Dispelling the myths around criminal defence solicitors

Mike Hayward and Nathan Taylor-Allkins, provide an insight into common myths surrounding working in a life of crime:

The popularity of crime dramas on TV appears to be as high as ever with a wealth of UK and US based crime programmes available on demand on a range of viewing platforms. Whilst they make for gripping watching, the reality of being accused of a crime and involved in the criminal justice system in England and Wales is normally a very different and far less comfortable experience.

Many people will have heard on the news the dire state the criminal justice system is currently in with huge backlogs in cases in both the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts, leaving witnesses, victims and not forgetting defendants waiting years for their case to be heard.

We are seeing first-hand the psychological toll this can have on all involved in the justice system but this can be difficult to comprehend and relate to unless you have experienced it for yourself.”

If you have ever faced an interview under caution conducted by the Police, Health and Safety Executive, Local Authority Enforcement, HMRC or Financial Conduct Authority (to name but a few), you will have heard these immortal words:

“You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence”.

That will never happen to me I hear you say! But as solicitors specialising in supporting businesses and people facing any form of regulatory or criminal investigation, we know that people from all walks of life and professions (teachers, accountants, students, business owners – the list goes on) find themselves being interviewed under caution frequently. This can be a traumatic experience for anyone who is not conditioned to the world of criminal law.

We support a full range of clients who are invited to interview on a voluntary basis or having been arrested and undertake this role with the discretion it deserves. It is common for us to be instructed post interview when it is difficult to unpick what may have been inadvertently stated in interview or misrepresented under the pressure that is faced.

Whilst we can supply statements to the enforcement body, we always urge people to seek support for the actual interview itself. Early intervention is key and maximises the opportunity to advance a defence, mitigate or challenge the facts.

We hear a lot that ‘asking for a solicitor at the police station will make me look guilty’ or ‘I haven’t done anything wrong so why would I need a solicitor?’. There is also a common misconception that solicitors just advise their clients to say the well-known phrase ‘No comment’.

This just simply isn’t the case. It is important to view a call to an interview as a meeting in which you need to

  1. Establish the facts,
  2. Ensure you have “equality of arms” (i.e. knowledge of the law and legal process remit) and;
  3. That you make informed decisions at all stages as to what you should say and when you should say it.

Above all, having a lawyer is not about seeking to “get off an allegation” but to ensure your case is advanced clearly and cautiously to ensure your account is understood. After all, the record of interview will be used in any decision as to what, if any, action is to be taken or will be referred to in court.

In a world where we are reacting fast to social media and emails, an interview under caution should be treated with care and our advice is to stop, think and respond. Slow the process down and ensure you are as prepared as you can be.

Often an enforcement officer will have spent considerable time investigating an incident or regulatory breach. They have the alleged evidence, an interview plan and are often double crewed, so to speak, in interview.

It is perfectly legal and acceptable to have your own support. In fact, it is a sign of the allegation being taken responsibly – whether it is an accusation against you in your personal capacity or on behalf of a company.

Check out our podcast to hear Mike and Nathan discuss the above in more detail with Neil Whiteside at Cambridge 105 Radio.

 

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