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Archive for January, 2010

“All Change or Not” The Bar’s Roadshow hits York.

Jane Lambert
Barrister

NIPC Law blog

On 30 Oct 2007 the Legal Services Act received Royal Assent. Part V of that Act provides a legislative framework for legal services including advocacy to be offered by businesses consisting of lawyers and non-lawyers.  Since 31 March 2009 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”) has allowed solicitors to practise in partnership or other association with barristers, patent or trade mark agents and other legal service providers and some non-lawyers. Such practices are known as “legal disciplinary practices” (“LDPs”).

Paragraph 205 of the Bar’s Code of Conduct precludes barristers from participating in LDPs except as employees unless they re-qualify as solicitors as that paragraph prohibits counsel from practising in partnership or companies either with solicitors or even with other barristers. However, on 20 Nov 2009, the Bar Standards Board (“BSB”), the Bar’s regulator, proposed changes to the Code to permit barristers to:

  • become managers of LDPs, regulated by the SRA without having to re-qualify as solicitors;
  • practise in more than one capacity at the same time e.g. as both managers of LDPs and as independent practitioners;
  • form barrister-only partnerships (BoPs), pending the creation of an appropriate regulator for such entities,; currently not in existence, and consultation by the BSB in relation to becoming such a regulator; and
  • practise through other barrister-only companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs).

To bring those proposals to the attention of practitioners and discuss their ramifications, the Bar Council and BSB are holding seminars on each Circuit between 11 Jan and 2 Feb 2010 called “All Change or Not”.    My chambers manager and I attended the seminar for the North-Eastern Circuit in York on 19 Jan.

The York seminar took place at the station hotel and was addressed by the Chair of Bar, Nicholas Green QC, and Sarah Brown from the BSB. Given our well deserved reputation for cussedness (you can always tell a Yorkshireman but you can never tell him much) the speakers may well have expected a rough ride.   In the event, they were treated with great deference by the audience except by me.    Probably the reason for this is that they pressed all the right buttons.   For example, Nicholas Green told us that barristers were on average 20% cheaper than solicitors because we did not have to carry their overheads and that solicitors had probably suffered more from the changes to legal aid fees than had barristers.

While emphasizing that barristers would be free to take advantage of the proposed changes or leave them Green suggested four possible options:

  • members of chambers or other groups of barristers could form companies (referred to as “ProcureCos) which could bid for civil and criminal legal aid contracts from the Legal Services Commission (“LSC”) and other work and distribute it to the members and their pet solicitors;
  • barristers could become managers of LDPs;
  • barristers could practise part of their time as employees and part of their time as self-employed practitioners; or
  • barristers could form barrister only partnerships.

A handout to delegates explained that ProcureCos could be formed at once under the existing rules whereas practitioners would have to wait for the other proposals to be approved.    Since the LSC is expected to invite tenders for block contract work in February, the audience was urged to get a move on with setting up ProcureCos otherwise solicitors would scoop the pool.

Sarah Brown, one of the lay members of the BSB, announced a whole slew of other proposed changes to the Code including the following:

  • counsel instructed under the Public Access Rules will be free to conduct correspondence with solicitors, interview witnesses and settle witness statements;
  • the Public Access Rules will be amended to allow barristers to accept some criminal, family and immigration work without the intervention of a solicitor or other professional intermediary;
  • barristers will be free to attend police stations and interview clients there; and
  • the prohibition on barristers sharing accommodation with solicitors will be scrapped.

As a clear distinction is drawn in the Legal Services Act 1990 between advocacy and conducting litigation I could not help pondering whether some of these changes were actually within the BSB’s gift since collecting evidence and conducting correspondence strike me as conducting litigation.

Such thoughts prompted me to ask the first question which was in two parts:

(1)        how can a ProcureCo contract for work and sub-contract it out to pet solicitors and members of the syndicate without holding clients’ funds which has always been forbidden; and

(2)        if such companies were to manage client funds, how could barristers maintain the 20% cost advantage that we had been told that we enjoy since ProcureCos would require the same sort of accounting systems, bookkeeping staff and premises that solicitors appear to need, all of which cost money?

“Good question” mused Green before telling us that he did not think that a contract for say a million pounds payable quarterly really meant holding clients’ funds and that he was sure that our costs ought to be lower than solicitors’.   It would be wonderful if he is right – especially as I had to withdraw from a panel to provide business support services to new businesses in Bradford funded by the Local Enterprise Growth Initiative last year because the work would have required my instructing patent and trade mark agents – but the advice that I received at the time from the Bar Council was to the contrary.

The only other bolshie question came from Ian West from Middlesbrough.   “You all know me” started Ian (though to be quite honest I did not know him) “as I’ve served on the Bar Council.” He continued that he believed he represented the views of criminal practitioners who made up two thirds of the Bar.    Ian could see nothing in the proposed changes for him or for other criminal practitioners whatsoever.    He explained that solicitors get work through branches in every city and town in the region which enables them to attend police stations and mingle with the public.   ProcureCos can’t do that, said Ian.   He feared that the reforms would accelerate payment on the basis of one case one fee instead of ring fenced advocacy fees and our bidding for work through ProcureCos would alienate solicitors.   The Chair did not really answer that question beyond re-stating that barristers like him were not bound to change their working practices if they did not want to do so and that there would be an end to ring fencing whatever the Bar did.   On reflection, I am not sure that the criminal bar could not compete with multi-branch law firms.   I get work from running inventors’ clubs in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester and intellectual property clinics throughout the North.   Could other barristers not work with local law centres, citizens’ advice bureaux and other local organizations in providing some pro bono services as loss leaders? Just a thought.

The meeting in York took place less than a week after Jackson and yet not a word was said about the report.    That was amazing since Jackson is concerned with costs and the whole point of the 2007 Act is to stimulate competition in the legal services market and so force down costs.    A few days after the seminar I attended the Chancery Bar Conference at Regents Park where both the Chancellor, Sir Andrew Morritt, and the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Justice Morgan, gave pretty strong indications that the Jackson recommendations are almost certain to be carried out whichever party wins the next general election.   They have to be because we as a profession are pricing ourselves out of the market.    Change is coming whether the Bar likes it or not and with all due respect to our eminent Chairperson I think we will have to do more than set up ProcureCos.

27 Jan 2010

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Below is a press release from Reprieve. I have extracted it in full.  The report runs to 221+ pages… I have read some of the more UK specific parts and will examine the document in more detail during the course of the day.

Our adherence to the  international rule of law was questioned by government legal advisers yesterday. Today, Lord Goldsmith will speak about his legal advice to the government on the Iraq War.  He may well be persuasive.  I tend to prefer waiting for all parties to speak before forming a final view.

This United Nations report is blunt. Reprieve has extracted the salient points below.  What do you think?  Do you feel that Britain is justified in ‘teaming up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people’ as Clive Stafford-Smith says our government is doing?

Today’s United Nations report names and shames governments who have secretly held ‘ghost prisoners’ beyond the rule of law; the UK is exposed as complicit in snatching and torturing prisoners in the so-called war on terror.

The UN has today released a wide-ranging report on secret detention which will prove embarrassing for states like the UK who claim respect for the rule of law.

In this report, UN experts put the US-led “rendition programme” in context as another sad chapter in the history of torture and secret detention, alongside the 1970s campaigns of disappearances in Latin America, and the gulags of the USSR. And in case of any doubt, the UN sets out in unequivocal terms exactly why such practices are illegal.

In an investigation spanning 19 countries across all regions of the world, four independent UN bodies worked together to interview victims of secret detention and canvass governments in order to understand and redress the victims’ plight.

The findings make uncomfortable reading for the UK government who – despite their public condemnation of such practices – are revealed as complicit in war crimes like kidnap, secret detention, and torture.

Revelations include:

  • Confirmation that the UK knew about US renditions practices from 2002, yet continued to hand vulnerable prisoners to US custody with no process until well into 2004;
  • Confirmation that the UK knowingly received information obtained from prisoners being interrogated in US ghost detention;
  • Numerous cases showing that the UK took advantage of illegal secret detention practices over at least three continents by colluding in torture;
  • Unanswered questions in relation to the number of prisoners held by torturous Arab regimes at the request of the UK;
  • Indications that the infamous ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan may have been run by the FBI.

Worryingly, the report indicates that the UK intelligence services lack the oversight that would prevent crimes like complicity in torture from recurring in the future. It recommends that:

“To ensure accountability in intelligence co-operation, truly independent intelligence review and oversight mechanisms should be established… such mechanisms should have access to any information, including sensitive information…”

The report warns of the dangers of intelligence services keeping secrets from the bodies that are charged with policing them; precisely this befell the UK, leading to the ISC’s ‘independent’ report on Rendition containing multiple, serious and embarrassing errors.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Sadly, our government has teamed up with unscrupulous, Mafia-like regimes that are in the habit of disappearing people, using information extracted by violence, keeping secrets and protecting their thugs and cronies. It is shameful that it takes a UN report to reveal these shoddy practices to the British people. The victims are still waiting for an apology. ”

Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said:

“The British government comes out of this looking like the War on Terror’s spineless ‘middle management’. It’s time to live up to our own – ancient – standards and refuse to work with regimes that torture.”

The full report may be read here: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-42.doc

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Philippe Sands QC, a member of Matrix Chambers and professor of International Law at University College, London, suggested on Newsnight that following evidence about the legality of the Iraq war, Tony Blair may have to choose his travel destinations carefully. I won’t make any further comment on that for the present. (Apologies for typo in tweet as to spelling of Philippe)

Sands is the author of a book, Lawless World, in which he accused US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of conspiring to invade Iraq in violation of international law.

I commented on yesterday’s proceedings at the Iraq Inquiry below: Breaking News: What will Jack do now? and Chilcot Special: The government did not like the advice of government lawyers

Today, former Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith appears before the Iraq Inquiry. On Friday, Tony Blair appears. I plan to do a podcast with ex-government lawyer Carl Gardner who is now author of the Head of legal blog tonight.

The invasion of Iraq was lawful

by Carl Gardner on January 27, 2010

“This blog didn’t exist when US and British forces, with others, invaded Iraq in 2003. I’ve never written directly about the legality of the war. But with Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst having given evidence to the Iraq inquiry yesterday, and Lord Goldsmith due to appear today, I think it’s time for me to address the issue.”

Press coverage: Guardian –  Lord Goldsmith got taxpayer help for Iraq war inquiry legal advice Chilcot inquiry: Lawyers expose pressure to give green light for war | Times –  Lord Goldsmith to face pressure over legal U-turn on Iraq war | Telegraph –  Government knew ‘no leg to stand on’ legally to go to war in Iraq | IndependentInvade and be damned: Foreign Office lawyers say advice on legality of war was ignored

As a postscript to yesterday’s testimony before the Iraq Inquiry, The Telegraph notes “Margaret Beckett, Mr Straw’s successor as foreign secretary, risked outrage by saying that Dr David Kelly, the government scientist who committed suicide after being accused of leaking secrets about the “sexing-up” of intelligence, would have agreed that Saddam Hussein was seeking to stockpile weapons.”

Tony Blair is due before the Iraq Inquiry on Friday.  Matthew Norman has an interesting piece in the Independent this morning

Matthew Norman: Irrespective of Chilcot, Blair will always remain a pariah

The former PM will never escape the verdict of the court of public opinion

***

OTHER LAW IN THE NEWS TODAY

Frances Gibb, writing in The Times, reports

Gilderdale case prompts fresh calls to clarify the law on assisted dying

“One devoted mother who helps her sick daughter to end her life with tablets and morphine walks free from court with a suspended sentence. Another is jailed for murder, to serve a minimum of nine years, after injecting her brain-damaged son with a lethal dose of heroin. The two contrasting cases have reignited the debate over “right to die” and whether those who assist a loved one to end their suffering should be subject to criminal law. Both involved a loving parent who could not bear to see a child suffer. Both, therefore, were acts of mercy. But there were key differences: Frances Inglis’s son, Thomas, 22, who had brain damage, had never indicated an intention to die. His mother believed him to be in pain and could not accept an encouraging medical prognosis.”

I commented on this legalo-ethical debate in Law Review: Assisted dying, Barristers modernise (?) and standards in legal education. yesterday.

Victims’ families demand Edlington boys be named

The Times reports: “Pressure was growing on the Government last night to release the full findings of a confidential inquiry into the Edlington torture case. The Conservatives stepped up demands for the publication of the 150-page report and the Liberal Democrats are considering tabling an amendment to a Bill that would require the findings of all serious case reviews to be made public.”

It is easy to understand the anger of the families and the public in this shocking case. Mr Justice Keith rejected applications to lift the ban that prohibits identification of the two brothers and their family. He said that naming the boys could adversely affect their rehabilitation.  Was he right to do so?  Difficult though it will be for many, I think he was right to do so.  The children involved in this appalling and mindless, sadism are are the product of their backgrounds and part of our justice system in terms of penal theory involves rehabilitation.  There is also the issue of ‘vigilante’ justice being meted out when the boys are eventually released.   There are, it is believed, plans to consider prosecutions against the parents.

OUT-LAW reports:

Sky wins landmark ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’ ruling, HP vows to appeal

Hewlett-Packard has vowed to appeal a ruling announced today by England’s Technology and Construction Court that is expected to cost it more than £200 million. The case is one of the longest-running and most expensive disputes in the technology sector.  The OUT-LAW article is well worth a read. The judgment of Mr Justice Ramsey (500+ pages, one of the longest ever, is due shortly)

Misrepresentation seems to be the flavour of the week this week…. Today, The Independent has a story about deceit on the leafy banks of the Thames : Court battle after ‘garden flooded 80 times’

“A financier who bought a £1.9m family home on the banks of the Thames is taking the previous owners to court, claiming they failed to warn him that the garden flooded as many as 80 times a year. Adrian Howd and his wife, Caroline, claim that, before buying the house – named Tide’s End – their solicitors had asked Bobby and Nicola Console-Verma’s lawyers: “Given its position, please confirm that the property has never suffered from flooding.” The couple’s lawyers responded: “Our clients confirm that the property has never suffered from flooding during their 14-year occupation.” Dr Howd and his wife argue that this response was untrue and fraudulent. However, the Console-Vermas’ barrister Michael King insisted that the question was “ambiguous” and that they had reasonably taken the view that “property” meant “bricks and mortar”, not the garden.” (Independent)

Often very fine lines of interpretation decide the events of history as the Iraq Inquiry is now revealing on the legality of war issues.  It seems that this case may also turn on a fine line.

***

Not a law blog – but Capitalists&Work is always worth keeping an eye on.

UK GDP Q4 2009; 0.1%

Wow, that is a poor number. So much for Labour going to call an election on the back of the ‘return’ to growth.

And crocodile tears for the BBC having prepared for weeks on the Government’s behalf a ‘we are out of recesion day special.’ (Love this headline, UK emerges from recession, repeat the BBC is not biased, the BBC is not biased….)

With all the talk of outsourcing work to lawyers in India, this post by Professor John Flood on his RATs blog is worth a look: Lawyering in India

John Bolch, Family Lore, looks at: Attitudes towards cohabitation

He notes: “I’ve just been looking at the press release for the British Social Attitudes (‘BSA’) 26th Report, which was published today. Along with the unsurprising news that fewer people in Britain feel an obligation to vote than at any time since the question was first posed on BSA in 1991, the Report has some interesting findings regarding attitudes towards cohabitation. Cohabitation, it seems, is becoming increasingly acceptable, with 45% of those questioned agreeing that it ‘makes no difference to children whether their parents are married to each other or just living together’, up from 38% in 1998. This rather contradicts those, particularly the Tories, who maintain that it is far better for children if their parents are married.”

Geeklawyer writes…Dear prospective advertiser number one million. Thank you for your interest

Geeklawyer thinks that the ambulance chasers will taint his blog! Geeklawyer is so fabulously rich from his practice at the Bar – he regularly taunts Criminal and Family practitioners about this on his blog and on Twitter  – in jest – that he doesn’t need advertisers.  He is in a fortunate position, indeed.  Thankfully, I am more than happy to allow advertisers to support our free resource projects on Insite Law – for otherwise it would not be possible to give all the comment on here and free resources on Insite Law away free.  I am not, unfortunately, as rich as CroesusLawyer!

Geeklawyer writes…

Dear Casabian,


I’d rather have my bol­locks chewed off by a bad tem­pered rot­tweiler with a taste for slow pain, than have a bunch of low-life ambu­lance chasers taint my site with their ads.

And just to show how appreciative I am that commercial organisations are for sponsoring the free resources on Insite Law  for students et al – I am delighted to say that Accidents Direct are supporting our project – so they can go on my header.  I am also appreciative of the support Wildy & Sons have given consistently over three years as I am to all the advertisers on Insite.  Lunch doesn’t come free in the world most of us live in and if barristers, solicitors, publishers, and other firms (as they are doing)  wish to help support the free legal web concept  – that is good for everyone and I am more than happy to assist them in return.


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Social media / Twitter et al… can do the business… I found this tweet  most amusing…  Blackwater is not that popular in Iraq… I suspect that some other Brits not be either

Beau Bo D’Or – is always worth looking at for a ‘take on our modern lives….

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I regarded the invasion of Iraq as illegal, and I therefore did not feel able to continue in my post. I would have been required to support and maintain the Government’s position in international fora. The rules of international law on the use of force by States are at the heart of international law. Collective security, as opposed to unilateral military action, is a central purpose of the Charter of the United Nations. Acting contrary to the Charter, as I perceived the Government to be doing, would have the consequence of damaging the United Kingdom’s reputation as a State committed to the rule of law in international relations and to the United Nations.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, former Deputy Legal Adviser to the FCO
18 January 2010

What an extraordinary session of the Iraq Inquiry.  I watched all the testimony of Sir Michael Wood, David Brummell and Elizabeth Wilmshurst.  I was struck by much of the evidence, but two statements by Sir Michael Wood stood out.

“He (Straw, who was then Foreign secretary) took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn’t used to people taking such a firm position,” said Wood.

“When he had been at the Home Office, he had often been advised things were unlawful but he had gone ahead anyway and won in the courts.”

Sir Michael Wood said this was “probably the first and only occasion” that a minister rejected his legal advice in this way.

The Guardian report gives a flavour of the proceedings: Guardian

While the main event on the legal side will be Lord Goldsmith’s testimony tomorrow it is already clear that the principal legal adviser to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Sir Michael Wood, maintained a consistent line of advice that war with Iraq without a second UN resolution was illegal and that he had rejected the government’s argument that resolution 1441 – passed in November 2002 – requiring Saddam Hussein to disarm was a sufficient basis for military action.

It is very clear that this advice was not to Jack Straw’s taste and, equally clear that it was not to the prime minister’s taste.  Lord Goldsmith, effectively, had to intervene to say that government lawyers were perfectly entitled to give advice inconsistent with government policy!  We know that Lord Goldsmith is believed to have changed his mind, but more particularly, Elizabeth Wilmshurst highlighted the fact that the government seemed to be reluctant to call for formal advice until very late in the run up to the war – when, she suggested, it would then be  difficult for the Attorney to have advised the government that the  conflict was unlawful without a second resolution at that stage . It would, she said, have handed Saddam a massive PR advantage.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst did state there was no substantive difference between her views and the attorney general’s pre-7 March. I did enjoy Wilmshurt’s response when Sir John Chilcot asked  if it made  a difference that Jack Straw himself is a qualified lawyer?.  Elizabeth Wilmshurt replied…“He is not an International Lawyer”. Rather sums it up, I think?

Note for the “Send Blair to The Hague” brigade

Unfortunately for those who wish to see Tony Blair led away in handcuffs to stand trial – this is unlikely to happen. Elizabeth Wilmshurst stated that while the ICC has jurisdiction now in relations to ‘crimes of aggression’, it cannot be applied retrospectively. [See: #Iraqinquiryblog ]

I am doing a podcast with Carl Gardner, ex government lawyer in Tony Blair’s administration and author of the Head of Legal blog following Lord Goldsmith’s evidence tomorrow.

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In the grand scheme of things, the overclaim by prospective Chancellor Osborne is not one of the great sagas. it is, however,  a bit surprising that such a senior member of the shadow Cabinet, with a good university education and who puts himself forward as the next Chancellor, should take ‘flawed advice’ and make an error of this nature (He overclaimed £1666 ). The Independent has the report

There have been rumblings in the Tory blogs and press about Osborne’s competence and Labour, clearly, are targeting him.  The Indie reports that his rating has, in fact, gone up in the light of recent events. I find Hague and Clarke rather more compelling and believable in the role of  ‘Prospective Chancellor’ – as, I suspect, do many.

***

It is a pretty shocking indictment of our law, our values, our mores… that a loving mother has to resort to grinding up drugs in a pestle and injecting air into the bloodstream of her daughter to give her daughter relief from the misery that became her life. It is even more shocking that she is then hauled before the courts and is now the subject of national and, possibly, international comment.  There will be many who will decry the compassionate judgment of the jury in acquitting her of attempted murder, there will be many who will pray some god in aid as justification for their view that all killing is wrong and there will be many who will say that we need new laws.  The law does seem to be in a bit of a mess. Perhaps the solution is to keep the law, the guidelines put forward by the DPP, but give the judges more discretion?  Perhaps – let us be radical in these early days of the 21st Century – we need to have a law of controlled and medically supervised assisted dying?

I favour a change in the law of assisted dying. If an individual chooses to die because life is, for them, no longer tenable, no longer sustainable – surely it is barbaric to insist that they live and suffer to salve the conscience and conscientious objections of those who take a different view?   For my part – it is none of their business.  I am not interested in the views of any religious leader, praying in aid beliefs and ‘deities’ from 2000 or more years ago. I am interested in rational, philosophical and moralo-ethical analysis. We should, as a civilised and moral and honest society permit those who wish to die to do so with dignity and die humanely.  It goes without saying – before the ravening crowd pile in with their outrage, ‘moral compasses’ and other assorted ‘mumbo-jumbery’ –  that we need to think through compassionate laws to ensure that decisions are taken by the person who wishes to die without ‘undue influence’ from others and having taken an accurate medical prognosis to ensure that consent is truly ‘informed’.

I applaud the judge, Mr Justice Bean, who said: “I do not normally comment on the verdicts of juries but in this case their decision, if I may say so, shows that common sense, decency and humanity which makes jury trials so important in a case of this kind.”

I agree with Mr Justice Bean on both counts. I also applaud Mrs Gilderdale for being a real Mother.  It must have been the most difficult thing she  had to do in her life. What do you think? Please feel free to use the comments section below as always.

As the Guardian reported: “The case has drawn parallels with that of Frances Inglis, the mother jailed at the Old Bailey last week for injecting her brain-damaged son with a lethal dose of heroin. Is there really, such a substantial difference?  Lawyers will be able to pick subtle legalo-factual distinctions – consent to name but one.  Is there really such a ‘moral’ difference?   In neither case, of course, do we, as readers of newspaper reports, see or listen to all the evidence.  we are, therefore, reliant on accurate reporting.  This, it has to be said, is not always reliable. But..going on what is available to us all in the press.. what do you think?

Barristers ‘gearing up for a revolution in the way they provide their services’

Barristers in England and Wales are preparing themselves for major changes in the ways they provide legal services, the new Chairman of the Bar Council Nicholas Green QC has said. Barristers are ‘gearing up for a revolution in the way they provide their services’. His remarks come as the Bar Council runs a series of nation-wide road shows following the historic decision of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) in November 2009 to liberalise the Bar’s practice rules in the light of the Legal Services Act 2007.

These changes, which will need to be approved by the Legal Services Board, could see barristers, among other things, working in partnership with other lawyers, or forming specialist procurement companies through which to deliver their services on a cost-effective basis.

Nicholas Green QC:

The Bar has major advantages in terms of quality and cost. Barristers have a great opportunity because they are both specialised in advocacy and advice, and often in particular areas of law. At the same time, because of chambers’ significantly lower overheads, barristers’ services are considerably cheaper than those of solicitors. ‘There is also an excellent opportunity for clients and consumers to benefit from the expert services of the Bar in different ways and at less cost. This will provide an important response to the recent review of costs in civil justice, by Lord Justice Jackson, which warned of the need to reduce the cost of going to court.’

I hope to have a fellow user of Twitter, a barrister, doing a guest post on this issue shortly…

Iraq inquiry: Government legal official will disclose advice given to ministers

The Times reports: ” Sir Michael Wood, the former top legal adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has been given permission from the Attorney-General to break with protocol and disclose advice given to ministers in the build-up to the Iraq war.”

I shall certainly be watching this appearance.  Let us hope that Sir Roderic Lyne opens the batting on this one.  Baroness Prashar of Runnymede, despite her appointment as Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, is not one of the sharpest of questioners on current performance, at any rate.

CoL launches online GDL

The Lawyer reports that The College of Law  “has fired another shot in the battle to become the UK’s top legal education provider by launching a new fast-track part-time Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The school has launched an online part-time GDL, which has a January start date and allows students to complete the course in 18 months rather than the usual two years.

CoL’s director of vocational programmes Scott Slorach said: “We anticipate most students choosing this mode will have work or family commitments. It gives them a better work/life/study balance by allowing them to choose their own study times and also reduces the travel and accommodation costs that students undertaking the traditional part-time courses may have to meet.”

No doubt BPP will pop up with a variant on this before too long. The GDL is a tough course, providing as it does coverage of the eight core subjects required by the profession before a candidate may take the LPC or the BPTC.  Part-time students tend to take their studies seriously and this initiative will certainly widen access to education. There are dangers, of course, that this is just another stage in the dumbing down of legal education and that young lawyers are being commoditised, to use a noun that used to be a verb and a concept beloved of the sayers of legal sooths.

I am fairly enthusiastic about the use of new media and technology in legal education but remain skeptical about standards. Neither the SRA nor the BSB appear to have much appetite for rigorous inspection of law schools and, short of the nuclear option of withdrawing accreditation, do not appear to have many teeth to ensure that law schools keep to the standards required and observe the rules.  (The report into BPP’s over subscription has still not been released.  I am advised that it will be soon.)

I am writing a couple more long posts on legal education (here is my first: Law Review: Law Student Special – From here to eternity… (Part I)) and will return to the issue of standards in legal education then. The comments at the foot of The Lawyer article are worth reading.  I have some sympathy with some of the views expressed by students.  I liked the one where a student said… “Makes you wonder why you pay eight grand for a reading list and a library card.”

And finally…

Yale law professor Robert Solomon, director of clinical studies at the institution, is plaintiff’s counsel in a lawsuit filed late last year contending that it is a violation of Connecticut consumer protection law for McDonald’s, Burger King and Friendly’s not to disclose to customers that their grilled chicken contains naturally occurring carcinogens (as do a wide variety of grilled, charred and barbecued food) [From PointofLaw ]

See?… with tall that legal knowledge and opportunity… it is worth it… you too could end up filing lawsuits about carcinogenic chickens.


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GuyNews from Guido Fawkes has the gen on Lord Pearson’s plans for UKIP to take away part of the BNP vote: “Guy News wanted to get to the bottom of the UKIP burqa ban.  So we sent Emily Nomates, in disguise, to meet Lord Pearson.”

Subscribers get the videos early on a Friday (You may subscribe free on the Guido Fawkes blog) but here it is!  It really is a must watch.  Lord Pearson does say some extraordinary things!

Another, equally, interesting perspective comes from Dominic Lawson writing in the Times: Banning the burqa is simply not British.

Lawson writes: ” This is not to say that Lord Pearson, UKIP’s new leader, is a figure in the Hitler mould. Far from it. Having met Pearson on more than one occasion, I know him to be a civilised and considerate person. Yet in attempting to gain market share from the British National party in the run-up to the general election, Pearson is indulging in a lethally dangerous form of identity politics; and in his claims to be standing up for “British values”, the UKIP leader is in fact trashing them…….Pearson declared last week: “We are not Muslim-bashing, but this [the wearing of the burqa] is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy.” First of all, he absolutely is “Muslim-bashing….”

I am not in the least interested in what people wish to wear. If women are forced to wear the burqa, that is a different issue – but as many women wish to wear the burqa, they should be free to do so, subject to the caveat that they should be subject to the same security issues as everyone else in this country.  I doubt that I would personally find it as interesting to talk to someone wearing a balaclava or a burqa as I would an open face because we tend to read faces when we listen to give sense, emotion and depth to the spoken word. I suspect others may take a similar view.

An area of law I have absolutely no interest in is Family Law. Fortunately there are many good bloggers about to deal with such matters: John Bolch, Family Lore, and Pink Tape to name but two regulars.

I do wonder why lawyers who deal with the fantastically rich are so rich themselves… I can only presume that  these lawyers charge rich people more for exactly the same advice as lawyers dealing with ‘ordinary people’. The law for rich and poor must be ‘roughly’ the same, surely?   The rich lawyers may argue that the financial affairs of the maniacally rich are ‘far more complex’… there are tax issues, off-shore laws to consider…blah blah blah… but, I would have thought that less well paid lawyers who  deal with normal people (who do not have an account at the RichBastardsBank)  still have complex issues to sort?

My only other observation, which is ironic given David Cameron’s plan to encourage everyone to get back to eating Sunday lunch, attending Church and getting married, is that getting married  is not a brilliant idea in the current climate of Britain’s divorce laws. It is quite possible that the Tories, when they came up with this wheeze, had not done any detailed research on our Family laws.  They do seem well up on kill a burglar ideas though.  If you are a rich man or rich woman…. don’t complain when you have to give away half of your fortune to your estranged spouse.  Either live together happily (this is quite possible for many) or don’t get married, don’t let the other party live with you and don’t make promises you aren’t prepared to keep.

The latest nonsense to come out of our divorce courts is covered by the Daily Telegraph: Is divorce law fair?  A multimillionaire faces Britain’s biggest divorce payout. Is Lisa Tchenguiz right to demand £100m of her husband’s wealth?

At least this case – for those of us who have no interest in this field of law –  has a human interest story….well… ‘human’ interest in the sense of greed and duplicity… The Telegraph reports: “Shortly after Miss Tchenguiz filed for divorce, her husband was locked out of his Mayfair office and 20,000 documents were downloaded from his computer…… and then asks: “Was the judge right to rule that Miss Tchenguiz could use this information? Do you think assets are shared fairly in divorce law? What about spousal maintenance? Should the wife get half?..”

Apparently the judge held that she could use the stolen information (she was clobbered for a million in costs) and remarked that on the scale of bad behaviour, nicking documents from the husband in a bit of DIY detective work was pretty severe and shoddy.  This is ‘End of the pier at Brighton’  knock about stuff… but English Law can be a bit ‘colourful’. If you are in the market  for other ‘novelty cakes’ yourself… they do some good ones here. Truly astonishing.

There is a lot of LAW about today…

Solicitors drum up childhood-abuse cases with jail ads

No Shit Sherlock award…

The Times reports… solemnly..

SOLICITORS are advertising in jails for prison inmates to make compensation claims for abuse against former carers and teachers. Some of the claims involve allegations stretching back decades. The prisoners contact the lawyers to inquire about payouts and are told to make complaints to the police about their alleged abusers, partly in order to shore up their compensation claims. They can net up to six-figure sums. In addition to genuine cases of historical abuse it is feared that some former carers and teachers could be wrongly accused — and socially stigmatised — by hardened criminals attracted by the lure of compensation money.”

CPS refuses to reveal details of Nick Griffin’s race hate trial

Guardian: Prosecutors claim releasing information about 1998 case would breach BNP leader’s data protection rights

The CPS decision here is understandable – but here we are not dealing with a private individual.  Mr Griffin is the leader of the BNP.  Mr Griffin’s party will play a part in the coming elections.  The Guardian is appealing the decision with the Information Commissioner.  I hope that the information is revealed.  The electorate and the press do have the right to know about the political views of those who seek election… or the views they may once have held.

The Guardian reports: ”  In a letter to the Guardian, which ­submitted the request almost four months ago, the CPS said: “The majority of the information contained in the case papers is personal data. “A large proportion of this personal data is sensitive personal data because it consists of information as to the commission of an offence and Mr Griffin’s political opinions.”…..On appeal, the CPS last week ­reiterated its view that Griffin’s rights are not outweighed by the public interest in the disclosure of the information.”

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