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Zoo keeper acquitted by Court of Appeal

This has been a very traumatic time for Ms Westlake and her family both the events leading up to and following her wrongful conviction for assault by beating Ms Kate Sanders

Following trial the bench found as a fact that there was no deliberate assault upon Ms Sanders and Ms Westlake was convicted on the basis of recklessness in that she failed to foresee a risk of harm to Ms Sanders by virtue of holding a glass in her hand in close proximity to Ms Sanders during the course of a verbal altercation

Ms Westlake legal team considered that the justices were wrong in their application of the legal test of recklessness and the appeal was brought on that basis

The court today have confirmed the error in the lower court and accordingly have quashed ms west lakes conviction

Ms Westlake life has been destroyed by something that was no more than unfortunate accident in particular Ms Westlake was unfairly dismissed from her position as zoo keeper at ZSL London zoo and has suffered significant ps biological harm arising from Ms Sanders attack upon her which has been exacerbated by these proceedings

Ms Westlake would like thank those that sent messages of support to her which have been a source of strength and encouragement for her and also expresses her thanks to her excellent legal team for their diligence and perseverance in obtaining justice for her

Justice has now been served and Ms Westlake would now appreciate the opportunity to put  this matter behind her and rebuild her life

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June Venters QC Top Ranked in Chambers UK 2016

Chambers 2016

June Venters QC writes to the Lord Chancellor about her concerns concerning changes which have been made to legal aid

June Venters QC has written personally to the Lord Chancellor, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Chief Executive of the Legal aid agency to express her immense concern at the change to the means testing of legal aid.  She drew to his attention one particular case as an example in respect of which she is instructed and which involves potentially serious risks to an abducted child where urgent High Court Orders were necessary to seek the child’s return to the jurisdiction of England and Wales.    Legal aid was not available because the client did not qualify on means even though she was in receipt of a “passported benefit.”

Extracts of her letter are as follows:

I am writing to you to express my immense and continuing concern about the inadequacies of our failing justice system brought about in particular by the implementation of what I can only describe as illogical and unfair legal aid decisions which are seriously impacting, in my view, on the ability to secure necessary access to justice.

I have always accepted that legal aid needed to be controlled and I accept in the past just as with any system there has been abuse but what is now happening is that there is a justice system for the rich and none for the rest of society in many instances and I cannot believe that is the desire or intention of this Government. 

I wish to draw to your attention one particular example with which I am involved and in respect of which I have spent many hours of providing pro bono work.

My client failed the means test because of recent changes to legal aid whereby even though previously the receipt of certain state benefits would automatically “passport” someone to legal aid eligibility this is no longer the case and capital has to be taken into consideration.

She explained that in her client’s case the client whilst having a property which had, on paper, an equity of £200,000, in practice she was not in a financially credible position sufficient to enable her to raise monies against the equity in order to fund her legal costs.

The client was in receipt of income-related employment and support allowance [a “passport” benefit] but because of the equity in her property [which was not in dispute within these proceedings and thus could not be disregarded] she was not eligible for legal aid.

She went on to say in her letter:

It has to be questioned why it is that one Government department deems my client’s income sufficiently limited so as to justify supplementing it by way of a state benefit when another Government department responsible for justice deems my client’s financial position sufficiently able to fund her own legal costs.   I understand that the theory behind this illogical decision is that my client could raise a loan against her property, however, my client’s debt is such that she is not able to acquire a loan and in any event if she did this would increase her outgoings placing an additional burden on her income necessitating further supplementation by way of state benefits..

I urge some consideration for changing the current policy with regard to legal aid financial “passporting.”  It is not serving the public and in my view is placing children at risk such as in this case.

One further issue and which I know has been raised by our professional bodies, the removal of legal aid per se in relation to family cases [save for child abduction] unless it meets the domestic violence criteria which remains increasingly difficult is also having a seriously negative impact on the most vulnerable members in society.  Time and time again I am faced with family issues that cannot be resolved without legal advice and representation and at times court intervention. At times members of the public and their children are left in an untenable situation and which then impacts negatively on their health which in turn affects their ability to work and takes up NHS resources.  I know that as an individual I am not going to achieve the abandonment of this policy when our professional organisations have failed to do so but I felt I could not ignore this subject whilst writing about my concerns.  It is my view that the short term saving the Government will have made with regard to this policy will be the Government’s long term loss overall although without proper financial monitoring and reporting the losses that will be incurred to other Government departments as a result of this policy such as NHS and DWP will simply be absorbed without the cause for such losses being obvious.

I am perfectly aware of the drive to provide pro bono services.  I have done this the whole of my career and continue to offer a pro bono clinic one evening every week.  However, if I am to remain in business and employ staff and I hope provide training to future lawyers I cannot undertake only Pro Bono work as much as I would like to do so. 

I urge this Government to review its policies with regard to legal aid and in particular with regard to the specific issue which I have addressed in this letter concerning the “passporting” of benefits. 

June Venters QC at Elizabeth House Surgery

The changing face of legal advice and representation

In today’s times of austerity where we all have to watch what we spend, legal costs can be a worrying addition to anyone’s budget.

Many people believe the solution is to represent themselves but at what cost?

Remember even if a person is unrepresented a Judge still has the power to order costs against them if their case is unsuccessful.  Advice from a Solicitor can save you money in the long run.

Venters Solicitors provide Venters Self Help Solutions in order to combat the general anxiety held by many that costs can run away with the case and secondly to meet the needs of many people who since 1st April 2013 are no longer eligible for legal aid in cases involving divorce and children issues such as contact and residence.

It means that clients can arrange an appointment to meet with a qualified experienced Solicitor in order to receive advice on family law matters as and when needed.  However, the difference between the conventional instruction of a Solicitor is that the client will be “acting in person.”  The Solicitor will provide them with a written note of the advice before they leave the appointment and the client will pay for the appointment on a “pay as you go” basis.  There will be no further costs incurred unless and until a further appointment is arranged because no further work will be undertaken by the Solicitor.

Appointments can be used to seek advice on any family law matter, prepare statements, court documents, letters etc.  A solicitor can also be appointed to represent you at court.

As well as Venters Self Help Solutions we continue to offer a conventional service where we are instructed on behalf of our clients and represent them throughout.

Venters Solicitors, Champions for Justice, are a niche firm of dedicated family law specialists, who uniquely are led by the first and only woman Solicitor Advocate Queen’s Counsel.

Interview with Carly Fiander

Tell us about yourselfCarly Fiander

I joined Venters in 2002 as a paralegal, before undertaking my training contact and qualifying as a solicitor in 2005.  I specialise in Family Law and am a Resolution accredited specialist in Domestic Violence and Children Law.

I undertake all children work whether proceedings have been issued by the Local Authority or by family member.

What drew you to law?

I have always been interested in Law and to be honest was unsure what I wanted to do when at school/College.  I was encouraged by my Law tutor at the time to study Law at University.  I then gained work experience with different firms and knew that I wanted to work helping families.

What do you offer clients?

I offer reliable down to earth advice to my client’s, along with a willingness to listen and help families work through the issues currently before them.

What do you do when you are not lawyering?

I am lucky to have a supportive family who I like spending my time with when I am away from work. I do enjoy watching TV box sets and am currently watching ‘Lie To Me’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’.

Can you sum yourself up in 5 words?

Caring; reliable; professional honest; realistic

One Billion Rising For Justice

Venters will be joining ESDAS on 14th February 2014 to support the Campaign one billing rising for Justice.

For further details or to join click here

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