor.

Rachel says “I always wanted to help people and working with the criminal team; I saw what a difference they made to people’s lives.” She recalls that one of the team was once told that criminal defence was like cleaning drains: no one wants to do it, but it is essential. Rachel disagrees; she loves what she does, she says “It is incredibly rewarding to help such vulnerable people; providing expert advice to our clients regardless of their background or circumstances is an essential and important part of our justice system. I feel real pride in that.”

Learning about our clients’ lives and understanding what has led them to the point where they need our help is key to providing the proper support and advice.

Rachel has been qualified as a Solicitor for less than a year but in that time she has lost count of the amount of clients she has advised, from brief police station interviews to supporting a client all the way to trial. The work she does is varied, interesting and fast paced. Every day, case and client are different, with their own challenges and rewards.

The Hidden Victims of the Drug Trade


by Felicity Joslin, Solicitor

For many, mentions of “slavery” conjure images of historical atrocities that have since been eradicated, however, this could not be further from the truth.

In the UK alone, an estimated 13,000 people are being exploited under Modern Slavery, often hidden in plain sight.

Criminal organisations exploit children and vulnerable adults by coercing them to run "county lines" drug trafficking networks. They manipulate their targets into holding a mobile phone ("the line") and supplying drugs to those who call the number. The children are normally moved from their home to sell drugs in rural or coastal towns in different counties. The gangs will often groom their targets, using promises of community, money, and the allure of gang life to initiate them into the culture, leading to the victims often not realising that they are being exploited.

In my work as a solicitor, I am often called to the police station and courts to clients who present as withdrawn and quiet for no apparent reason. Recently I acted for a 16 year-old boy who came from a broken home and had many incidents of petty crime on his record. He was accused of involvement in serious drug dealing which seemed like a huge leap in his level of offending. At first, he denied that he had anything to do with a gang but over the coming weeks a different picture started to unfold. His mother informed me that armed men had come looking for her son at one stage threatening to harm him and his family. Little things he had said and done over a period of time began to make more sense.

I instructed an expert in modern slavery and we submitted a report via the National Referral Mechanism. Both the expert and the Government body found that there was clear evidence my client had been groomed and exploited by a criminal gang. He was frightened; far more frightened of the gang than of the police. With the help of these findings I was able to successfully argue that the Prosecution should drop the case against him.

Navigating the transition to secondary school with an EHCP

Special Educational Needs

by Hannah Adams, Head of SEN

As the summer school holidays draw to an end and families gear up for the ‘back to school’ start of a new academic year there is a lot to remember for parents. In particular for the families that we work with, there are other timescales to be aware of other than when to get the school shoes fitted.

If your child is starting Year 6 this September, then it is time to be thinking about their secondary school application. If your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) you will not follow the usual process of applying for a school placement as this will be dealt with by your Local Authority through the Annual Review process.

This process can seem daunting and unfamiliar and can make parents feel isolated because they are not part of the usual process of applying for school placements that other parents will be going through.

It is important to remember that although you are on a different timescale to other parents this is a statutory timescale. The Local Authority must amend your child’s EHCP by the 15th of February in the year of secondary transfer. This is in order to give you time to appeal to the SEND Tribunal if you are unhappy with the placement that has been named. The Local Authority can issue the amended plan before this deadline and given the delays in the SEND Tribunal system it is imperative that this decision is made as soon as possible.

Our key advice to parents is to start the new academic year by requesting an early annual review for their year 6 child to be held as soon as possible in the autumn term. Ensure that you are ready to request the school that you want named for secondary at this review meeting. If you aren’t ready to do this, then be in a position to request a type of school and prepare a list of schools you would like the Local Authority to consult with. Remember that if the maintained school sector doesn’t have a provision which you feel can meet your child’s special educational needs, then you can request the LA consult with independent specialist schools.

The earlier the review is held in the autumn term the earlier the LA must finalise the amended EHCP. This must take place 12 weeks after the date of your review meeting. It is not correct that they have to wait until the 15th February!

If you run into difficulties in this process give our team a call as soon as possible, early specialist legal advice is the key to successfully navigating the SEN system.

Worth a Shot?

Road Traffic

by Alex Chessum, Solicitor Advocate

In 2021 33,742 people were convicted of drink driving, and the offence is very much on the rise with cases of it trebling over 5 years (between 2017 and the end of 2021).

In 2021 33,742 people were convicted of drink drive, and the offence is very much on the rise with cases of it trebling over 5 years (between 2017 and the end of 2021).

It is legal to have a drink on a night out, and everyone’s tolerance is different, for some people 1 glass would put them over the limit but for others it would have little effect. But how do you calculate your alcohol level – is there a hard and fast rule?

This is where a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) calculation can help us give you realistic legal advice. We often instruct forensic scientists to do a BAC calculation which can calculate how long alcohol stays in your system and this takes into account factors such as age, height, weight, food and drink. But how does this work in practice ?

Let’s consider a “spiked drinks” example:

Jade was out for a meal with her best friend Sasha, they were having a cocktail and Jade left her glass with Sasha at around 8pm while she took a quick phone call. When she returned, they finished their drinks and had a curry and Jade drove them home at about 10pm.

After she dropped Sasha off, Jade was stopped by the police because her brake light was out. The officer noticed that Jade was slurring her words and asked for a breath sample. Jade blew a 49 on the breathalyser, exceeding the legal limit of 35, and she was therefore arrested and charged with drink drive.

Sasha called Jade the next morning and told her that she spiked her drink with vodka as a joke. Jade then called us for advice on what she could do.

Jade was technically guilty. She was driving with alcohol in her system over the legal limit, but this was not the end of her case.

We listed Jade’s case for a special reasons hearing, this is where we ask the Court to not impose the mandatory driving ban or reduce it owing to special reasons in a case.

By obtaining Jade’s height, weight and what she had eaten that day our expert was able to provide us a calculation on what Jade’s reading would have been had she not had any extra vodka in her cocktail. The expert calculated she would not have been over the limit had Sasha not spiked her drink.

The magistrates found in Jade’s favour finding that she would not have known her drink had been spiked and that her case amounted to special reasons. As a result she was not disqualified from driving.

Details in this case study have been changed to protect the privacy of our client.

Rehab needs a Revamp


by Shae Brown, Legal Assistant

When looking at rehabilitation for those who re-offend, it is difficult to see what the prison facilities are actively doing to assist these people in getting them off the streets, combat their addiction and improve their quality of living. Prison is a punishment put into place to prevent individuals from offending or re-offending, however the re-offending rates for those with a less than 12-month sentence was 53.9% in adults and overall, the rate amongst Juveniles at 31.1%. Although in Britain these statistics have decreased since 2020, there is still an extreme amount of work to be done in order to have an effective rehabilitation scheme for these people.

In 2021, the Government published their plan ‘Prison Strategy White Paper’. This aims to deliver a rehab scheme which includes creating improved conditions to reform and rehabilitate offenders. This scheme provides resources such as, better educational courses, behavioural programmes, and substance free living units amongst peers and support groups and aims to leave individuals with a ‘Firm Foundation’ upon their release. At the present time, however, most inmates are not receiving any education and are kept in their cells 23 hours per day.

A fantastic charity who advocate for prison reform is One Small Thing, founded by Lady Edwina Grosvenor. Their project ‘Hope Street’, based in Southampton, is a pilot of an alternative to custody for female offenders with children. The project was opened recently by the Princess of Wales, who described it as “an inspirational place”. There is a long way to go to improve our prisons but revolutionary pilots like this one are a big step in the right direction

Parents at odds over Baptism


by Edward Sutch, Paralegal

A Christening is an important religious ceremony for many families in the UK, but in some instances, differing beliefs can cause a dispute between parents. For parents who have separated or divorced, this can easily become contentious; as ever, it is important to approach the situation calmly and with respect for each other's beliefs.

The law recognises that those who have parental responsibility have equal rights when it comes to making decisions about their child's upbringing, including matters of religion. However, if conflict arises about whether their child should be baptised, it may be appropriate to seek the assistance of a mediator or solicitor.

Mediation is a voluntary process where a neutral third party helps the parents to communicate and negotiate a resolution that is acceptable to both parties. Mediation can be a useful option for parents who wish to avoid the expense and stress of going to court.

If mediation is unsuccessful or not appropriate, it may be necessary for a party to apply to the family court for a specific issue order. The court will then consider the child's best interests, as well as the parents' beliefs and wishes, in making a decision about whether the child should be baptised.

In any event, it is important for parents to remember that their child's welfare is the most important consideration. By working together and seeking the appropriate legal assistance, if necessary, parents can resolve disputes about baptisms in a way that is respectful and in the best interests of their child.

Rachael Promoted to Partner


by Chloe Jay, Partner

We are delighted to announce that our Head of Family, Rachael Cole, has joined the partnership as of the 1st of July 2023.

Rachael has been a valued member of the Shentons Team since she joined as a Legal Assistant 15 years ago, completing her training contract and LPC simultaneously and qualifying as a solicitor in 2012.

Rachael has worked with vulnerable clients throughout most of her career, which started in family and housing legal aid. This opened her eyes to the complex issues that people face; be those issues with mental health, addiction or poverty.

She became a key member of the Family Team in 2015, running a fast paced, varied case load. Rachael advises on all aspects of Family Law including complex high net worth divorce, high conflict domestic abuse matters, private children cases and those involving care proceedings. She says “Working in family law is tough. We are exposed to the unimaginable traumas our clients have been through and as well as being lawyers, we are often the first confidant and shoulder to cry on. No day is the same; we often receive notice of hearings very last minute and it’s all systems go to get everything organised. It is rewarding being able to empower clients to escape unhappy and often unsafe situations, giving them hope for the future.”

Our Family Department does both private and legal aid work, allowing Rachael and her team to have wide reaching experience and provide the best possible service to every client that we have.

Rachael credits the pandemic with both the highest and lowest points of her career. Everything changed overnight; with a broken court system, large delays and the introduction of new digital systems, it became more difficult for the team to navigate and guide clients through the landscape. These challenges, however, also came with opportunity, Rachael stepped in to successfully lead our Family Department, training the junior members of the team and dealing with the influx of Domestic and Child Abuse cases that the pandemic brought to light. She says “Together with my team, we kept everything afloat, some other areas of work ceased but the need for protective measures was more vital than ever.”

Rachael joins the many lawyers past and present who have trained, qualified and become partners of the firm, she has worked extremely hard to get where she is today and we are thrilled that she has accepted our invitation to join the partnership. At Shentons we pride ourselves on helping our staff develop and progress in their careers in the way that is right for them and we look forward to drawing on Rachael’s experience and advice in the partnership.

Where there's a Will, there's a Way

Wills and Probate

by Emma Radford, Paralegal

I joined the Probate Team at Shentons in 2022 as a paralegal after completing my law degree. Since starting, my perception of the work that probate solicitors do has completely shifted. At university, we barely scratched the surface on the invaluable work and support that lawyers can offer their clients in this area. Seeing first hand the impact that having the right Will, with the right Trusts can do for a client’s peace of mind has been extremely rewarding.

Details of the below case study have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.

In a recent case that I worked on with Senior Legal Executive, Lisa Warriner, Ben and Sarah, a married couple in their 60’s, ask us to write their Wills. They didn’t currently have Wills as their recent marriage had revoked them, they owned various properties both together and separately and had children from previous marriages. When they came to us they were at a loss about how to protect their joint interests and their children in the event of their deaths.

We set out a variety of options with different types of trusts and explained all of the options clearly, without jargon, so that they could make the right decision for them. Sarah was concerned as she was a few years older than Ben and wanted to make sure both her husband and her adult children were adequately supported in any eventuality.

We were able to build a simple structure that worked for all of their needs, we used a Life Interest Trust that would allow their children to each own part of their home but protected the rights of the surviving partner to live in the house.

Our clients were able to leave our office with the confidence that their wishes will be fulfilled and their loved ones supported in the event of their deaths.

Holding Local Authorities Accountable

Special Educational Needs

by Veronika Kiss, Paralegal

When Local Authorities fail to provide children with the educational provisions set out in the child’s EHCP, parents often find themselves navigating a complex web of legal processes. If you're going through this, don't worry, we know it's hard, and we can help.

One of the most effective tools to hold the Local Authority accountable is sending them a ‘Pre-Action Protocol Letter’. This is a legal letter that serves as a comprehensive document outlining the specific breaches of law and the grounds for taking them to court in a process called Judicial Review. It lays out the legal framework, enabling us to build a compelling case against the Local Authority.

This approach is not only efficient but also cost-effective, sparing families from protracted legal battles. By initiating this formal process, we can compel the Local Authority to talk to us and try to resolve the issues in a fair and transparent way – ideally without ever taking the matter to court. High court action in these matters can be extremely costly, time consuming and stressful; we draft these letters to facilitate meaningful discussions with the Local Authority that can help you reach an amicable resolution.

In situations where formal complaints to the Local Authority fail to achieve an acceptable outcome, the Pre-Action Protocol Letter plays a pivotal role in the resulting Judicial Review process in the High Court. A well drafted letter strengthens the case's credibility and legitimacy, showing the court that all reasonable avenues to resolution have been exhausted outside of court. By highlighting the seriousness of the Local Authority's failure to provide adequate education, it underscores your unwavering commitment to seeking a fair and just resolution for your child.

Following this process empowers families to assert their rights and navigate the complex landscape of educational redress. By using this approach, we foster transparency, accountability, and strive for positive change within Local Authorities, ensuring that every child receives the education they deserve.

If you have any concerns about the education provision for your child, please contact our team who can assist you by emailing

Working With Trinity

by Lucy Barrott, Communications Executive

Trinity Winchester have been carrying out critical work in our local community since 1986, providing advice and support to socially deprived people in Winchester. 

Their services are broad, including laundry facilities, access to hot meals, residential placements, rehab and access to medical and dental care.

We have been working closely with Trinity and it has been invaluable to our team to meet the service users and Trinity team whilst volunteering at the centre and see first hand how we can support their work. For our Family and Crime teams, this is especially poignant, their work in legal aid cases shows them a different facet of the lives of vulnerable people in our community. People living in poverty, with insecure housing or in abusive homes are unfortunately much more likely to come into contact with our justice system or care system. They often don’t have the luxury of spare funds to instruct a solicitor or to pay for support services. It is central to our values to help marginalised people access the justice they deserve.

We have sponsored Rotary Organised events such as ‘An Evening with Dan Snow’ at the Winchester Royal and ‘The Firewalk’ where Olivia from our Family Team and I braved the flames and walked over 15ft of 500º coals! These events were in aid of both Trinity’s Women’s Service and Hope Street, an organisation piloting a new approach to working with justice involved women. We also hosted our own fundraising event, welcoming guests from all over the criminal justice system and holding a silent auction in aid of Trinity.

Over the last 6 months, Trinity has welcomed Shentons team members from across the firm to help in their kitchens under the careful tutelage of their brilliant chef Luke. Our Family Team have worked with the Women’s Service, attending some of their coffee mornings to answer questions and provide legal information to the group.

Now we look to the future, our Probate Team have been speaking to the Fundraising Team at Trinity to expand the information they can provide to supporters about charitable donations within Wills and our Family Team are continuing to forge a fantastic relationship with the Women’s Service to ensure that they all know what their rights are and what the court can do to protect victims of abuse.

With many of our staff chomping at the bit for their turn to volunteer in the kitchen or beyond, we are extremely grateful to Trinity for giving us the opportunity to help and see how we can work together to make a difference.

Visit their website to learn more

Harriet Promoted to Partner

Criminal Law

by Chloe Jay, Partner

Harriet Parker has become a Partner of the firm and is our new Head of Crime.

Harriet began her career at Shentons 15 years ago as a Legal Assistant supporting our criminal lawyers. She says “I loved the fast pace of criminal work and particularly the idea that we give a voice to the most vulnerable in society.” She began therefore to train and move up the ranks from police station advisor to trainee solicitor to solicitor and now partner.

Working exclusively in criminal law over that period, Harriet has amassed a wealth of experience in representing clients upon arrest, charge and during their trial. Her career highlight so far was acting in a gang murder. She says: “The trial had involved murder with a firearm, drug supply and suspected bugging of defendant’s homes and cars, I was in the room during tactical discussions with numerous Queen’s Counsel and I knew it was a completely unique experience”. There were five defendants on trial and Harriet’s client was the only one to be found not guilty.

Criminal law can be far from glamourous, however. Harriet remembers the low point of “having a chair thrown at me by someone in a police station” and other comical situations where she had to convince someone to put their clothes back on and stop flooding their cell. She says “on a serious note, many of our clients have mental health issues or learning disabilities, making sure that the court are aware of their background is key.” Harriet is well known for instructing the right psychiatric or psychological expert to best assist the client’s case.

At Shentons we pride ourselves on promoting from within and building the careers of those who have shown loyalty and dedication to the firm. Harriet joins a number of partners past and present who have trained, qualified and been promoted at the firm. Harriet was promoted to partner whilst she was on maternity leave so has her work cut out at home and in business, but she relishes the challenge.

Harriet replaces Chloe Jay as Head of Crime with Chloe moving to a more central role within the firm and overseeing the contentious areas that we provide; Family, Special Education Needs, Civil Litigation and Crime.

The Human Touch

Road Traffic

by Alex Chessum, Solicitor Advocate

Over recent years we have seen more and more local Magistrates Courts close as buildings are sold off. There seems to be a prevailing belief that justice can start to be dispensed online.

On behalf of our clients, our job as defence advocates in the Magistrates Court is trying to persuade Magistrates around to our point of view. We can challenge decisions that are wrong or unjust and we can appeal to a higher court. Criticisms that Magistrates have faced over the years is that they are drawn from too narrow a background and they are not representative of the communities they deliver justice to.

There may be some merit to this criticism, however, in my opinion, the answer is not to be found in closing Magistrates Courts so that everybody has to travel for miles & miles to get to a Court, nor is it going to be solved by turning summary justice into a process driven by online algorithms.

The Magistrates’ ability to use their discretion in deciding on a defendant’s fate can sometimes work in a defendant’s favour and I am yet to be convinced that even the most technologically advanced online systems can replicate the consideration that people can bring to our justice system.

The Magistrates’ discretion was vital when I recently argued a case of exceptional hardship. My client had never been to court before but they were faced with losing their license as a result of the totting up speeding points over 3 years. The client, however, lived in a rural location and visited their elderly father who increasingly suffered with dementia, every day in another rural location. Buses were infrequent and taxis prohibitively expensive. The daily visits meant that the elderly father could stay in his own home and the client could give the carer a break. The carer did not drive and for differing reasons, no-else in the family could visit every day. We demonstrated to the Court that the loss of the license would be of exceptional hardship to the client’s father as he would be effectively house bound and likely to end up in permanent residential care without the daily visits. The Magistrates used their discretion and the client kept their license knowing that any further speeding or road traffic offences would result in an immediate ban.

Legal Age of Marriage Raised to 18


By Tamsin Stevenson, Solicitor

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act received Royal Assent in April of last year and came into effect in February of 2023.

Previously, 16 and 17 year olds were able to marry as long as they receive parental consent. From the 27th of February 2023, the legal age of marriage has been be raised to 18.

This change has been introduced to transform the lives of those who are 16 - 17 years old and at risk of being forced to marry against their will. Whilst forced marriage itself is a criminal offence, the current law has repeatedly failed those who face immense pressure to marry and may be victims of abuse. The law also bans non legally binding ceremonies that would be viewed as marriage by the parties and their families.

Under the new law, adults who facilitate underage marriage could face up to seven years in prison and a significant fine. Children who are forced to marry will not face penalties.

The introduction of this law is imperative to safeguard vulnerable children and is a significant step in the UN’s push towards ending child marriage by 2030.

What is the difference between exchange of contracts and completion?


Once you agree to sell or purchase a property you may find the estate agents and your solicitors start to use phrases that are unfamiliar to you. Never be concerned about asking for an explanation of the meaning behind the words.

A common misunderstanding with buyers and sellers is what takes place at the point of exchange and what takes place at completion.

Put simply, exchange of contracts is the point at which you enter into a legally binding contract to sell or purchase the property. If either party were to withdraw from the transaction after this point there would be financial penalties for doing so and the buyer would stand to lose their deposit. The deposit paid on exchange is generally 10% of the purchase price. The completion date is entered into the contract at exchange and cannot be changed without agreement of all parties to the contract.

Completion is when the purchase price for the property is transferred from the buyer’s solicitors to the seller’s solicitors and the transaction is legally ‘completed’. Keys will generally be released to the buyers on the day of completion once the seller’s solicitors have confirmed they have received the funds.

There is no set time period between exchange and completion as the completion date can be any working day that the seller and buyer are happy with. Often people are keen to complete as soon as possible so it is common to have a week in between exchanging contracts and completing, which allows for the time required to get any mortgage advances drawn down.

Meet our Trainee Solicitor


Olivia Cameron joined the Shentons’ Family Team as a secretary in 2021, she became a Paralegal in 2022 and we are delighted that she has accepted the role as Trainee Solicitor! She is a fantastic asset to the team and we are so proud of how much she has grown in skill and confidence since she started working with us.

Why did you decide to become a Solicitor?

When I was at college I chose to take Law A-Level on a whim, intending to drop it at the end of AS Level. I was surprised to find myself fascinated by the subject; learning the abstract nature of the law and how it applies to real life cases was extremely interesting to me. From this point I was on the path to becoming a lawyer, I sought out independent work experience while I was at college and again when I attended Winchester University where I went on to complete my Law Degree.

I joined Shentons’ Family Team as a Legal Secretary in August of 2021. I was promoted to Paralegal in June of 2022 and I have just started my Training Contract in March of 2023.

What are you most proud of in your legal career so far?

Whilst my legal career so far has been short, the most positive part of it has been the incredible team that I have joined. I made it clear from the outset that my goal was to become a Solicitor and from the moment that I arrived, my progression from Legal Secretary to Trainee Solicitor has been supported by the firm. I have benefited from the guidance and continued support of the more senior lawyers in my department and look forward to learning from them during my training contract and beyond.

What has been the hardest part of your career?

It was a really hard realisation to come to terms with the fact that once a case gets to court the final decision is out of our hands. We can work closely with our clients to get their cases across and their voices heard but once their cases are in front of the Judge, it is entirely their decision to make.

Why did you decide to practise Family Law?

From the outset of my interest in law I knew that I wanted to work with vulnerable clients. When I did work experience during my studies, I assisted the clinical negligence departments in the firms I worked with. When I saw the opportunity to work at Shentons in their family department, their focus on legal aid and working with vulnerable clients appealed to me. Seeing how the work we do for our clients can improve their lives, is extremely rewarding.

Dot the i’s and cross the t’s before you pick up the keys

Property and Conveyancing

by Michelle Hughes, Conveyancer

Conveyancer Michelle Hughes shares why it‘s so important to select a property lawyer who will do the job right the first time.

Details of this Case Study have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.

I recently acted for Samantha in the sale of her property and the purchase of a new property with her partner. The relatively straightforward transaction rapidly changed when I discovered that the lease was still in the name of the previous owners. When she had bought the property Samantha had used an online conveyancing service as opposed to a local firm of solicitors, but they had not correctly registered her purchase with the Land Registry.

She had been living in her property for over 5 years without knowing that she was in breach of the terms of her mortgage and that, without registration of her lease, the flat was not worth anywhere near what she had paid for it.

Samantha was now getting married and moving in with her fiancé and the discovery of this previous blunder by the online conveyancing service meant that her current transaction was likely to take a lot longer and cost a lot more money. Fortunately her buyer was understanding and could accommodate the delays so her transaction, although delayed, went through as expected.

It is not uncommon for our team to pick up the pieces when conveyancing goes wrong with another company. Often the original conveyancing company have gone out of business and so the client has no way of claiming back their fees. We were able to locate the original landlord for the property and negotiate the proper registration so that Samantha’s transaction could continue and luckily her buyer was patient. In the end the decision to use an online service was a false economy as Samantha had to pay further legal fees to put right the mess. Using a solicitor protects you as if a solicitors firm goes out of business they have to pay for insurance to protect their past clients from any issue that may arise.

Youth or Dare


by Lucy Blue, Legal Assistant

Lucy explores how a young person can find themselves in the adult court. Our criminal team specialise in looking after children and young people.

The Youth Court offers safeguards to those who enter the criminal justice system under the age of 18. They are specially designed to make it easier for children to understand what is happening and feel less intimidated. They are able to sit with their parent or supporting adult and are sentenced in a way that has their welfare and rehabilitation as the focus.

However, the child’s age at the time of the offence is not the crucial date, it is the date when they are charged with the offence. If this decision is made after their 18th birthday the case will be heard in the adult courts, regardless of when the offence is said to have been committed. This means the young person will be sentenced as an adult although they will get a reduction for their age.

Advocating for your child

Special Educational Needs

by Veronika Kiss, Paralegal

In an ideal world, the process for ensuring that children with complex needs receive the education they are entitled to would be simple. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Parents often come to us frustrated that the Local Authority did not name their preferred school on their child’s Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP). It is important that parents know their rights when trying to advocate for their child’s school placement. Parents are entitled to request that a maintained school (either mainstream or special) is named in their child’s EHCP. The Local Authority must name the school of parental preference unless they can evidence that it is unsuitable. If there are no maintained schools that can meet their child’s needs, then the Local Authority must consider a request to name an independent special school.

The statutory deadline by which all Local Authorities must amend the EHCP to name a secondary school placement is by the 15th February in the year of secondary transition.

If you need support regarding your child’s special educational needs, please contact our expert SEN team today.

Trinity Support


by Olivia Cameron, Trainee Solicitor

This year, Trinity Winchester is one of Shentons’ chosen charities. They have been carrying out essential work in our local community since 1986, providing advice and support to socially deprived people in Winchester.

In January, our Family Department headed down to Trinity to volunteer in the kitchen and prepare a meal for the service users. This was an amazing experience and allowed us to speak one to one with numerous service users as well as contribute to the day to day running of the service.

The legal aid work in our Family and Criminal Law departments is focused on supporting vulnerable members of our community. People living in poverty, with insecure housing or in abusive homes are sadly more likely to come into contact with our justice system or care system. They often don’t have the luxury of spare funds to instruct a solicitor or to pay for support services. It is central to our values to help marginalised people access the justice they deserve.

In addition to the widely publicised support for the homeless and vulnerably homed in Winchester, Trinity also runs a specialist Women’s Service which supports women in addressing a number of vulnerabilities including the effects of trauma, domestic abuse, loneliness, and unemployment alongside any other issues they may be facing. A majority of the work that our Family Team carries out intersects with domestic abuse in some way, they see the devastating effects of abuse every day and the value that support from charities like Trinity can bring to the lives of victims of abuse.

This new year has brought with it even more exciting fundraising and volunteering opportunities. We recently sponsored An Evening with Dan Snow at the Theatre Royal Winchester organised by the Winchester Rotary; this event was to raise money specifically for Trinity Women’s Service and Hope Street.

Is Your Home at Risk?

Property and Conveyancing

by Lucy Hunting, Solicitor

Lucy Hunting’s 3 top tips for avoiding property fraud.

You may have seen some of the recent stories of home owners fighting to regain their properties after they have been fraudulently sold without their knowledge.

Although these stories may seem more suited to a television drama and something that could never affect you personally, this may not be the case. Property fraud is on the rise and it may surprise you to know how easily it could happen to you.

Identity theft in relation to conveyancing was raised in Parliament as recently as 20 October with MPs requesting more is done by the Land Registry to deal with this. But until further measures are put in place what can you personally do to protect yourself and your property

1. The Land Registry offer a free Property Alert service.

By signing up to this service the Land Registry will email to notify you about activities involving the property such as an application to register a mortgage or change of ownership. Although these alerts will not stop the fraud taking place it does act as a warning system so that you can take immediate action. It is a free service, is very easy to sign up for and you can register up to ten properties allowing you to monitor family or friends’ homes too.

2. You can register an ‘anti-fraud’ restriction on your property’s legal title.

This restriction will require a certificate is signed by the conveyancer lodging the application confirming that they are satisfied it is being made by the registered proprietor (the property’s 
legal owner). This requirement should encourage conveyancers to make full checks that the party instructing them is in fact the true owner and not a fraudster.

3. Keep your contact details at the Land Registry up to date.

The Land Registry can register up to three addresses for service for each property owner which can include email addresses. This is particularly important if you are renting your property out or will not be living there for a period of time.

If you have any specific concerns please do not hesitate to contact us to advise you further. Whenever carrying out any property transactions ensure you instruct a reputable legal firm to ensure that you and your property are in safe hands.

The Hot Seat

Road Traffic Offences

By Lucy Blue, Police Station Representative

In recent memory parents would simply place their young child in a loose bassinet on the back seat of their car. The law has changed enormously in the last few decades creating something of a minefield for new parents.

There are now 3 stages in a child’s development where the law says that particular care should be taken:

Stage 1

From the moment they are born to the time they reach 15 months of age, children must use a rear facing car seat, unless they are in the passenger seat of a car with a passenger side airbag facing forwards. (Never fit a rear-facing child seat in the front if there is an active airbag on the passenger side of the car.)

Stage 2

After the 15-month point, children may face forwards but it all comes down to how much your child weighs as to which car seat is appropriate. An expert form Britax, the car seat manufacturer, say “We recommend parents look for highback booster seats with deep protective side wings, head support and seat belt guides to ensure the best protection for their children."

The law had changed some years ago due to experts warning that backless booster seats were not secure, rendering them unsafe for young children. In the event of a side-on crash, a standard seat belt offers little protection for a child as it is not guided across the body in the same way as a booster seat.

Stage 3

When a child reaches more than 22kg and taller than 125cm they must have a backless booster seat with the normal seat belt across them.

Children of 12 years OR taller than 135cm do not need a 
child seat.

Unfortunately, much like that beloved first pair of shoes, car seats seem to fit one minute and then not the next, but most importantly this would not amount to a defence should your child be incorrectly fastened. The penalty for a poorly restrained child is anything from a £30 fixed penalty notice up to a £500 fine should the case go to court

Your insurance may also not pay out for any claims if the injured child is not in a correct seat. The responsibility lies with the driver of the car for ensuring the children are sitting in the age-appropriate car seat and wearing a seatbelt. In a civil case, a mother was negligent in using a booster child seat to restrain her child on a car journey instead of a child seat. As the injuries sustained by the child would have been largely avoided with the correct car seat, the court ordered the mother pay 25% of the damages even though she did not cause the accident.

Parental Alienation

Family and Civil Partnerships

by Rachael Cole, Associate Solicitor - Head of Family

Often when serious allegations are made in Court proceedings, it is necessary to instruct an independent expert to provide a report to assist the Court.

I recently represented a father who was being prevented from seeing his daughter by the mother. Despite a Court Order being in place that said he could have contact, the mother continued to refuse, saying that the child didn’t want to see him.

This raised some serious red flags for 
our team, and we instructed an expert psychologist to carry out an assessment of the family to try and get to the bottom of the problem. The expert found that the mother was alienating the child from her father by making negative comments about the father to the child. These comments were influencing the child’s views about wanting to see her father.

The psychologist not only helped the Court understand the dynamics of the family, but also helped the mother understand how her actions were impacting the child. Contact has been successfully resumed, and the father and his daughter are now able to have a meaningful relationship in the future.

Parental alienation is when one parent exposes a child to negative views about the other parent, causing the child to develop resistance to the other parent, which ultimately damages the relationship between the child and other parent. This is a form of manipulation and can even be emotional child abuse.

Parental alienation is a serious allegation to make. It can be difficult to prove, which is why it is often necessary to get an expert involved. If there are no serious welfare concerns, parents are expected to put their own feelings aside and encourage children to have healthy and meaningful relationships with both parents.

Staff News

Partner, Chloe Jay, and her husband Simon are running the London Marathon next year in aid of Lymphoma Action. Chloe lost her father to cancer when she was very young and they are running in his memory. Lymphoma Action is the UK’s only charity dedicated to lymphoma, the fifth most common cancer. They’ve been providing in-depth, expert information and wide-ranging support for over 30 years, helping thousands of people affected by lymphoma.

If you would like to sponsor Chloe and Simon, please visit

Community News

Our family team have been snowed under! They headed down to The Square to visit the Giant Inflatable Snow Globe! Donations are going to Spare Change for Lasting Change, a scheme raising money for Trinity Winchester and The Winchester Beacon, two local charities working to support the homeless.

Cross Examination Protections

Family and Civil Partnerships

By Rachael Cole, Associate Solicitor - Head of Family

At some hearings in the Family Court, it is necessary for the parties to give evidence. It is important that each party has an opportunity to challenge the other party’s evidence to test its reliability and their credibility as a witness to assist the Judge in making decisions.

This is known as cross-examination and involves questions being put to each party by the other. For people with legal representation, these questions will be put by their barrister or solicitor. Without a lawyer, the parties are left to cross-examine each other.

Attending Court can be an extremely stressful and frightening experience, particularly for victims of domestic abuse. It is now recognised that some perpetrators use the Court process as a means of extending their abuse, resulting in victims being subjected to on-going trauma. Imagine the situation where you had to attend Court and be questioned by the very person who had harmed you or your child, the very person you fear most.

Thankfully on 21st July 2022, legislation came into force to prevent this very situation. In these cases, the Court must consider whether there is a satisfactory alternative means for cross-examination where you have an alleged perpetrator and their victim. If there is not, the Court must now appoint a legal professional to carry out the questioning.

This applies only to new proceedings issued after this date, and only in cases where there is specified evidence of domestic abuse, or there is a charge, conviction or protective Injunction in place. In other cases, the Court may still prohibit cross-examination when this would likely affect the quality of a witness’ evidence or cause significant distress to a witness. The Court may, for example, require written questions to be filed in advance of the hearing, which will be put to the other party by a Judge.

Our family team regularly assist and represent clients in cases involving domestic abuse. We welcome these developments not only to protect victims, but also to ensure that the parties get a fair hearing. It is hoped that enough qualified advocates will join the scheme to enable its success.

No Points in Speeding

Road Traffic Offences

By Alex Chessum, Solicitor Advocate

Smart motorways are a hot topic at the moment, with the Government deciding to suspend work on them, whilst they debate how safe they really are.

But whilst the work is suspended the constant speeding monitoring from the yellow cameras is very much still in force.

So, what happens if you look down at your speedometer and realise you are doing 60mph in a 50 zone but cannot remember how many cameras you have passed? Could you be looking at 3 points? 6 points?

This is where the principle of totality could work in your favour, the totality principle is a discretionary tool the court can use to impose the maximum number of points it can for one offence to all of them, which often in the case of speeding is 3 points (although this depends on your speed). However, a court, ‘if it thinks fit’ may impose points for each offence.

However, these offences must be committed ‘on the same occasion’ so if you drive to work and get caught by the same camera on the way there and on the way back the court is unlikely to apply this principle as the journeys will be considered to be separate journeys. Whether there are two or more offences will also be a question of fact so eyewitness testimony will be crucial to establishing this.

An example of this principle in action can be seen in a case from 1983 where failure to stop at the scene of a Road Traffic Accident and Failure to report the same accident were deemed to be offences on the same occasion.

However, a different approach has been followed in the Scottish Courts. In one case from 1996 a moving traffic offence which resulted in the driver being stopped, then a failure to provide a specimen of breath were held to be on a different occasion despite the failure to provide only coming about due to the defendant being stopped for the road traffic offence.

It is therefore important to seek advice about any impending prosecution so that a lawyer can establish whether the totality principle could help you.

What if I Have No Will?

Wills and Probate

By Lisa Warriner, Senior Paralegal

The Problem of Intestacy.

This is the story of a man with no wife or children who did not make a Will.

Because he had no Will, his estate did not go to his friends and neighbours.  It did not go to any of his favourite charities.  His estate went to his second cousins, most of whom he had never met. 

16 of his second cousins were from his mother’s side of the family.  A tracing agency had to be instructed to find relatives on his father’s side of the family.  Some of these were based in the UK, but the majority were based overseas, notably in Hong Kong and Barbados.  Information was slow to come out of Hong Kong and extremely difficult to trace in Barbados.  The tracing of his overseas relatives took 2 years to complete.  A further 6 beneficiaries were traced, meaning his estate had to then be divided 20 ways.

In the meantime, two of his second cousins died, so further complicating matters.  Only one of them had made a Will.  For the one who did not have a Will, further checks had to be made to verify his own beneficiaries.

The Inheritance Tax bill on the estate was eye-wateringly big.

The administration of most estates takes 18 months.  It took 5 years to administer this estate.  The costs of the administration were far larger than they had to be as 20 beneficiaries had to be traced, contacted, updated on a regular basis, and, eventually, paid. 

None of this was what the man would have wanted and could have all been avoided by making a Will.

Staff News

Our recently retired Legal Executive, Melanie Armstrong, is temporarily coming back to the firm as a Probate Assistant to provide maternity cover. Prior to retirement, she worked at Shentons for many years and many of our clients and contacts will join us in welcoming her back.

Community News

We mark the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and our thoughts are with her family at this time of profound loss.

Her death has changed many things overnight but particularly in the criminal courts. All prosecutions in the UK are begun on behalf of the Crown. Those on trial are now being prosecuted in the name of the King with their QC (Queen's Counsel) becoming a KC. Their indictments are now headed 'The King v X' for the first time in over 70 years.

Social Services

Family and Civil Partnerships

by Olivia Cameron, Paralegal

Receiving a Public Law Outline (PLO) letter from the Local Authority can be stressful and confusing. Olivia Cameron explains what the PLO is and how we can assist you through the process.

I have received a PLO letter – what should I do?

It is important to take this letter to a family solicitor immediately. You will be entitled to free legal advice under Legal Aid.

The PLO process is a legal framework that the Local Authority uses to address concerns about a child’s welfare. When the Local Authority starts the PLO process, they will send the parents a ‘letter before proceedings.’ The letter will outline the main concerns, the help that has been provided by Children’s Services so far, and the steps you must take to reduce the likelihood of court proceedings. It will also schedule a date and time for you to attend a PLO meeting.

The PLO process is often the last opportunity for parents to make the required changes before the Local Authority make a court application for care proceedings to begin. If the matter goes to court, the Local Authority may apply for an order removing a child from your care.

What happens at a PLO meeting?

The meeting is usually attended by the Local Authority solicitor, Team Manager, Social Worker, the parents, and their solicitors. During the meeting, the Local Authority will go through the concerns outlined in the ‘letter before proceedings’ and provide any updates. During the meeting, the parents will have the opportunity to respond to the concerns. The purpose of this meeting is for the parents and Children’s Services to work together to put a plan in place to stop things escalating. This could include parenting assessments and drug testing.

It is essential that you engage with Children’s Services. The purpose of the process is to ensure the safety of your child and by willingly cooperating, you will put yourself in the best position for the children to remain in your care.

My son has received a PLO letter regarding the welfare of my grandchild, can I help?

Yes, you can. You should start by discussing the matter with your son and considering whether you would like to be put forward as an alternative carer for your grandchild.

During the PLO meeting, your son will be asked to provide names of people who may be able to care for the child if the Court decides it is not safe for the parents to do so. The Local Authority and the Court will first consider whether it is appropriate to place the child within the wider family. Before considering foster care or adoption, an assessment may be completed by the Local Authority to determine your suitability to care for the child.

If you receive a PLO letter and require advice, please contact us and ask to speak to a member of the Family Department.

Mama Diary

Chloe Jay, Partner

Dr Carla Runchman is an NHS clinical psychologist, mum of two and author of two journals for new mums, including the newly released The Mama Diary.

We had the great pleasure of awarding her the prize for Best Product/Retail in the ‘Women who do’ Awards 2022. We sponsored the award and were blown away by the thought and care that clearly went into the creation of The Mama Diary, it’s a courageous effort to support the mental health of new mums.

Carla founded Mama Diary UK in 2017 which aims to help normalise the conversation on mental health in motherhood. A recent report revealed that as many as one in five mothers develop a mental health problem in the perinatal period (pregnancy to one year after birth). There are likely to be many more women struggling with periods of low mood, anxiety and/or stress in the early months and years of having children. In the context of a lack of affordable childcare and problems accessing flexible working arrangements, it’s no wonder women can find themselves feeling the pressure to juggle competing responsibilities.

Carla gives three tips to help manage the ‘load’ in motherhood:

1) It’s not you, it’s society. If you are struggling with feeling like you don’t have enough support, it’s not just you; we are not meant to raise our children alone – it takes a village. Over the generations, society has, generally-speaking, made our families smaller and we are less likely to live with older generations. We are more likely to move away to study or work, and be less likely to live near lots of family members. It’s also more common for parents of young children to be working, and for grandparents to be working. Sometimes, this can all add up to the young family feeling isolated. It doesn’t mean you are doing a bad job or that you are not good enough. Try getting to know other mums at baby groups, get involved in a local community group or seek out organisations like Home-Start who support families in the early years.

2) Don’t believe everything you think! It sounds strange, but thoughts are not facts. When we’re stressed, we are more likely to have negative thoughts about ourselves. Our minds are complex and incredible, and can just as easily imagine that you are a ‘bad mum’ as they can a pink elephant dancing on the moon playing a violin. It can be helpful to notice when negative thoughts happen, perhaps even by saying to yourself ‘oh there’s a negative thought’ and try to move forward without engaging with it.

3) You can’t pour from an empty cup. Refilling your cup can mean lots of different things, from having an hour to yourself to walk or have a bath, to paying for a cleaner to reduce the housework load, or to finding a way to work more flexibly to improve your work-life balance.


Instagram: @mamadiaryuk

The Real Deal(er)?

Criminal Law

By Rowanne Gillespie, Police Station Representative

A look into the those who deal drugs and why it is not always a conscious choice.

Often when people think of drug dealers the first image that comes to mind, is lots of cash, expensive clothes and blacked out super cars.

In fact, for many this is not the case, instead they are subjected to violence, threats to themselves and threats to their families. They are often tripped up so they are forced to continue to supply drugs. Anyone can end up falling victim, no matter their sex, age, race or class and although this is not intended to alarm anyone, it is important to not dismiss a potential victim because they do not appear to ‘fit the bill’.

To help counter this issue, in 2015 the Home Office introduced the Modern Slavery Act, the aim of which is to give law enforcers the tools to protect those who are victims of modern slavery, whilst also ensuring those who enslave them receive a suitably severe punishment. Under this Act there is a duty on public bodies to notify the Home Office of potential victims, this is done under the NRM (National Referral Mechanism).

In 2019 10,627 potential victims were referred to the NRM process according to official Government reports a 52% increase from the year before. As the report states, this increase ‘could be down to greater awareness, but higher incidence cannot be ruled out’.

Young males are the most likely to be targeted and parents are often unaware until they go missing and are found in another city living in squalor and dealing drugs. We have dealt with many such young people and these present some of the most challenging cases for the crime department.

What you need to know about IHT

Wills and Probate

By Elisabeth Pollard, Partner

Partner, Elisabeth Pollard, gives us the run down on Inheritance Tax.

Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable on the value of your estate when you die.  If your estate is worth less than the “nil rate band”, which is currently £325,000, there is no Inheritance Tax to pay. If your estate is worth more than £325,000 then IHT is charged at 40% of the value that exceeds £325,000.

If you are married or in a civil partnership, things are a bit more favourable; if you have chosen to leave all of your assets to each other on the first death, your Executors will be able to claim ‘surviving spouse exemption’ which should mean no IHT will be payable upon the death of the first spouse.

When the surviving spouse dies, IHT will be payable at 40% of the value of their estate which exceeds the nil rate band of £325,000, however, in addition, it should be possible to carry forward the ‘transferable nil rate band’ of the first to die. This would add an additional £325,000 meaning the first £650,000 of the estate of the second to die will pass free of IHT.

If you have children and you are leaving your home to them in your Will, your Executors may be able to claim the ‘residence nil rate band’.  This will provide an additional nil rate band of £175,000, provided your direct descendants inherit your residence.  Contact us for more information about who falls into the category of ‘direct descendants’.

For a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership the residence nil rate band of the first to die can be transferable. Therefore, for a married couple leaving a residence to children, the potential nil rate bands could amount to £1,000,000 meaning that Inheritance Tax would only be payable if the estate on the second death exceeded this value.

Anything you leave to charity passes free of Inheritance Tax by virtue of “charitable exemption”.

A way to mitigate Inheritance Tax may be to give some of your wealth away in your lifetime. A gift is a ‘potentially exempt transfer’ for Inheritance Tax and provided you survive 7 years after giving it away its value will no longer form part of your estate for Inheritance Tax purposes.

We can advise you in more detail, and based on your personal circumstances. Contact a member of our Probate Team – Elisabeth Pollard, Patrick Hunter, Lisa Warriner, Katie Wood or Laura Keith.

Property Q&A

Property and Conveyancing

By Lucy Hunting, Solicitor

What is going on with the current property market?
Good question! Following the rush to buy during the stamp duty relief period, we all anticipated the market would slow down. However! So far the past 8 months have been anything but slow. Average UK house prices hit a record level for the fourth month in a row last month and it’s widely reported that there is a housing market frenzy. Some fear this year will bring a property crash and house prices to drop. With the cost of living crisis and the interest rate increases will there still be such a huge demand? Who knows. But for now, the UK property market is certainly a competitive place to be. If you are looking to buy, don’t be surprised if you need to make more than one offer and most likely on more than one property.

What would your advice be to people trying to buy at the current time?
Some Estate Agents are refusing to put offers to sellers unless the potential buyers are either chain-free or under offer on their own properties. Unfortunately, this is not surprising as there are so few available properties out there and many people wanting to buy. In many respects you could say that it is still a ‘seller’s market’. But this doesn’t mean that buyers should just take whatever they can. Sellers are ultimately looking to make the most money from their property but they are also looking for a buyer that can move quickly. So before putting in those offers, you should you do everything you can to put yourselves in the best position for moving quickly.

In particular you should consider:

1. Make sure your finances are in order. If you will be getting a mortgage, make sure you have spoken to a broker and at least have an offer in principle. You may find that some estate agents will insist on this before they will discuss putting in an offer with you.

2. Pre-empt the documentation you will be required to provide to both the estate agents and your conveyancing solicitors. This will include valid identity documents and bank statements. If, for example, you are purchasing with people who are out of the country, start addressing now how you will get their identity documents certified to avoid delays later.

3. Evidencing your deposit. Whether you are getting a mortgage or not you will still need to provide your solicitor with evidence of the source of your funds. If they are savings from your employment, then your solicitor will want to see P60s/wage slips and bank statements.

4. Be keen, but be realistic. There is nothing worse than a potential buyer that agrees to complete the purchase by the end of the month only to find out that is not possible. There will be certain processes that have to be gone through and some that will be beyond your control (Land Registry delays, difficulties in getting hold of certain mortgage lenders, local search hold ups, to mention a few).

How long is the average chain taking to complete?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an ‘average chain’. You can have two properties in the chain, that take six months to complete or ten properties that complete in six weeks. It really does depend on the parties in the chain and the properties. All parties need to be proceedable (mortgages in place, all documentation signed and with their solicitors) and all properties need to be saleable. Before a solicitor will report to you that the purchase is ready to proceed, they will need to carry out various checks and searches to ensure that the legal title is satisfactory, and that you are fully aware of your obligations and restrictions. This enquiry stage of the transaction is usually the longest part and can take some months.

The timescale generally provided is two to four months, but in reality, it can be a lot less or more. Once your solicitor has reviewed the legal title to the property, they will be able to give you a better indication of timescales for your purchase. The estate agents should also be able to give you information on the chain.

Most importantly – don’t book anything until your solicitor has confirmed that your hoped-for date can be met!

Staff News Big Sleep Out

We recently took part in the Big Sleep Out in the cathedral grounds to raise money for Trinity Centre, Winchester. Staff raised £1260 and won best Corporate Shelter on the evening for their amazing effort!

Staff News Promotions

We are delighted to announce the promotion of Lisa McKellar and Olivia Cameron as Paralegals in the family department.  Lisa will be working directly with Head of department Rachael Cole and Olivia with solicitor Tamsin Stevenson.

Justice Week 21-25 March

Chloe Jay, Partner

Welcome to the first edition of Lawtalk 2022. This is a special edition celebrating Wessex Justice Week.

We wanted to celebrate our work here in achieving justice for our clients in all manner of different forms.

Whether we are securing protection for a victim of domestic abuse, representing vulnerable people being accused of a crime or assisting someone to make their Will in difficult circumstances; upholding people’s rights and the freedom to make their own choices is an integral part of a lawyer’s job.

In this edition you will read about some of our clients and the difficult situations in which they find themselves. Often they are facing one of the lowest points of their life; bereavement, divorce or even incarceration, and the legal side that goes along with it can be extremely distressing and difficult for them. Our job is to guide them through that process with compassion and try to achieve an outcome that is fair and right; in other words to achieve ‘justice’ for them.

We hope the articles here will show how these principles operate in everyday life for everyday people. Real Justice of course relies on everyone being able to have access to it. It cannot be a fair system if you are able to secure legal advice when you have money but not if your finances are lacking. As a firm Shentons has always supported and undertaken legal aid work. Over the last 20 years there has been a huge decline in the number of firms undertaking legal aid work due to the lack of fees.

It has remained a vital part of the ethos of this firm that there is no justice without access to justice.

Victimless Prosecution

Criminal Law

Harriet Parker, Associate Solicitor

In recent years we have seen an increased number of domestic violence cases where the victim has refused to give a statement but the Police have continued to bring a prosecution.

Victimless prosecution was introduced to try and protect victims who are too afraid to support the case. Body worn video evidence from the officers who attend the scene or a 999 call recording can be used in place of a victim’s statement as sufficient evidence to trigger an arrest and a prosecution at court.

But why would they do this?
For the majority of murdered adult women, the perpetrator was their partner or ex-partner. This stark fact has led to policy change and the police taking a different approach when called to a ‘domestic’. They are now looking to officially record these incidents so that they can monitor whether things escalate over time.

Not everyone is prosecuted. Those who are first-time offenders are often given ‘conditional cautions’ with conditions such as attending Domestic Abuse Courses. Cautions and Relationship Abuse (CARA) workshops act as an educational course and have proven to reduce reoffending rates by up to 35%.

This is not the first time that education instead of punishment has demonstrated a clear benefit to society. Speed Awareness Courses have been steadily increasing in use since they were introduced in 2003, and according to a 2015 AA survey, 82% of their members who attended a course said it made them a better or safer driver and 87% would recommend the course to someone else.

The dilemma arrives when the ‘victim’ says that they actively do not want a prosecution at all. We are told to place victims at the heart and centre of the justice system but then on what basis do we override their voice and right to choose?