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Archive for February 8th, 2010

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Fresh from supporting the ‘Kill a burglar’ wheeze conjured up by Chris Grayling and David Cameron last week –    Dominic Grieve, Shadow Overlord on Everything to do with Law, has a new plan to grab votes from  the outraged classes of Britain who want prisons to be stripped of swimming pools, televisions, soft beds blah blah blah.

The latest plan, reported this morning in The Times – Every defendant convicted in a criminal court would have to pay a levy of £200.  On the face of it, this seems a vaguely sane and sensible idea to contribute to the costs of bringing criminals to justice. But then there is the problem of scale.  What if the offence was trifling or minor compared to say a Great Train Robbery or complex fraud case? Would it include motoring offences?  (No, says Grieve) What about defendants of very different means?

On closer inspection – The Times reports: “It would only apply where defendants were granted legal aid, which would mean more serious cases that carry a risk of a serious penalty.”

This is ripping stuff – obviously thought through very carefully by a team of the Tory party’s best minds.

The Times notes: “The Legal Services Commission was criticised last week by the Commons Public Accounts Committee as “not fit for purpose”. Mr Grieve said: “The evidence suggests it is not producing value for money and so will be part of our quango review.” He is looking at a scheme to reap some of the interest earned on clients’ money held by solicitors in their firms’ accounts: in France, this brings in about £300 million.”

Grieve is certainly on the money with the Legal Services Commission  being ‘not fit for purpose’ BUT the plan to claim some of the ‘interest’ on moneys held in solicitor client accounts?  Forgive me if I am completely out of touch with modern taxation legislation – but isn’t this already covered in the tax return? I can’t believe that the Treasury has missed a wheeze,  where to avoid any form of taxation on interest –  one simply hands it to a solicitor to hold in their bank account?

These ideas are not that important of course. They will be quietly shelved at a later date.  It is all in the spin… the headlines… to grab the attention of voters who ‘know what they like and don’t like’ . The headlines will allow the ravening horde with their flaming torches  to purr with pleasure at the thought that the Tories are going to stem the tide of leniency and ‘criminal oriented’ concern in the Nu-Labour justice system.

Meanwhile, professionals who actually work in the field (and who know what they are talking about)  and who are responsible for prosecuting, defending and judging are worried that our criminal justice system is failing because there is not enough money to run it.

Bar Council to launch legal action against MoJ

The Law Society Gazette reports: The Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association are set to take the government to court for the first time in 20 years over what they claim are ‘inadequate and unfair’ consultations on new fees for criminal legal aid work. They have instructed solicitors to take the first step towards a judicial review of the consultations published respectively by the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission on advocates’ graduated fees and very high cost (criminal) cases. The bar’s principal basis for the claim is that the consultation exercise is ‘inadequate and unfair’. In a press release issued today the Bar Council said its decision to proceed had ‘not been taken lightly’ and it had been more than 20 years since it last instituted proceedings against the government.”

Junior Criminal Bar under threat from botched Legal Aid Reforms warns Commons Committee

The Bar Council warned:

“The influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has today published a damning report on the Legal Services Commission’s handling of legal aid reform.

The report on criminal legal aid procurement also warns that the increased use of solicitors to conduct work in the Crown Court is threatening the long-term future of the junior criminal Bar and may be affecting the quality of advocacy provided in those courts.

Welcome to Britain for the next binge session on Olympic sport when London hosts the Olympics. If you were worried that the government, the police and others responsible for our security were falling behind in their disregard of the human rights provisions of Europe… fear not.

Unlawful anti-terror powers planned for use during 2012 Olympics

The Times has the story: “Police are planning to use an anti-terror law deemed unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights across the country during the London Olympics, The Times has learnt.

Senior officers are considering using Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at every Underground and railway station nationwide. Privacy campaigners criticised the proposal yesterday. The powers would enable police to stop and search members of the public without any suspicion that they were involved in terrorism.

The Times understands that this would be the first time that the powers would have been used across such a wide area. Police said that Section 44, which must be granted by the Home Secretary for a designated area, would be used only in the event of an escalated terror threat. Officers are being trained to use behavioural profiling to spot suspicious characters during stop- and-search operations.”

An imagined exchange between PC Eagerplod and a member of the public: ‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello…what have we here then… a pole vault pole?  Why would you want a pole vault pole?  This could be used to pole vault over the fence at Downing Street and then be used as an offensive weapon to harm the prime minister, Sir.  I’m afraid we are going to have to arrest you.  What…?! you will be late for your event?  Pull the other one son… “

Sikh judge Sir Mota Singh criticises banning of Kirpan

The BBC reports: Sikhs should be allowed to wear their ceremonial daggers – known as Kirpans – to school and other public places, Britain’s first Asian judge has said. There have been a number of cases of Sikhs being refused entry to venues because they wear the Kirpan or other religious artefacts. Sir Mota Singh QC has now criticised schools, in particular, over the issue. “Not allowing someone who is baptised to wear a Kirpan is not right,” Sir Mota told BBC Asian Network.

While I understand that sensitivity has to be shown towards those who have faith and believe in a god – there are, obviously, concerns that people are wandering about with daggers under their clothing and, presumably, it would not be that difficult for a terrorist to assume the disguise of a Sikh?

MPs’ expenses: David Cameron will bring in law to stop privilege defence to expenses crimes

David Cameron has many poses – the “Thinking Voter’s Thinking Statesman” look above may not reflect the reality judging by some of his recent utterances.

The latest thought to cross his PR infused mind involves the MP expenses issue and, in particular, the outrageous suggestion that a lawyer may wish to advance legal argument to assist a client in a criminal prosecution.  The legal argument which may well be run up the flagpole – given that the DPP has been on National TV to tell the public that some  MP’s are for the chop and will be prosecuted – involves the possible use of parliamentary privilege to protect the MPs from prosecution.  I am no constitutional law expert but it seems to me to be a stretch of legal interpretation to allow a law designed to protect MPs from legal action for what they say in parliament to be used to protect them from criminal activity connected with claiming expenses. The DPP is certainly happy to see this tested in court.

The Telegraph reports: “Yesterday, Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, added his weight to the calls for the three not to be able to use parliamentary privilege as a defence. He said: “The whole point about this, this dreadful, dreadful, damaging year that we have had here, is that people want to see MPs treated in the same way as they would be treated had they broken the law.

“A few, a very few, have been thought to have broken the law. That is the accusation. They are entitled to a fair trial. I think the public would be aghast if they thought there was some special get out of jail card for parliamentarians.” He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I do not believe that the Bill of Rights was meant to deal with this kind of issue.”

it is clear from the Telegraph report that politicans are falling over themselves to appeal to voters by decrying the use of parliamentary privilege to protect the MPs being prosecuted.  Gordon Brown has said that the government will legislate if needs be. Perhaps the Attorney-general could be asked for a ‘Better view’ on this vexed issue?

I suspect this will be a lot of hot air… plus ca change. Cameron will, of course, have to wait until he is in power to bring in ‘Cameron’s Laws of Parliamentary Privilege’.  He may find that Gordon Brown beats him to it – simply because Brown is currently in power.  Ludicrous posturing.

You are a lawyer, a woman and have a family — and the big firms

Another article on the glass ceiling with all the usual cliches run up the flagpole.  60 per cent of the intake to the profession are women, yet very few women make it to the top. The reason for this is probably biological in terms of babies and connected with the phenomenon known as wanting to develop some form of a life rather than being involved in the moneymill down at Mammon City. Law firms will have to change their practices if they wish to retain bright female staff.  As the number of women going into the profession as a percentage of intake increases, I suppose it is possible we could get to a wonderfully surreal position where we have absolutely no lawyers in magic circle / City firms older than 30 (because all lawyers are women) and they wither away. This is unlikely.

The Times notes: “The head of a top City firm said that he had begged many of its brightest young women lawyers to stay in it, but once they wished to start a family they would put up with work travel and clients’ late-night calls no longer. “Magic circle” firms know that in seeking continuity of talent, they are running out of time.

The article is here if you want to read it. Yawn…..  wake me when the magic circle etc firms finally wake up and change their working practices.

Thousands to lose jobs as universities prepare to cope with cuts

• Post-graduates to replace professors
• Staff poised to strike over proposals of cuts

Guardian

I shall return to this issue in a later post.  Having spent 30 years in legal education, I am fairly sure that department budgets won’t be cut that much for the very simple reason that law courses are ‘cash cows’ for Vice-Chancellors.  What is more likely to happen is that money generated by law departments will be channelled into other less profitable courses – to the detriment of law programmes?  This will be a juggling act.  Killing golden geese is not a great idea.

A quick look at the law blogs…

Professor John Flood RATS: Tesco Law in a Wig and Gown

“Are solicitors endangered? James Dunning has an insightful post on this at his blog, An Inside Take from the Outside.”

Jack of Kent: Of Political Bloggers and Science Bloggers

“The blogger Anna Raccoon makes some excellent points about the impact of political blogging on scientific questions here (even if her actual views on those scientific questions are misconceived).”

“Who’d have thought the Daily Mail harbours better journalists than the Daily Mirror? Last week the Mirror couldn’t wait to tell us about their “discovery” that Adeela Shafi, Tory PPC for Bristol East, had incurred several CCJs since 2007. So hasty were they that they apparently forgot the minor detail of reporting the story – as opposed to merely relating public facts – leaving their readers to wonder what the story was.”

Geeklawyer : Busy

“Geeklawyer is not dead. But he is in a very large & com­plex case and so is unable to spare the time to blog. How­ever the mer­ci­ful release of clos­ing sub­mis­sions will soon be in sight where­after the whor­ing and drink­ing shall recommence.”

And finally…. over to The White Rabbit to raise the tone…

I can’t help posting this…

“This (nicked from Blue Heron Blast) is a restroom – don’t the Americans have the coyest euphemisms! – in New York. Any suggestion that this blog has degenerated into cheap smut of late is to be deprecated…..”


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