The roots of this practice were established in Cardiff in the 1950’s by Sir Charles Hallinan, the original name of the firm now being lost in the mists of time. However we know that in the 1960’s John Blackburn Gittings, the son of a former Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police joined as an Articled Clerk. John used to tell us that in those days a solicitor could still use the cane to discipline an errant clerk! In due course he qualified as a solicitor and in 1970 he moved to London to open a satellite office, where initially he serviced a coterie of clients based mainly in Hertfordshire and Essex.
The London branch became established very quickly in the early 70’s and trainee solicitors and managing clerks were recruited to handle the growing amount of work. The early work was mainly funded from private means as legal aid, being a creation of the post war Atlee Government but being originally intended for the divorce proceedings, was not expanded to include criminal proceedings until the late 60’s, and funded only a small percentage of all criminal proceedings until the late 1970’s. There was no publicly funded representation in police stations until 1986.
In 1974 a young and fresh-faced Colin Nott joined the practice as a trainee. With the expansion of the Legal Aid scheme in criminal proceedings throughout the 1970’s and the inception of the court duty solicitor scheme, the firm grew exponentially, growing to more than a dozen staff by the beginning of the next decade, including half a dozen solicitor advocates. In 1984 Colin Nott became a partner to John Blackburn Gittings in the practice. Following the implementation of the Police & Criminal Evidence Act and the consequent expansion of work through the police station advice and assistance scheme in 1986, the client base and number of cases grew and with it, the amount of public expenditure on criminal legal aid grew equally, becoming a political issue by the end of the decade. As the legal aid budget started to come under pressure, rates and fees at were first effectively frozen and then subject to sustained cuts over the next 30 years. The firm was very successful during this period but the cuts in funding combined with the introduction of fixed fees for legal aid cases led to some ‘stream lining’ in personnel. John Gittings left the practice to become the Attorney General of Gibraltar (and later a High Court Judge in southern Africa) and throughout the 90’s Colin Nott ran the firm as a sole practitioner.
Stuart McDonald, an experienced solicitor advocate joined the firm in 2002 and remains an integral part of firm and holds true the values at our core. Sian Williams, another experienced solicitor advocate joined Colin in partnership but when she left the profession in 2013, she was succeeded by Namita Pawa. Namita Pawa joined having gained experienced in well-known London criminal law firms. She was invited to join Colin as an equity partner in 2016 before more recently taking over the firm in 2022 when Colin retired.
The writer recalls that when he joined the firm in 1976, legal aid was available without a means test for offences such as being drunk and disorderly. Today no-one can qualify for legal aid in the Magistrates’ Court unless their matter passes a strict ‘interests of justice test’ and they earn less than £12,540 a year, a paltry sum by any standards. The poor level of funding that has existed for more than 30 years has slowly driven away able and experienced practitioners and has equally become a barrier to new entrants to the criminal legal aid fraternity. Thankfully there has been a recent recognition of this and there has been a slight improvement in funding. However it will take many years of improved funding before potential entrants to the profession will be temped back.
The writer has witnessed many changes in the firm during the last 46 years, however some things don’t change; people always need help and there will always be those who are willing and able to provide it. The firm has thrived for more than 70 years and will surely thrive for the foreseeable future.
Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.