I start my day by travelling across north London to see my client, who is on a hospital psychiatric ward. The last time I saw him, he was struggling in the secure unit of a prison and only communicated with me through written notes. Read other articles in The (young legal aid) life series here.
This time, we were able to have a lengthy discussion about his case and it was like speaking to a completely new person. This was very rewarding as I had helped to facilitate his move from prison. It turns out treating people with serious mental health problems in hospital is a more effective way of helping them than locking them in a prison cell. Who would have known?
After travelling back to the office, I see that one of my legal aid applications has been refused. I phone the Legal Aid Agency. After listening to the same 20-second loop of smooth jazz while I’m on hold for 15 minutes, and then a five-minute disagreement, the agency accepts it had made an error.
I finally get through to a client I have been chasing for approval of the defence statement, setting out his case and requesting some disclosure from the prosecution. I’ve sent him the papers several times and the deadline is tomorrow. He tells me it’s correct so I email it over to the court.
A client who is only a few weeks away from trial rings up out of the blue. He has missed several office appointments but now is very agitated. He wants to know what I’ve been doing to progress his case. He agrees to come into the office later this week.
Before lunch, there is a police station bail appearance which needs chasing. The officer who dealt with his last appearance is not answering. I call the custody suite and have the phone slammed down on me. I try calling 101. The operator tells me that the officer in charge of the case is now based in Somerset. A very friendly custody operator in Bristol, says the officer is on a rest day today, but gives me a number so I can chase them tomorrow morning.
A lawyer from the CPS rings. The client’s first appearance at the magistrates court was a few days ago. He was remanded in custody and I’ve had no time to book a visit. We are still waiting for the CPS to provide critical CCTV footage. Despite this, the CPS lawyer is taken aback that I haven’t been able to see my client yet and will not advise them to plead guilty without seeing the evidence. His call is part of a new case management initiative, which is a good idea in principle. However, there is no genuine conversation between prosecution and defence. Instead, there is a stilted exchange which just enables the box to be ticked on the case management form.
I have a prison visit later this afternoon to prepare for, so I go through the prosecution papers and sentencing guidelines. This is the first visit so I need to take basic instructions and advise them on their plea when they appear at the Crown Court. Once again, the CPS initial case papers are very thin and just contain the police summary.
I travel to HMP Wandsworth and join a long queue with family visitors also trying to get in. With only one person doing the security checks, this is an agonisingly slow process. I then sit in the visit room for 20 minutes before my client is brought from his cell. He tells me he is guilty of the offence and wants to gain maximum credit for an early guilty plea. He signs an endorsement confirming his instructions and I explain what the likely sentence is going to be.