‘Case closed’ says regulator

In December, 2020 it was reported elsewhere on this website that a serving police officer had made a conduct complaint about a well-known Leeds barrister (read here).

Umer Saeed, a sergeant with the West Yorkshire force, had sent in the prescribed Bar Standards Board form in April, 2020 setting out allegations against Olivia Checa-Dover, whom frequently acts as counsel for the same police force in both civil and employment claims – and also represents WYP, and other forces, in misconduct hearings.

She also sits as a deputy district judge and as a Recorder (part time circuit judge).

The BSB complaint arose from a hotly disputed conversation between Sgt Saeed’s barrister, Adam Willoughby, and Miss Checa-Dover at Leeds Employment Tribunal in January, 2020. The officer is claiming racial and religious discrimination against his chief constable.

The extraordinary background, and the ultimate ramifications of that pre-hearing exchange between counsel, is dealt with in another lengthy, highly forensic piece on this website, published yesterday (click here). It makes for quite astonishing reading.

In summary, both barristers had to recuse themselves from the case in March, 2020 and faced searching witness box cross-examination, and questions from the judge, at a full day Tribunal hearing in December, 2020.

The matter in issue was an allegation that Miss Checa-Dover was intending to seek an adverse credibility finding against Sgt Saeed whom, she said to Mr Willoughby, ‘had lied in his witness evidence’. Such a judicial finding would have a serious impact on his police career and make him ‘non-operational’ by way of removal from the ‘evidential chain’.

Dijen Basu QC who now represents Sgt Saeed told the Tribunal, in written submissions: ‘This was not the sort of case in which it could credibly be said that there was a serious chance of Sgt Saeed (or anyone else) being found [by the Tribunal] to be a liar – especially given that Miss Checa-Dover now accepts that she, actually, had no intention of making any such suggestion’.

At the December hearing, the existence of Sgt Saeed’s BSB complaint was revealed, publicly, for the first time. But there was scant detail until the publication of the judgment arising from those proceedings on 16th March, 2021 (it was handed down to the parties to the claim around two weeks earlier).

It transpires that the regulator had actually closed the complaint before the hearing. The BSB had written to Miss Checa-Dover in October, 2020 to inform her. She said in her evidence that the same letter was the first she knew of the complaint.

The vital part of Sgt Saeed’s report to the BSB was also set out in that same judgment and it, regrettably, revealed its futility. It was doomed from the outset.

Whilst in discussion around resolutions to avoid the commencement of full proceedings, some “without prejudice” discussions took place between counsels (sic). During these discussions Olivia Checa-Dover…

Without prejudice discussions between counsel are legally privileged and, as such, not actionable. It is a point upon which Sgt Saeed might well have been wise to seek appropriate advice before lodging the complaint.

The fact that what he reported to the BSB ran counter to what Mr Willoughby says he told Sgt Saeed about those same discussions was an embarrassing moment for the barrister at the December, 2020 Tribunal hearing. Mr Willoughby’s account was that, in his view, the without prejudice element of his discussion with fellow counsel had ended.

Sgt Saeed, surprisingly, did not give evidence in his own cause at that same hearing. He, also, did not respond to enquiries about the status of the complaint shortly after the December, 2020 hearing.

Having heard all the oral evidence from the virtual press seats, the suspicion is that it was the police officer who was mistaken: Ardent in his belief that Miss Checa-Dover was setting out to damage his police career, and very probably angry at what he must have perceived to be a serious slur against him, his complaint has the appearance of not having sufficient care taken over it.

Even more surprisingly, Miss Checa-Dover did not exercise her right to reply when sent a draft of the article ‘Part-time judge faces Bar Standards complaint‘. At that point she knew the case had been closed by her professional regulator almost two months earlier.

Nevertheless, the record has now been put straight in what, on any independent view, a most unfortunate farrago, in which none of the protagonists emerge with credit. The fact that it was allowed to run all the way to a public hearing, with all the attendant waste of taxpayer funds and ‘airing of dirty washing’, simply beggars belief.

Page last updated on Saturday 20th March, 2021 at 0635hrs

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Picture credit: KBW Chambers

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Police refuse to come clean over sexual risk order

Over the past two years it has been my considerable misfortune to have the job of holding North Yorkshire Police up to some sort of scrutiny. I have been hanging on to the baton, largely, for my North Yorks Enquirer colleague, Nigel Ward, who found himself shackled, until recently, by a grotesque and ultimately failed civil harassment claim launched against him by his local police force [1].

It is a thankless task, made doubly difficult by the complete absence of support from the more conventional oversight bodies such as the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Add in a tame, under-resourced local and regional press and it emphasises the uphill nature of the work the back-in-harness Nigel and myself carry out.

One of our stock-in-trade tools as journalists is the freedom of information (FOI) request. A device that used expediently can winkle out information to build an exclusive story.

One such request has been finalised recently by NYP and provides further insight into a force completely averse to any form of criticism – most especially from either Nigel or myself – and utterly obsessed with containing damage to its reputation.

The request, quite remarkably, was finalised within the statutory twenty working day period for information requests. But that may have more to do with me taking the chief constable to court over previous FOI failures [2] than a desire to please an investigative journalist. Particularly one who has already taken them severely to task over the subject matter of the request, which concerns a Sexual Risk Order handed out to York-based, John O’Neill. The questions put to the force sought to add flesh to this article I published on the topic in August, 2016 [3].

The response from NYP (and a full list of the questions) is now in the public domain and can be viewed in full here [4].  It is characterised, as ever, by defensiveness.

They refuse to name the solicitor(s) acting for the Chief Constable in this high profile matter that for days dominated national newspapers and was a lead story on network television. In the face of this, and the fact that there have been two public hearings in York Magistrates Court, a Section 40 (2) exemption is relied upon by the force (breach of personal data). Which is, of course, now being challenged by way of a review and then, very probably, a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The next question concerning the selection process received a vague answer that didn’t really go to the heart of the issue, except to confirm that the selection of barrister Oliver Thorne was not subject to any competitive element. It is true to say that, on any reasonable view, he has not covered himself in glory as counsel in this particular case.

After admitting in their response to the third question that the controversial – and heavily criticised – Sexual Risk Order was drafted by a North Yorkshire Police in-house solicitor, they refuse to name him (or her). It should be noted, however, that the NYP Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services, Jane Wintermeyer, is also in charge of the Civil Disclosure Unit that is responsible for finalising FOI requests. There appears to be no recognition of the potential conflict of interest in NYP’s response to this particular information request.

The response to the first part of the fourth question takes us into the realms of the far-fetched. A familiar landing place for a number of FOI outcomes from this source. NYP claim that it would take in excess of 18 hours (around two and a half working days) to calculate the amount spent internally on the John O’Neill case. Which begs the question: what sort of financial systems/controls are in place at NYP? The response to the second part of the question also leaves me scratching my head as the total cost externally (presumably the value of Mr Thorne’s fees), up to and including the latest court hearing, was £2284.32. Which seems on the low side for the services of a barrister of thirteen years call from a leading Leeds-based set (KBW).

In their response to the fifth and last question NYP say that the John O’Neill case has never been given an operational name.

The internal review has now been filed with NYP and they have twenty working days to respond [5]. However, their record in this area of operation is not good. I have a number of reviews of information requests that are overdue. The golden rule for NYP plainly being: The more damaging the disclosure might be to the force, the longer finalisation of a request or a review will take.

imgid65571362-jpg-gallery

The next instalment of the saga played out at York Magistrates Court on 22nd September, 2016. An amended Order was handed down by the judge to John O’Neill that listed twelve restrictions. The ‘unpoliceable’ 24 hour notice before sex has gone, as has the restriction on electronic equipment and internet use. Albeit the latter can be monitored by police. However, District Judge Lower remained in no doubt about the risk that O’Neill posed to women.

O’Neill told ITV News, outside the court, that he was considering an appeal against the Order. He claims it breaches his human rights and that he has ‘no chance of forming a relationship’ with the SRO in place.

It has emerged that at least fifty others are presently the subject to a Sexual Risk Order in this country.

[1] Private Eye: Article published 31st August, 2016 ‘North Yorkshire Boors

[2] Neil Wilby: Article published 10th June, 2016 ‘Chief constable and PCC face court action

[3] Neil Wilby: Article published 22nd August, 2016 ‘Between a rock and a hard place

[4] North Yorkshire Police: FOI response to Neil Wilby (475.2016.17)

[5] What Do They Know: Audit trail for FOI request 353604-479ad2a5

Page last updated Friday 23rd September, 2016 at 0745hrs

© Neil Wilby 2015-2016. Unauthorised use or reproduction of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from and links to the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Picture credit: York Press