06 October 2006

Complaint against Tuckers and Richard Hallmark solicitors

At the end of 1994 I was quite disgusted at the poor quality of the solicitors I had suffered in England, and it was inevitable this would have a bad effect on the preparation for an appeal. Effectively, the poor standard of legal help I was able to find was to greatly undermine my chances of a successful appeal against my conviction.

I felt this situation was so bad that I had to complain to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau, the body then responsible for handling complaints against solicitors. Little was I to know that the Solicitors Complaints Bureau was itself badly flawed, and that I would have to take one of my complaints further to the Legal Services Ombudsman.

Below is the text of the first letter I sent to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau (later to become the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors).

From Michael John Smith
HMP Full Sutton Prison, York

2 December 1994

To: The Director
The Solicitors Complaints Bureau
Portland House
Stag Place
London SW1E 5BL

Dear Sir or Madam,

Complaints Against:
(1) Tuckers
(2) Hallmark Atkinson Wynter

I wish to make formal complaints about the above named solicitors. My case, involving serious charges under the Official Secrets Act, has not been helped by the incompetence of these solicitors. I trusted them to do a professional job on my behalf, but I found out months later that they had not followed my instructions. If I had been able to, I would have been better off doing some of their work myself.

My Junior Barrister, Mr Gary Summers, will confirm my view of Mr Richard Hallmark, as my Counsel had the greatest difficulty in the simple act of communicating with him about my case. Mr Summers can be contacted at:-

The Chambers of Mr Rock Tansey QC
3 Gray’s Inn Square
Gray's Inn
London WC1R 5AH

A chronology of my grievances are listed on the attached pages. I could go into minor details, but I think it best to stick to my main concerns. For your convenience, I have listed the details of each solicitor separately. I will also describe a little of the surrounding circumstances, so that you can see my points in context.

Yours faithfully,
Michael John Smith

Complaint About: Tuckers Solicitors
35 Queen Anne Street
London W1M 9FB.

September 1992 From the day of my arrest, 8th August 1992, I was represented by Tuckers Solicitors. Mr Richard Jefferies, my personal solicitor, was working under the supervision of the partner Mr Barry Tucker. Shortly after my arrest, I was invoiced for the final payment towards the purchase of shares in 7 Electricity Distribution Companies. I could not personally make this final payment as the police had seized all my assets. My brother was and is prepared to make this final payment, but my solicitor made a temporary arrangement to delay payment.

March/April 1993 I learned that my earlier payments had been refunded for the shares that I was in the process of purchasing. Tuckers had failed to protect my interests. Effectively my solicitor lost me about £2,500 of my investments. Mr Jefferies told me that he would get these shares back for me, as the organisation dealing with the sell-off had acted without giving him the right to pay for them first. I stressed to Mr Jefferies that I did not want to lose these shares, and he told me not to worry, but owing to the time spent dealing on my case, the priorities must be with legal preparation. I accepted that position, as long as it wasn’t forgotten.

November 1993 At the end of my trial I requested Tuckers to investigate (amongst other things) some areas of the scientific evidence that had been presented by the Crown. I put this in writing to Tuckers at the end of 1993.

I have always considered that flaws in the Crown’s scientific evidence at trial provided my strongest ground for appeal. With my scientific background and career in Quality Assurance, I am trained to identify faults in the methodology of technical experts - I have been doing this job for many years. Due to the nature of my case, I was the only person in the Defence team that could understand and interpret the majority of the case material and direct my lawyers. I have given my lawyers hundreds of pages of written and verbal instructions.

December 1993 Mr. Gary Summers, my Junior Barrister, prepared draft Grounds for Appeal which are almost identical with the version that exists at November 1994. This version does not include the important points that I wish to be included on scientific evidence.

The submission of my Grounds of Appeal was delayed for several weeks. The main reason for the delay was because I was moved to Full Sutton half-way through instructing my solicitor concerning the appeal grounds. To prevent this happening I had submitted a Request / Complaint Form BABM 93/778/R (issued 23rd November, 1993), asking the Belmarsh Governor to keep me in the London area until I had finished working on my appeal - this was turned down. It can be seen that putting me 200 miles away from my solicitor at that critical time was the cause of the delay and led to a break down in communication with my solicitor.

I had to fax the remainder of my instructions to Tuckers on 10th December 1993 so that Mr Summers could consider them and update the draft grounds of appeal. Then the Christmas holiday intervened.

13th January 1994 Mr Jefferies visited me at Full Sutton to discuss the draft Grounds for Appeal. At this meeting I voiced my concerns about omissions regarding the scientific evidence. Mr Jefferies told me that he would raise this matter with Mr Summers and would improve other details in the draft Grounds of Appeal, to make them stronger.

Mr Jefferies told me that there would be no problems adding my additional grounds of appeal at a later date, but that he would submit the draft grounds, with other minor changes, to get them into the Criminal Appeal Office as soon as possible.

Tuckers never sent me a copy of the final document submitted to the Criminal Appeal Office, so I couldn’t check whether my comments were ever added. I only found out from Mr Summers on 1st November 1994, that Tuckers had not communicated anything significant to him.

22nd March 1994 I had heard nothing about my Grounds for Appeal, or my Electricity Shares. Apart from the matter of the Electricity Shares, I had previously been unhappy at the way Tuckers had dealt with my other personal affairs. I wrote to Tuckers asking them to clarify the position regarding my property and financial assets. Even at November 1994, I do not know where I stand with regard to the property which the police took during their search of my home. I had been asking Mr Jefferies about this since our earliest meetings.

29th March 1994 I wrote to Tuckers to dispense with their services. By this time I had lost confidence in Tuckers ability to represent me adequately. I decided that I wanted to obtain the services of a firm who would give me more satisfactory effort.

31st March 1994 Tuckers wrote a letter to me, saying that Mr Jefferies was “awaiting authorisation from Barry Tucker to commence work in those areas” (i.e. my personal possessions and financial matters). I am sure, after my long and complex case, that Tuckers have “milked” the Legal Aid Fund and didn’t need to leave me worrying unnecessarily about my possessions over many months.

N.B. I do not hold Mr Richard Jefferies responsible for the above matters, I think it is the firm of Tuckers who are at fault.

Complaint About: Hallmark Atkinson Wynter
379-381 Brixton Road
London SW9 7DE.

March 1994 On the 17th March I wrote a letter to Mr Richard Hallmark, of Hallmark Atkinson Wynter, enquiring whether he would be prepared to become my solicitor. On the 28th March I received a letter from Richard Hallmark asking me some questions in relation to my case. On 29th March I replied to Mr. Hallmark’s letter answering his questions. Mr Hallmark agreed to act personally on my case.

April 1994 I sent Mr Hallmark copies of recent correspondence that I had sent to Tuckers.

5th May 1994 I sent a letter to Mr Hallmark with several new ideas about Grounds of Appeal.

12th May 1994 I telephoned Mr Hallmark and he told me that he had not received my letter of 5th May, or copies of the correspondence with Tuckers. I wrote a further letter to Mr Hallmark on 12th May and sent it, together with the earlier correspondence, recorded delivery (Reference No. DR 1735 5385 5GB) to avoid it getting “lost”.

27th May 1994 Mr Gary Summers wrote to me, informing me that the Registrar of Criminal Appeals had referred my leave to Appeal application to the full court. My first action was to fax a copy of Mr Summers letter to Richard Hallmark, which I did on 30th May, and I rang Mr Hallmark to confirm that he had received this fax. Mr Hallmark told me that he would contact Mr Summers and the Criminal Appeal Office to obtain information, on which he would act.

3rd June 1994 I wrote to Mr Summers, saying that until I had given Mr Hallmark my detailed instructions, I did not think it wise to see counsel. This was because I wanted to discuss a change of Q.C. with Mr Hallmark, prior to going any further.

June/July 1994 I had several telephone conversations with Mr. Hallmark, during which he said that he had sent me letters about what he had done. None of these letters have ever reached me. However, Mr Hallmark assured me that he would handle my case and contact the Court of Appeal, Tuckers and Mr Summers.

I tried unsuccessfully to get Mr Hallmark to visit me, at least 2 dates having been set and then abandoned. I also discussed with Mr Hallmark on the telephone that I wanted to change my Q.C.

3rd August 1994 Mr Hallmark visited me at Full Sutton and I repeated my concern that the Grounds for Appeal were not complete and that I also wished to change my Q.C. I asked Mr Hallmark to contact Mr. Michael Mansfield Q.C., to ask him if he would represent me. Mr Hallmark promised me that he would act on my instructions and would deal with a number of other points that I raised.

Mr Hallmark sent me a Legal Aid application form on 5th August, which I filled in and returned by the next post. Mr Hallmark apparently never took the Legal Aid application any further.

September 1994 Mr Hallmark took all my case paperwork from his office and told his staff that he was going to work on my case at home.

6th October 1994 After failing to find out, from his office, what progress Mr Hallmark was making, I sent him a letter detailing some new points that I wanted him to consider. To ensure that he got this letter I sent it recorded delivery (Reference No. DR 9136 9356 5GB) - I never received a reply.

21st October 1994 I phoned Mr Hallmark at his office in Brixton and was told that he didn’t work there any more, but was working from home as a consultant. I phoned Mr Hallmark at home to find out what progress he was making. He told me that he was indeed working from home and that he had sent me a letter several weeks earlier to inform me of this fact. I told him that I had not received this letter.

He acknowledged that he had received my letter of 6th October, but had not had time to reply. He also told me that he didn’t have my files in front of him and would phone me back on 24th October to let me know what the latest situation was. He never phoned me back.

31st October 1994 Mr Summers telephoned to warn me that my case was due to be heard at the Appeal Court on 14/15th November. Mr Summers did not know, until I told him on 31st October, that I had asked for new grounds of appeal to be included.

1st November 1994 I had a telephone conference with Mr Hallmark, Mr Tansey and Mr Summers, who were all at the Chambers of Mr Tansey. As Mr Hallmark had done nothing about contacting Mr Michael Mansfield, I had to perform the task of sacking Mr Tansey myself. I detected from Mr Hallmark’s manner on the telephone that he was doing nothing to help me. I realised, that effectively, I was without a solicitor to do vital work in uncovering evidence that will give me a fair Appeal; I was also now without a Q.C. to represent me in the Court of Appeal.

2nd November 1994 I wrote to the Registrar of Criminal Appeals asking that my Appeal be postponed.

4th November 1994 Mr Summers and a colleague visited me at Full Sutton. After discussing my points face to face with him, Mr Summers agrees that I have strong justification for investigating the serious flaws in the Crown’s presentation of the scientific evidence at my trial. It was confirmed to me on 4th November that Mr Hallmark has apparently done nothing to advance my case, and I was told some more details of his incompetence.

I also learned that the Registrar would not remove my case from the Court listings and that it was still due to be heard on the 14/15th November.

6th November 1994 I wrote to Mr Michael Mansfield Q.C., asking him to represent me.

7th November 1994 Mr Michael Mansfield Q.C. was approached by Mr Summers to act on my behalf. I wrote a further letter to the Registrar, giving more details about the problems with my solicitors and explaining why I needed a postponement.

8th November 1994 After frantic phone calls, letters and faxes by Mr Summers and myself, the Registrar was finally persuaded to abort the court hearing of the next week. I was also granted legal aid to investigate the scientific evidence. Richard Hallmark phoned me at about 5 p.m. to tell me that the Court of Appeal had given him the Legal Aid Order and he could now go ahead and help me. I told him that he was too late, as I now had no confidence in him.

9th November 1994 Mr Michael Mansfield Q.C., wrote to me confirming that I had succeeded in securing his services and that of the solicitor Gareth Peirce (of Birnbergs Solicitors).

On the same day, the Registrar wrote to me to tell me that “Mr Hallmark is the next best [after Tuckers] person to represent you since he will not be coming into your case completely cold”. The Registrar had put Mr Hallmark’s name down on the new Legal Aid Order. The Registrar also said that the Criminal Appeal Office “is well aware of the heavy commitments of Mr Mansfield Q.C. and he may not be available to take on your case”.

14th November 1994 The Registrar finally agreed to change my solicitors to Birnbergs.

16th November 1994 I wrote to Mr Richard Hallmark to formally dismiss him from my case.

Conclusions Mr Hallmark has effectively wasted 7 months of my time, when I could have been making real progress towards my appeal. Between myself and Mr Summers, we achieved in a few days what Mr Hallmark failed to do, i.e. obtained Legal Aid for a solicitor, put the scientific Ground of Appeal on the agenda, and engaged Mr Mansfield to represent me.

Mr Hallmark’s behaviour seems all the more inexplicable, because he has always given me the impression that he was working on my case. In my dealings with Mr Hallmark I have only ever received one letter from him (dated 22nd March 1994) and had only one visit from him (3rd August 1994). Mr Hallmark has never written to me to tell me what he has achieved, neither has he ever told me that he wasn’t working on my behalf. I have been misled by Mr Hallmark into believing that he was working on my case, when in fact he was doing no such thing.

Mr Hallmark had also told me on several occasions that he had written letters to me, but these had apparently “disappeared” in the post. He had also claimed not to have received some of my letters. I now believe these accusations, that the post was to blame, were merely an excuse to cover up the truth, that Mr Hallmark either did not intend to do any work for me, or had some hidden motive for behaving as he did.

From my profession in Quality Assurance, I am experienced enough at assessing people and situations to know that a solicitor of Mr Hallmark’s standing would not act so irresponsibly and ineffectively as he has done unless it was deliberate.