Pre-charge is a vital stage in the outset of a criminal case. Before a person is charged with a criminal offence and brought before a court, the Crown Prosecution Service or the police must consider the public interest in doing so. This “Public Interest Test” takes into account the seriousness of the allegation, the maturity and mental health of the person accused, the cost to the public purse, and the effect on the wider community.
Even where the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, if the public interest is not met the accused can end up with an out-of-court disposal (such as a caution), an informal community resolution (such as an agreement to pay for the damage caused to the Complainant) or with no further action being taken.
In reality, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are often overworked, and underfunded, and full consideration is rarely given to the public interest in prosecuting unless a defence solicitor proactively raises it on their client’s behalf. At Commons, we regularly avoid our clients being charged with a criminal offence by working hard on a case from its outset. We draft detailed submissions backed up by evidence we have collected – such as medical reports, character references, and details of the offending incident which can counter the initial version of what happened.
Gathering Evidence Pre-Charge
In criminal proceedings it is the job of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt. Rarely can the accused’s best interest be served in sitting back and waiting to see what evidence the investigators happen to collect.
It may be crucial to ensure that CCTV is not erased, or witnesses spoken to whilst events are still fresh in their minds. If the police are unable or unwilling to do this themselves as part of their investigation; it may be that evidence needs gathering or that related proceedings, such as cash forfeiture, are considered.
At Commons we have extensive experience of boots-on-the-ground defence investigation as part of our legal practice. We readily draw on this at the pre-charge stage when it is in our clients’ best interest to do so.
Knock-on concerns in the Pre-Charge period
Since 2017 most suspects are “released under investigation” after their police interview rather than being bailed to return to the station on a set date. This has led to a vast increase in the time which suspects spend pre-charge, with the prospect of future criminal proceedings hanging over them. The delay can have serious knock-on effects in other areas of their lives such as employment, immigration and child custody.
At Commons we work closely with professionals to minimise the stress of the pre-charge waiting period as far as possible. This may mean putting pressure on the police to reach a decision on the criminal matter more quickly or providing information to assist in related proceedings. We can also advise on how the various possible outcomes in criminal proceedings will influence matters such as employment opportunities and travel.
Although public funding in Pre-Charge work is extremely limited, Commons offers competitive private fees for legal advice and representation.
Police Station Representation
Many criminal cases are won and lost in the police station. If you are arrested or invited to attend a voluntary interview with the police, we are on hand to attend with you to make sure your rights are respected, the correct procedures are followed and to advise on the best approach to take to an interview under caution.
Our experience tells us that expert early advice and representation in the police station can often make the difference in avoiding a charge for a criminal offence or securing an out of court disposal. If a charge cannot be avoided, the police station interview is effectively the start of the criminal trial. Decisions taken in the police station can have a huge impact later in the proceedings, including whether a defendant is to be granted bail.
All our solicitors are experienced police station lawyers. We also draw on a select group of dedicated freelance Police Station Representatives. We are fully aware of the limits to police investigative powers whilst in the police station and ensure police act within those limits. All of us recognise and are willing to take the extra care and time which is needed when representing vulnerable defendants in the police station.
If the police are considering offering an out of court disposal such as a Police Caution or Community Resolution, we are able to advise on the potential impact this might have, particularly for those who work within regulated sectors.
Legal Aid is available for all for police station advice and representation, regardless of your ability to pay.
Our office number 020 3865 5403 is answered 24 hours a day. If you, or someone you know is arrested, they have the right to ask the police to contact our firm.
If someone you know is in police custody and you would like us to assist, call us on 020 3865 5403.
Commons was built to defend the human rights of our clients in criminal court cases. Representing individuals in proceedings before the Crown, Magistrates’ and Youth Courts is the beating heart of our legal practice. We accept instructions paid for privately or with Legal Aid funding. We gather clinical evidence and opinion to support your defence. We can advise on reducing reputational damage online and in local or national media.
Representation in the Crown Court
Our solicitors are regularly instructed in the most serious cases, including allegations of large-scale fraud and drugs supply, murder and terrorism. We work with advocates from the UK’s top barristers’ chambers. Through meticulous case analysis, long-standing experience and expertise and bold, proactive defence work, we take on some of the most well-funded and high-profile prosecutions.
At Commons we recognise that, whatever the outcome, Crown Court proceedings have the potential to be life-changing and the effects felt well before they have begun and long after they have ended. That is why we put our clients at the centre of everything we do. Ensuring we tailor our communication to their particular needs; we empower them to make informed decisions about how their cases proceed. Through our Crisis Navigation service, we also help vulnerable clients to address the knock-on effect of being criminalised in areas such as housing, employment and mental health.
Recent Crown Court cases include:
R v M – successful defence of a man extradited to the UK alleged to be the head of a multi-million pound Class A drug supply gang. Rhona identified multiple failures of prosecution disclosure which caused the case to be halted during a retrial.
Representation in the Magistrates’ Court
Our solicitors understand that there is no such a thing as a minor allegation. That is why we approach our trial preparation in the Magistrates’ Court with the same diligence and ingenuity that we bring to the Crown Court. We regularly prepare novel legal arguments, instruct experts in topics ranging from toxicology to mental health, make applications to the Court for disclosure of material held by the police, and interview defence witnesses. These efforts mean that on the day of trial we are always better prepared than the Prosecution, leaving our clients with the confidence to give their best possible evidence in the witness stand.
Where a client instructs us that they wish to plead guilty, we often collect medical, educational and familial background information. This enables us to put the offending behaviour in its proper context, resulting in fairer outcomes for our clients.
Representation in the Youth Court
Commons has a vibrant and recognised Youth Court practice. We are regularly referred youth cases from other not-for-profit organisations working with young people, as well as other legal professionals and local authorities.
Unlike in the adult courts, the main aim of the youth justice system is to prevent offending by young people, and the welfare of youth defendants must always be considered. As experienced youth practitioners, Commons holds the police, Prosecution and the Courts to these principles, pushing relentlessly for our youth clients to be diverted away from unnecessary criminalisation.
Where this is not possible, we do not approach our youth representation purely in terms of results. We recognise that most young defendants are victims of structural inequalities of race, class and education. Working in tandem with parents and support workers, our goal is that they come out the other side of criminal proceedings feeling understood, appreciated and empowered by our representation.
Appeals and miscarriages of justice
We act for people at all levels of the criminal justice system who believe that they have been wrongly convicted. This includes submissions to the Criminal Case Review Commission, the Court of Appeal and in ‘Case Stated’ appeals from the Magistrates’ Court. We also defend clients in the High Court for Contempt of Court proceedings. We pursue miscarriages of justice all the way to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
An under resourced criminal justice system and a political agenda to tilt the playing field towards the police and prosecution leads to miscarriages of justice which devastate the lives of the innocent and their families. The defence work to right these wrongs is painstaking and requires persistence and creative critical thinking. We cast fresh eyes on your case working where necessary in a team with specialist appeal barristers and experts who will look anew at the evidence and trial process in your case.
We currently act for Robert Firkins. After joint submissions from Commons and renowned solicitor Jane Hickman, Mr Firkin’s conviction for double murder was referred by the Criminal Case Review Commission to the Court of Appeal in 2020.
Commons’ Rhona Friedman also drafted the successful submissions for the Shrewsbury Pickets case and in 2020 the Criminal Case Review Commission referred the historic convictions to the Court of Appeal.
Commons also represents Charles and Diana Ingram seeking to overturn their conviction for cheating on quiz show “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”.