Archive for March 2nd, 2010

With a lead article in The Times today relating tales of Lord Ashcroft as Blofeld (and even being given a white toy cat, apparently) I could hardly resist getting out the Photoshop for the inevitable pic….

Lord Ashcroft revels in his notoriety and safe seat at the top table

The Times

Be that as it may…. there are dark forces present this eve, as I read the political blogs.

Guido Fawkes blogs with evidence with two interesting posts:  The Market Hates Labour
providing a clear graph that when Labour rises in the polls the pound drops and the pound rises when the Tories rise in the polls. Guido also provides a snazzy graph to show how Lord Ashcroft’s attendances in the Lords cost the taxpayer NOTHING whereas Lord Paul’s attendances have cost us a WHOPPING £281,263 in expenses

Boris… in a very well written piece, complete with a bit of Latin… suggestio falsi and suppressio veri prefers the sanguine, cold, objective fact of Betfair to the turbulent polls on the premise that when people invest money, they think carefully (apart from, presumably,  those who invested their money with Madoff) and the Betfair odds have not moved.  The money is firmly with a Conservative majority. Others, to be fair, made this point at the weekend, but not with such style and elan.

Boris ends with the clarion call… “Do we really want another five years of the holepunch-hurling horror of Gordon Brown’s management style? Do we want the Downing Street switchboard to be endlessly jammed with people bleating to some “bullying helpline”? Is this any way to run a country? And that is just froth compared to the real charges against Labour.

If Gordon Brown is on course to win the election, then Elvis Presley is on course to win The X Factor and Shergar to win the Grand National.”

Peter Hoskin in The Spectator writes…

Labour’s pursuit of Ashcroft could backfire

The Business Secretary has since come out snarling, saying to Sky News this morning:

“All these years he’s been dodging what he should have paid in tax in full … instead he’s chosen to give all the money to the Conservative party. Perhaps they’d like to pay it back now?”

This is a dangerous route for Labour to go down, on many levels.  Not only (as Guido points out) is Mandelson not really the best poster boy for clean politics, but it risks drawing more attention to Labour’s own non-dom donors, and suggests that Brown & Co. aren’t just “getting on with the job” of government.  With the election only weeks away, maybe they should create the impression that they’ve got better things to do.”

But it is not all politics with the political bloggers. Yesterday, I publicised Old Holborn’s campaign to free Nick Hogan, the first publican to be imprisoned for failing to pay fines for Smoking offences at his pub.  Interestingly, Old Holborn and Anna Raccoon are looking into the legal position as to whether it is lawful to jail a bankrupt who is in no position to pay his fine

Old Holborn reports today… “In less than 36 hours, you have donated more than £5,238 to support Nick Hogan after he was jailed for 6 months for non payment of fines. Anna and I are currently investigating whether it is indeed lawful to jail a registered bankrupt as his ability to pay the fines is zero…….Various other organisations are becoming involved and support has been overwhelming. Donations have arrived from the four corners of the world, left wing, right wing and independent bloggers are carrying the news far and wide.”

If you wish to contribute or just read about this extraordinary case... please go here.

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Law Review: The State of The Legal Nation

The recession may or may not be over. The pound is falling,there is serious division between economists and political parties on the best way forward in dealing with the significant debt hanging over Britain PLC and there is doubt about our position in credit reference stakes.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the legal press and take the temperature.

[The pic comes from a website supplying interesting legal prints]

The Lawyer reports: One Essex Ct vs Herbies – back from the brink

The Lawyer can reveal that relations between leading London set One Essex Court and litigation giant Herbert Smith reached crisis point last year following a bust-up over unpaid bills – underlining increasing tension between solicitors and barristers over fees. Herbert Smith set relationship partner Kevin Lloyd was forced to call a summit with One Essex Court senior clerk Darren Burrows after the firm failed to hand over ­barrister fees worth more than £500,000.

The claimant failed to settle fees with Herbert Smith.  In turn, “the firm therefore wanted to avoid paying its barrister team……“Herbies got burnt quite badly on the case, they were left exposed,” one source said. “It’s a bit unfair. The barrister relies on the lawyer to be honourable and pay.”

The Lawyer noted…”They [Herbert Smith] said they’re the top litigation firm and One Essex Court would have to play ball,” the source said. “But Darren wasn’t happy about that and refused.” Following the crisis talks it is understood that Herbert Smith has just begun handing the set instructions again – 15 months after the case. In a statement the set said: “One Essex Court does not ordinarily comment on its relationship with ­individual clients. That said, our fees have been settled on this matter and there are no outstanding issues. We’ve always enjoyed an excellent relationship with Herbert Smith and that ­continues to be the case.”

Unfortunately, chain reactions are common in all walks of business life and sometimes, through necessity,  if the top dog is not paid, those lower in the pecking order don’t get paid either.  Perhaps it is a sign of our times that a leading law firm with pressures of its own due to the downturn had to delay payment.  No further information is available on the matter but it would not surprise me if that lay at the root and in such circumstances is it unreasonable that a set of Chambers, enjoying work from a top firm – with the prospect of more in an upturn, should take part of the strain? That is often what happens in business.  Why should the law business be any different?

It seems that money is starting to flow again in the leading law firms.  A quick look at the headlines reveals some prospect of a brighter future?

SJ Berwin starts quarterly partner distributions after 12-month freezeFreshfields becomes first UK firm to lift associate salary freezeBLP hires advertising guru for marketing push

On the other hand… there are still areas of difficulty, possibly rooted in 2009 rather than 2010 prospects…

Dewey and Debevoise post double-digit revenue drops for 2009Latham saw PEP rise but revenue fall in “tough” 2009Hammonds shelves Munich base following Eversheds raidLG to phase out salaried role in favour of two-tier partnership

It is difficult to say, on a quick look at a few week’s of legal news, what the lieof the land is but it is probably fair to say that fortunes are mixed with some areas of specialist legal practice associated with recessions doing well (litigation and insolvency) doing reasonably well and other areas of practice (M&A, corporate finance, property et al), not so. Speaking with two experienced City lawyers to get their thoughts revealed caution and little in the way of optimism as yet, with one saying that it was unlikely to ‘get any better until well into 2011). Lawyers are often last in to a recession, they say, and last out.

I missed this story last week.

Withers found guilty of contempt of Parliament in privilege case

Legal Week reports: “Withers has been found guilty of contempt of Parliament after suggesting that an MP could face legal proceedings for criticising a client of the firm in Parliament. The Commons standards and privileges committee said yesterday (25 February) that Withers was in contempt of the House when it threatened Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming with libel proceedings if he were to repeat “defamatory claims” about the firm’s client in Parliament. The claims had initially been made in a Liberal Democrat leaflet.

The report said the committee was “surprised that a firm of the standing of Withers” took so long to realise that any comments would have been covered by parliamentary privilege, which allows MPs the right to speak freely in Parliament without the fear of being sued for libel. Despite finding the firm guilty of contempt, the committee said it would not take further action against Withers as the UK top 50 firm had apologised “unreservedly” both to the House and Hemming, after taking legal advice from counsel.

The Law Society Gazette leads this week with: Referral ban ‘will not reduce costs’

Banning referral fees will harm the legal profession and will have no effect on reducing law firms’ marketing costs, the chair of the Claims Standards Council (CSC) said last week.

Speaking at the CSC annual conference in Manchester, Accident Advice Helpline managing director Darren Werth said it is ‘shocking’ that the Law Society and Lord Justice Jackson want to ban referral fees. ‘It will drive businesses underground,’ he said, creating ‘a future not in line with a modern commercial world’ by ‘legislating against market forces’.

The Legal Services Board’s consumer panel recently commissioned management consultants Charles River Associates to undertake an ‘economic study’ of referral fees. Jackson concluded in his final report on civil litigation costs that referral fees should be banned in personal injury cases, while the Law Society Council voted at the end of last year to press for a ban on referral fees. SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said last week that the SRA ‘supports and is contributing to the cross-sector review of referrals by the LSB’.

Law Society Gazette

So… with the Bar wanting a level playing field, a senior judge against referral fees and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority voting to ban referral fees – there is now the prospect that these wise men and women may have actually harmed the legal profession? – Mon Dieu!

The issue is, I suspect, still rooted in the hoary issue of whether the law is a business or a profession…but, as ever, I could be wrong.  You can buck the market if you want to shoot yourself in the foot, but remain a professional – albeit a poorer one.

It seems appropriate to end with this..from the Bar Council

Bar Chairman Calls for Bar to Modernise
(1 March 2010)
The Chairman of the Bar, Nicholas Green QC, will today call for the Bar to continue to modernise as it enters a new era of legal services provision.  Speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Legal and Constitutional Affairs in the House of Lords, Green will set out the challenges facing the Bar following the implementation of the Legal Services Act and will outline how the Bar is responding.

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It was a fine sunny morning, cold but fresh, when I arrived at the cafe to eat my British breakfast.  I usually drink black coffee…called an ‘Americano’ in the modern way, and not wishing to baffle the Lithuanian waitress by asking for a British black coffee, I compromised my early morning patriotism and ordered the Americano.

The patriotism thing started by David Cameron has descended into a very ‘British farce’ with the Home Secretary weighing in with his comments about Lord Ashcroft’s un-patritotic behaviour only for Eric Pickles et al to lob in those great British patriots who support Labour – Lord Paul, Mittal et al. I was both delighted and ‘pleased’ that John Rentoul, chief political commentator at The Independent gave me a hat tip for my obvious parody of Cameron as Lord Kitchener.

The Polls this morning reveal that Labour has gone down, the Tories up and the gap is now 5 points.  This is still not enough to avoid a hung parliament – and the markets showed their displeasure at the prospect of a hung parliament yesterday by letting the pound drop.  Some say that the currency speculators view Britain as the ‘New Greece’ and are closing in.  Britain’s credit rating is dropping.  Yesterday there was a report that we are paying more than Italy for international money.

Capitalists@work (a blog I heartily recommend) has a very blunt message…. Just Vote Labour

The post is amusing and well crafted and makes some very good points about ‘floaters’… or floating voters who haven’t made their minds up yet.  Worth a read.  Here is an extract!

….But don’t ponce about saying you’re not yet convinced because all the information you will ever need is only a click away on your laptop. All the benefits or otherwise are just a stroll down your local high street, a visit to the health centre, school or a tour of your workplace.  If you think that Dave is a lightweight and you’re unsure then vote for Brown. The Lib Dems or any of the smaller parties are not going to win power. It is red or blue.

The choice my floating friends is painfully simple. If you are happy with what you have, then stick with it. If , like me, you think that five more months, let alone years, of the Prime minister will result in the UK becoming an”abandoned fairground for all” then vote for Cameron and at least the hope of something different…But stop kidding that there is some magical word or phrase that would swing it all around. You either like it as it is or you want a leap into the unknown and whatever that brings with it.

The Sun… (Britain’s most ‘Patriotic’ newspaper?) ran riot today with polls, surveys and comment. After lobbing a bit of ‘fresh salacious meat’ to the circling readers in the form of a story about a BBC reporter who may have hanged himself during a private sex act and agonising about Ashley Cole who has apparently ruined his life by texting pictures of himself in his underpants to various hot birds – The Sun got back to the business of promoting the Tories.

THE Tories’ lead over Labour has bounced back to seven points thanks to David Cameron’s daring “no notes” speech on Sunday, a Sun poll reveals.

The Sun thundered……. “A MASSIVE 72 per cent of Sun readers believe family life has crumbled under Labour, our poll reveals……And 43 per cent blame the booming benefits culture….The same number say children should be raised in a married family”

But then… on page 6…came the headline…

Poll Panic Sparks Pound Meltdown

permitting them to come up with a wonderful blast from the past…

“A weak currency arises from a weak economy which, in turn, is the result of a weak government’

Gordon Brown 1992

On the subject of “No Notes”  speeches…. Beau Bo D’Or really does have the last word with this wonderful picture…

Well…there we are… orf to listen to a bit more Elgar while I sit in the sun and read the sensible (if less influential in terms of reaching voters)   newspapers.

Have a patriotic day… it is your duty… for the country we ALL love.

UPDATE:  You may wish to have a look at this?

Questions mount for Tories over The Aschcroft Supremacy

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Pressure mounts on Conservatives over Lord Ashcroft non-dom tax revelation

The Guardian: Conservatives refuse to answer accusations Lord Ashcroft breached tax promises made on his ennoblement

All the parties appear to have a non-dom Lord or sophisticated investor lurking in the background as this spreadsheet from the Guardian reveals

The difference appears to be that Lord Paul has never been secretive about his non-dom status, the moneys used by Labour do not appear to be focused on marginal constituencies and Lord Paul does not appear to have broken any promises in connection with his peerage or elevation as a Privy Councillor and….. Lord Paul is not part of the ‘directing mind and body’ of the Labour Party.  Watching Newsnight last night, Michael Gove eloquently put the case for the Conservatives by deflecting attention to the activities of Lord Paul funding Labour and by challenging Kirtsy Wark to ask other parties tough questions…adding…with what appeared to be a hint of menace…’because we’ll be watching’.  This does not augur well for the BBC if the Tories get in?  Kirsty Wark was, pleasingly (to use a variant of a word enjoyed by David Cameron) was able to reassure Gove that the BBC would be asking tough questions of everyone in the run up to the election.

Watching David Cameron put out his well rehearsed statement that Ashcroft’s personal affairs are a matter between him and H M Revenue & Customs and then say that he was pleased that Ashcroft had revealed all was fascinating – the body language reminding me of a child who has been caught ‘in flagrante delicto’, and digging his heels in before defllecting the conversation on to something else with ‘imperial authority’.  Finkelstein of The Times on Newsnight did not think this story ‘would play’ with the electorate and that it was simply  a Westminster row.  We shall see….

The Guardian reports: “By keeping non-dom status Lord Ashcroft avoided paying tens of millions of pounds in tax in the UK while sitting in the Lords and still bankrolling the Conservatives. In 2005 he said he had given “well in excess of £10m” to the party.The Tories refused to answer accusations that Ashcroft had breached the promise he made to become resident and pay full tax as a condition of his ennoblement in 2000 – or reveal when the party leadership first learned that the peer had hung on to his non-dom status.

The Guardian put seven key questions to Tory central office about its deputy chairman, asking what David Cameron and Hague knew about Lord Ashcroft’s financial arrangements….

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, said today: “He was only granted his peerage on the basis he would return to live in the UK, become fully resident, and pay tax in the UK on his wider income.

“Lord Ashcroft has been forced to admit that he has not complied with this promise and that for the last 10 years the Conservatives have been concealing the truth. Instead of paying tax in the UK on all his earned income, he has been channelling millions into the Conservative party to help them buy this election.”

Blair warned in 2000 Iraq war was illegal

Independent: “Secret papers withheld by Chilcot inquiry reveal Foreign Office fears over invasion.  An invasion of Iraq was discussed within the Government more than two years before military action was taken – with Foreign Office mandarins warning that an invasion would be illegal, that it would claim “considerable casualties” and could lead to the breakdown of Iraq, The Independent can reveal. The extent of Whitehall opposition to the policy eventually backed by Tony Blair emerges just three days before Gordon Brown will appear at the Iraq Inquiry, where he will be asked to explain his role in the Government’s decision to invade.”

Having followed the Iraq Inquiry fairly closely, it will be fascinating to see how Gordon Brown performs. Brown does not have the communication skills of Campbell or Blair.  Brown’s fuse is fairly short, it would seem from recent reports, and I suspect, given the brooding antipathy between Brown and Blair, there is a story here to be dragged out of Brown. Perhaps the ‘grand inquisitors’ emboldened by recent revelations, and having had plenty of time to rehearse their questions, will demonstrate some forensic skill and ask the right questions?

The Fat Bigot writes…
Boring is hard to sell
“Perhaps it’s just a reflection of my experience, but I simply don’t think general life is very exciting. It has its moments, of course it does, there are spells of huge joy and deep misery. Most of it, however, is just getting on with getting on. I know I am luckier than most in that my field of work has provided variety and intellectual challenge of a type not many enjoy. When we look at the general scheme of life, though, it is not full of thrills.

If you are a politician faced with an electorate plodding through their everyday lives it’s fairly obvious that promising them rewards they do not have to work for is more likely to gain their vote than telling them they shouldn’t expect riches if they vote for you. This is one of the reasons socialists will always garner votes. They claim there is wealth for all if only they could be in charge and arrange things suitably. Every time they are elected they fail to deliver on that promise, and every time the next election comes around they promise the same thing while the alternative candidate does not. The promise itself is as enticing, yet as tantalising, as the rack of scratch cards on a shop counter. Faced with a choice between the idealist claiming he can make you rich and the realist saying he won’t, it is hardly surprising that people vote for the former.”

Carl Gardner, ex-government lawyer and author of the Head of Legal blog, writes: Binyam Mohamed: finally, an end

“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to comment on the Court of Appeal’s judgment in R(Mohamed) v Foreign Secretary. People usually claim to hate saying they told you so. I love saying it if I’m honest, but only if I really did tell you so, something you may well doubt if you listen again to my podcast discussion with Charon QC about the case at an earlier stage.”

John Bolch of Family Lore (and many others, I suspect) is already bored with the endless coverage of politics in the media. I have some sympathy with this – but I enjoy politics and accept that my observations are either frivolous or parodic.

John writes: Just make it end…

“Like most people in this country, I don’t give a damn who wins the election, I just want it to be over. Unfortunately, however, there are a few who still think our votes can be bought, so it is my duty to inform you that The Times reports today that the Tories will be attempting to woo voters by including tax breaks for married couples in their manifesto. No details are given (including how a bankrupt country is to pay for such tax breaks), but no doubt I will have to return to this yet again, once the manifesto is published. I can’t wait…!

Simon Myerson QC, author of the Pupillage and How to Get It blog writes…“A Bit of a Kicking Back”

A quick look at some recent law news…

The Guardian: £140,000: the annual cost of jailing a young criminal

Jailing one young criminal costs the taxpayer as much as £140,000 a year, a report says today. Locking up young offenders makes them more likely to commit further crimes and be unemployed later in life, the New Economics Foundation says. The think tank calls for drastic cuts in the use of youth custody. Budgets to pay for it should be given to councils and the money reinvested in rehabilitation programmes, the report says.

The Guardian: Human rights groups call for reform of government’s security committee
Calls come after appeal court judges conclude security services were able to get away with ‘a dubious record’ on torture

The Guardian: Committee urges ministers to abandon control orders
Joint committee on human rights says system imposing severe restrictions on terror suspects who cannot be taken to court is no longer sustainable

The Independent: Inmates advised on early release options

Prisoners who will miss out on early release because a Government scheme was brought to an end are being advised to apply for another scheme to avoid “disappointment”, it was revealed today. Last week Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced End of Custody Licence, which allows inmates out up to 18 days early, would be cancelled next month. But a circular sent to jails in England and Wales advises inmates to apply for release under Home Detention Curfew, which allows prisoners out up to four and a half months early with an electronic tag. The notice even sympathises with inmates who find they cannot now be released on ECL……The Tories accused ministers of a “cynical and dishonest ploy”.


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