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Andy Woods reviews 2017 for the Woods Whur team

There is no doubt that 2017 has been an amazing year for Woods Whur in many ways. We have taken on 5 new members of staff who have all settled in very well and proved to be a great addition to the Firm, and a further solicitor (our seventh) will be joining us in March 2017. We have seen the business continue to grow, with major new clients and smaller independent clients instructing us and, by retaining our core values, we have continued to be extremely successful throughout the UK.

The admin team has been strengthened by the addition of Emma Holmes in January, Sarah Griffiths in May and Sara Price in November. Emma and Sarah deal with general administration matters whereas Sara has joined us to take over the Accounts Department. Sara has also brought a new twist to the rugby league banter as she would appear to be a committed Castleford fan / WAG. This should make for some interesting discussions on Monday mornings as we already have a great Hull rivalry with Paddy and Carole (Hull FC) competing with my team (the mighty Hull Kingston Rovers). We all have a certain amount of sympathy for Amy who is a big Bradford Bulls fan. Her team is not going through the best of times at the moment (I can sympathise with Amy!).

In May 2017, James Thompson joined us. James is a vastly experienced regulatory lawyer with a good following of clients and James joining us has extended the scope of the work that we can carry out for the leisure market. James is based in the North East and has been flat out since he has joined us and is a great addition to the Senior Lawyer team.

We were also joined in May by Vinnie Schumacher who, although qualified in New Zealand, is just completing his qualifications in the UK and we are all keeping our fingers crossed for January 2018 when Vinnie gets his exam results. Vinnie must be the only person who can join a firm based in Leeds and be of the opinion that it doesn’t rain much in Leeds. This is because, as Vinnie explained during his introductory talk, Vinnie comes from Wellington in New Zealand, where apparently it always rains.

In March 2018, Leigh Schelvis will join us to add further strength to our team.

We continue to advise clients up and down the UK and maintain a leading presence in London.  Anna Mathias continues to cement her position as one of the leading advisors to the Gambling Industry in the UK with a level of expertise in the Casino and lotteries areas which, without a doubt is unmatched by any other solicitor in the UK. It has been a great pleasure for Paddy and me to see Anna develop her client base and she was rewarded with the inaugural Poppy welsh terrier mug at our annual Christmas Party.

We also managed, during the end of year presentation, to find a picture of Carole’s desk without Carole actually sitting there. Carole has put in a phenomenal stint this year, shouldering much of the new business that we have brought in and working hours far greater than we could ever have expected. We all hope that with the new additions to the team and a new structure in place in 2018, Carole will be able to find a bit more time for the garden!

A big thanks to Carole goes from everybody in the Firm.

Paddy and I are often swapping messages as to exactly where we are in the UK. In the last week of November, Paddy was representing clients in Braintree, whilst I was in Leek. The following day, Paddy went to Cardiff and I went to Westminster where we were delighted to obtain a new licence for Novus Leisure on Regent Street. Zig-zagging up the country has been part of our lives for the past 25 years and long may it continue!

We have at all times throughout this growth, maintained our core values of providing the best service possible to clients, with down to earth and pro-active advice. We are always seen as part of the client’s team as opposed to external advisors, and if we advise against one particular course of action we will always look for other opportunities for our clients. We always advise the client with their interests at heart, whether or not this is what the client wants to hear, and we maintain strong relationships with the responsible authorities with straightforward and clear negotiations and discussions with them. If we agree a compromise, it will be implemented, and if there are issues that we need to deal with, then they will be dealt with.

We fully expect that 2018 will continue in the same way and one of the great things for Paddy and me is to see the individuals within the Firm develop their own strengths and abilities. I think 2018 and onwards will be an interesting time for Licensing in the UK. The Mayor of London has repeatedly stated his desire for London to be more of a 24/7 City in terms of its appeal to the leisure market, and yet this is completely against Westminster’s own policy and the cumulative impact areas which create the presumption that no more licences will be granted.

Other areas of London, such as South Bank, Southwark and Shoreditch have seen wonderfully innovative licensed premises open up and there are some within Westminster who will be looking at these developments and perhaps hoping that some of these developments can come into Westminster. That will be extremely difficult given the current policy and of course, this principle applies not just to Westminster but to other major cities with cumulative impact areas.   A great deal of my work is in Westminster and around the Leicester Square areas and we have seen a large number of late night clubs close down in the last 10 years, which have not been replaced by similar venues. I wonder if now is the time to look at the principle of cumulative impact/stress areas and have a rethink. This is not to say that it should be an open page for all new licences to be granted. The Licensing Act 2003 maintains the principle that all applications should promote the licensing objectives and even in areas in which there is no cumulative impact policy, applications can be refused if relevant negative evidence is brought to the attention of the Licensing Committee.

The lack of a cumulative impact area gives the Licensing Committee more discretion but does not in my view necessarily create a free for all. I have also long been of the view that, if cumulative impact areas were introduced in November 2005 due to the number of licensed premises in an area, then surely it is appropriate to now look at the number of licensed premises currently in place and to see how that compares to 2005. If the UK is to continue to be a major player in the European leisure market, then maybe it is time for a reassessment. How can these new concepts and ideas open up if there is a policy of no more licences except in exceptional circumstances?

I would like to wish everybody, on behalf of Woods Whur, a very happy Christmas and New Year and we hope that 2018 is a happy and successful time for everyone..

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NEWSFLASH! Woods Whur on shortlist for prestigious legal award

Andy and I are delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted in the “Best Niche Law Firm” Category of the Yorkshire Legal Awards.

We see it as a great accolade just to be nominated, and now await the awards dinner on 12th October to see if we come away with the top prize.

Woods Whur will be celebrating our 6th Birthday on the night of the dinner, which is lovely timing for us. We have seen significant growth in those 6 years and are delighted that we now have Anna Mathias, James Thompson, Vinnie Schumacher and Paul Holland in our team of lawyers. This has also meant that we have grown our national presence, with London and Newcastle becoming key areas for us to drive into. I will also be celebrating 18 years of working with Carole Collingwood in October, which is amazing. Carole heads the strongest administration team we have had, as we grow our national presence from our Leeds base. We have also seen the addition of significant new national clients this year: the Rank Group (Mecca Bingo, Grosvenor Casinos and Luda Bingo), and the Casual Dining Group (Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Belgo). Together with the new additions, we have seen many of our long-standing clients go from strength to strength, with new brands and new sites in Leeds, London and around the country.

Exciting times for all at Woods Whur.

Paddy

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Woods Whur introduces specialist regulatory Partner James Thompson

Andy and I started to analyse our business closely last October as we celebrated our 5th Birthday at Woods Whur, and prepared our next 5 year business plan. Anna Mathias joining us in 2015 had given us the opportunity to invest in a London presence and, importantly, Anna has grown our gambling practice into areas in which we had not previously had exposure. We saw this as a key success in the five years since we set up Woods Whur and set to thinking of how we could replicate that success.

One of the key shifts in our workload has been the amount of regulatory enforcement advice and representation we have been seeing in the leisure sector. We are seeing far more regulatory control and prosecution across all of the sectors where we advise clients: not just the alcohol and entertainment sector, but the gambling sector too, as the Gambling Commission started to show its teeth against those they thought infringed regulation.

Andy, Anna and I have strong practical experience of advising and representing in regulatory matters, but we felt that the introduction of a specialist Partner level lawyer and support team was vital to the development of Woods Whur. We also had a look at our specialist competition and felt that we could add more value to our existing clients and become stronger in marketing to new clients, while stealing a march on the opposition!

It is all well and good to have that aspiration but putting this into practice was going to be harder than coming up with the idea. We were helped by Tony Brooke of Florit Brooke. Tony understood our requirements and introduced James Thompson and Vinnie Schumacher separately to me. Once Andy and I had met them both we could see that their aspirations were identical to ours and that their dedication to client care mirrored what we believe in.

James is highly rated by Chambers 2016 and has been lauded as a Recommended Lawyer by the Legal 500 for 2016 for health and safety and regulatory law. He joins us from International Law Firm, Clyde and Co, to be our Head of Regulatory Law. This sees Woods Whur set up a specialist department to deal with all aspects of regulatory, health and safety and food safety law. Vinnie joins us to support James and we have also brought in Sarah Griffiths to support them both in our administration team. Vinnie qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor in New Zealand in March 2014 and worked at the largest law firm in New Zealand, Simpson Grierson, where he was actively involved in the Commercial Property and Commercial Litigation Teams. Vinnie gained significant experience representing commercial clients, with exposure to Simpson Grierson’s Blue Chip client base.

James is a specialist in the field of corporate crime, dealing with matters ranging from advising directors accused of manslaughter to assisting organisations faced with high profile and complex inquests. James has particular expertise in healthcare, retail and industry, and is a Solicitor Advocate who conducts a significant amount of his own advocacy.

James specialises in all aspects of criminal regulatory law, in particular health and safety law, and his client base covers the breadth of the public and private sectors, from retail and education to chemicals and manufacturing. He has extensive experience advising public and private healthcare providers on health and safety and regulatory compliance.

This was very exciting for us, as we got to discuss in depth where regulatory enforcement was going. We thought that his skill set was hugely important for us to be able to offer to our client base. Two late night operator clients of ours have already sought out his advice and he is undertaking some high end representation for them. We have already been approached by one of our public sector clients in relation to food safety advice and prosecutions and can only see the demand for our services growing.

James highlights in his article for this edition of our Newsletter the massive impact on our clients that the recent changes in the sentencing guidelines for health and safety, food safety and corporate manslaughter offences could well have. Those changes have resulted in previously unseen increases in fines handed down by the Courts for those in breach. These sentences are likely to become the norm, rather than the exception and, as James stresses, it is critically important to get specialist advice very early in the process.

Andy and I believe this gives us the opportunity to add significant value to our client base as we have now created this specialist department within the firm. The other benefit is that we have been able to open up a presence in Newcastle. This is a great commercial and leisure market where we are already strong, but now aim to grow our client base.

Of critical importance to Andy and me is the endorsement of us, given independently, that “the client is at the heart of everything they do”. We genuinely believe that we have enhanced our status with these appointments…and the other benefit is they are great people who have slotted into Woods Whur as if they have always been here.

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Woods Whur expands into Regulatory Law and sets up Newcastle base

Andy and I were pleased when we were described by Chambers Directory as a licensing practice with a national presence. We have been deliberately careful in our expansion and the successful introduction of Anna Mathias and a London office has born fruit since she joined us in 2015. We are now delighted to announce that James Thompson will be joining us on Monday from Clyde & Co in Newcastle.

James is a specialist in the field of corporate crime, from dealing with directors accused of manslaughter to assisting organisations faced with high-profile and complex inquests. James has particular expertise in healthcare, retail and industry. James, like Andy and me, is a Solicitor Higher Rights Advocate, and from the moment we met him we realised that he shares the same client service principles as us.

This enables us to establish an office at Rotterdam House, 116 Quayside, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3DY, which complements our Leeds and London office bases. More importantly, it broadens our client portfolio and our legal services offer to our existing clients.

James specialises in all aspects of criminal regulatory law, in particular health and safety law, and has full rights of audience, allowing him to appear in the Crown and Appeal Courts. He appears on a regular basis in the Magistrates’, Coroner’s and Crown Courts. James’s client base covers the breadth of the public and private sectors, from retail and education to chemicals and manufacturing. He has extensive experience advising public and private healthcare providers on health and safety and regulatory compliance.

He has extensive experience in dealing with all aspects of criminal regulatory proceedings brought against individuals and organisations, both in the public and private sectors. These proceedings have been brought by a variety of different agencies such as the HSE, police, Environment Agency and local authorities, to name but a few. He continues to represent numerous individuals and organisations accused of manslaughter and other serious offences. James has over 20 years’ experience from the police service in relation to the investigation of offences and has latterly prosecuted offences for government departments, statutory bodies and for various ports and airports. James has been highly rated by Chambers 2016 and has been lauded as a Recommended Lawyer by the Legal 500 2016, for health and safety matters.

“I am delighted to be joining Woods Whur to head up the Regulatory Department, dealing with all aspects of health and safety, food safety and general regulatory issues. It is an exciting time for me as I believe that Woods Whur gives me the perfect environment to give my existing clients the support they need. What is also clearly evident is the opportunity that this gives me to add value to Woods Whur’s existing client base. I feel it is a real win-win.”

We also have Vinnie Schumacher joining us next week. Vinnie qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor in New Zealand in March 2014 and worked at the largest law firm in New Zealand, Simpson Grierson, where he was actively involved in the Commercial Property and Commercial Litigation Teams. Vinnie gained significant experience representing commercial clients, with exposure to Simpson Grierson’s Blue Chip client base. He worked in a team on significant litigation cases and has a very strong academic background.

Vinnie moved to Leeds in March 2016 and was employed running his own case-load in a Contentious Trust and Estates Team before joining Woods Whur. Vinnie joins Woods Whur to support me in the Leeds market, Andy in the London market, Anna with some key gaming clients and James in the Regulatory team.

We are all delighted with these two new appointments and with the opening of our office in Newcastle. Along With Paul Holland based in East Yorkshire and Anna in London, we now feel that we are genuinely a Licensing and Regulatory Law Firm with a national reach.