Criminal Damage Client Found Not Guilty
– by Julia Coffin, paralegal
Another fantastic result for the Forrest Williams team this week, and an outstanding outcome for a very agitated and upset client.
We were in court this week for the trial of our client Chris in his matter of Criminal Damage. The allegation was that he had damaged his neighbour’s car by kicking it during a dispute over parking.
Although this incident occurred in January, Chris only called me two weeks before his trial date and he was understandably very upset and in a panic. He had instructed another solicitor for the first hearing back in March and to do the trial preparation but had just come out of a meeting with them and could not see what work had been done to move his matter forward. He felt they were still in the same place as they were after the first hearing and here he was, two weeks away from trial and a possible criminal record, with no idea of how the case would be handled and with no confidence in his solicitors.
I listened to his story very carefully and quickly realised that the only realistic thing I could do to help him at this late stage was to suggest that we take over the case for him.
I also knew that this meant contacting the prosecution service for the full file of papers, assessing the strength of the evidence against him, contacting the previous solicitors for their file….all things that take time and we were already close to trial date. Oh…and I had to ask him for money as well, and here was a client with an already low opinion of solicitors due to his previous experience, and who had already paid a solicitor to sit on his file and do nothing. Not always an easy conversation to have with someone!
To be honest he didn’t take a lot of convincing. Despite his bad experience with the other law firm, he felt reassured that we would take over and do a good job for him and he would finally see some progress.
The following week was a frustrating lack of material progress with four false starts trying to get the client’s statement due to his unpredictable working pattern. At Forrest Williams, our case management is very client focused and often, the client statement is vital as it draws out information that gives us ideas and information of which way to run a case. We finally got his statement and realised we had a potential witness so had to spend time contacting the witness and taking her statement.
Two days before trial Chris was calling us demanding to know what the action plan was to be in court, and very agitated about the parking issues that are an ongoing issue for him.
I had to be quite firm with him, to reassure him that everything was in hand. We had been working very hard on his case and we had all the information we needed at that point. I managed to convince him that there were absolutely no issues and whilst he was clearly very anxious, there was no need for him to worry about what we were doing, as everything was in order. This seemed to calm him and we were back on track.
During our “day before hearing” telephone call where we discussed the court process, I explained to Chris that the issue at hand was one of Criminal Damage, although the basis of almost every conversation we’d had was about the parking issue. I gently advised Chris that if he took his frustration over the parking problems into court with him then he would be giving the prosecution a motive for the alleged behaviour, and that he really needed to moderate his language and behaviour, and also to forget the parking issue and focus on the Criminal Damage. He took my advice very well and was very understanding.
This is a common thing. Most clients are charged with an offence that is only part of a very large story of what is happening in their life, and they want to make the Court aware of everything when, often, the Court is focused on what can seem to be a tiny point of law. We realise how important it is that clients understand exactly what the issues in their case are from a legal point, so that they can be fully prepared for the court room experience.
The result was that in Court, Chris gave a very credible account of himself, was calm throughout and stuck to his statement without veering off to discuss the parking issue, which despite being very important to Chris was irrelevant and actually unhelpful in a legal sense. His witness did the same. The complainant, however, clearly hadn’t been briefed very well and gave a very theatrical performance on the stand, which undermined his statement and his case.
The result was a not guilty verdict, meaning a win for our extremely grateful client and for the Forrest Williams team. Chris will now be able to apply for a portion of his legal fees to be refunded to him by the Court.