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Expecting the unexpected.

Byline: ANDREW GLOVER news@reachplc.com @TeessideLive

IT'S the dead of night when Matthew Agar's mobile phone wakes him. He doesn't have the luxury of leaving it on silent as he sleeps and 25 minutes later he's at the police station.

As a director of McGee McGee Agar Law (MMA) alongside brothers Andrew and Paul McGee, the 33-yearold finds himself thrown into tense situations in the early hours.

One of Middlesbrough's newest law firms, MMA carries out regular duty solicitor work. Often they will be called to represent 'first-timers', someone unaccustomed to spending time in a cell at Cleveland Police's Middlehaven custody suite.

"It's unpredictable and you have to be as focused at three in the morning as you would be at three in the afternoon," Matthew says.

"When you're sitting in the police station you've got to picture your client potentially in court six months down the line. You've got to be thinking that far ahead, so it's absolutely vital that you're on the ball."

" Paul and Andrew certainly had to be on the ball one Tuesday morning back in April when they received the phone calls that ultimately led to the firm's most high-profileIt's unpredictable you have focused at morning as case to date.

be at three afternoon.

The two clients represented by MMA in the recent Steven Willis murder trial were found not guilty. The preparation for such a complex court hearing involved hundreds of hours of preparation, multiple prison visits and time offering compassionate support to the clients' families.

Paul, 34, explains how after those first calls following the arrests, he and Andrew spent around 15 hours at the police station.

Andrew continues: "When the alleged offence is as serious as that they'll be held incommunicado so they won't be allowed to speak to anyone, they'll be held in a dry cell, so they won't have any access to water because scenes of crime officers will be coming to take fingerprints, nail clippings and DNA.

"I gave general advice to my client on what the police would be asking and whether or not he'd be willing to provide assistance and what the consequences of not providing that assistance were."

After formal charges, a sequence of preliminary court hearings followed, before the intense work of poring over bundles and bundles of prosecution evidence began.

"You're literally sitting in your office going through it page by page and then we would go to the prison - we probably went to see our clients at least once a fortnight from the moment they were remanded," Andrew says.

MMA were in court for every day of the month-long trial as QCs represented their clients in front of the jury. And even though court proceedings are now routine for the experienced solicitors, they understand the public's fascination with big trials.

"There's little things that QCs do in court and you just sit there and think 'that's excellent'" Andrew nods.

At the end of a long day, Andrew, 33, often takes something of a busman's holiday to tune into 24 Hours in Police Custody, a show he finds "captivating to watch".

So do the repetitive "no comment" responses mirror real life? "Laypeople will automatically think that anyone who is giving no comment answers is guilty, but in certain circumstances you might have a client who has learning difficulties or they've just been the witness to something and are genuinely in shock and at that point can't even bring themselves to give specific details about what has happened," says Andrew.

and to be as three in the you would in the "So at that point in time, even though we know the jury might draw an adverse inference from the fact they haven't given an account, it might be proper for them to not give an account.

"There's nothing worse than a client saying this happened, or that happened and giving a jumbled account because in court a QC cross-examining them is going to have a field day."

Anything said to police at the station can be used in evidence, Matthew points out, and he's clear what anyone who finds themselves arrested unexpectedly should do.

"It's very difficult to take something back that you've said but you can always add to something you haven't said. "Some people are quite cautious about asking for legal representation in a police station because they think 'I haven't done anything', or perhaps because they think they're putting the police out if they've never been in trouble before. The bottom line is, you're entitled to a solicitor - always ask for a solicitor."

When challenged on how the firm prepares cases for clients when the prosecution's evidence appears to be stacked against them, Matthew has a straightforward response.

"Ultimately it's always a client's decision. If the case against them is strong, there's no point pretending otherwise.

"If the likelihood is that they'll be convicted, we have to tell them that. No case is unwinnable, or very, very few. We act on client instructions, if a client tells us 'look, I haven't done this and I want to contest it', it will be contested, it's as simple as that."

Another judicial talking point that crops up is one on the minds of judges and magistrates on a daily basis.

Regular readers of The Gazette's court coverage will be accustomed to seeing criticism of sentences handed down to criminals. Andrew is keen to make one thing clear.

"Although the public get frustrated with certain circumstances, what they are taking issue with without realising is the guidelines.

"For example, if someone gets glassed in town and loses an eye it's a really serious grievous bodily harm with intent and the sentencing guidelines say it's nine years in prison. "But that person may be on CCTV, so they're bang to rights. They're going to plead guilty so they're going to be given a third credit off, that's enshrined in law so they have to be given a third off, so they're going to get six years, of which they're going to serve three in custody and three on licence.

"Members of public are asking 'why is he only getting three years for glassing someone?', but the reality is, that's what the guidelines say."

After over a year of working for themselves, the MMA partners insist their focus remains the same as it was when they first discussed the possibility of going it alone.

The phrase "client care" is peppered throughout our hour-long chat.

"You meet people who are down on their luck and in very difficult situations," Paul says.

"That could be due to addiction or mental health issues, but our job is always the same; to make sure that person is legally protected and all of their rights are upheld."

Matthew adds: "We want them to get the best result possible. If we can get someone on the straight and narrow then that's brilliant."

So what's next, after a successful move to the town centre? The co-directors are all keen to chip in on this one. Paul first: "We've got a foundation in Middlesbrough and now we want to expand. In 2019 we want to employ more staff, potentially take on two more solicitors, look to increase the size of our building and look to other areas of law."

Andrew follows his brother: "We've got 30 years left in this business, we see ourselves as the future."

It's left to Matthew to sign off: "Bluntly, we want to be the best."

And with that the three legal amigos are off to prepare for the office Christmas party, satisfied with another 12 months spent building their business.

They're well aware the phone could ring at any time.

It's unpredictable and you have to be as focused at three in the morning as you would be at three in the afternoon. "

CAPTION(S):

From left, Matthew Agar, Andrew McGee, Paul McGee

Even though court proceedings are now routine, they understand the public's fascination with big trials
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 15, 2018
Words:1331
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