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Archive for March, 2011

Blawg Review #304 – A very good one

Blawg Review #304 – A very good one

 

You don’t need to be a US lawyer to enjoy this excellent Blawg Review

Six years ago today, on March 28, 2005, a major earthquake registering 8.7 on the Richter Scale occurred off the coast of Sumatra, in Indonesia.  It came little more than three months following the horrific 9.1 quake and tsunami of December 24, 2003, and stood as the second strongest quake of the new century until it was surpassed by the Chilean earthquake of February, 2010 (8.8) and,  of course, the 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11 of this year.  In the midst of the unimaginable devastation of the quake and tsunami, enormous attention has also been turned toward the damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and the resulting releases of radioactive material.

It is that nuclear element that provides our theme today for the 304th edition of Blawg Review, because March 28 is a date of some significance in relation of Our Friend, the Atom, and to both the military and civilian uses of the power of nuclear fission……..

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MEMORANDUM EYES ONLY

To:  The Partners

From: Dr Erasmus Strangelove, Director of Education, Strategy and Psyops

RE: Retention of staff and human capital maximisation

Gentlemen,

1. I am reviewing currently our human operational asset base for the purpose of refreshing the stock. This also ties in with an assessment of productivity of junior associate staff.  I was much taken by an article in the Law Society Gazette of 30th inst by Tessa Armstrong, a Careers and Performance Coach, amusingly titled: Junior solicitors create more value, and make firms happier places.

2. Ms Armstrong clearly has the right attitude. She writes: “Increasing profitability is currently a number one priority. Everyone is pulling out all the stops to bring in work – and junior solicitors are an important resource who can help too, if attention is paid to their performance and motivation.”

Ms Armstrong then goes for it with this wonderful sentiment:

Through improving the productivity of junior solicitors, firms can achieve some great things including:

  • Accelerated progression of junior solicitors through increased resilience.
  • Increased commitment from staff.
  • Increased profitability through reduced risk of poor performance.

All that’s needed is to ensure the challenges your junior solicitors face are identified and resolved straightaway.

3.  Losing just an hour a day of a solicitor’s time at only £150 per hour for four years costs approximately £135,000. This caught my eye.  Our charge out rate is, of course, rather more generous to us, but the idea of such a loss over the four years we aim to retain newly qualified staff for, before assessing how ‘sticky’ they are in our terms, is a matter of some concern.   Ms Armstrong rehearses issues of feedback to staff and comes up with a list of stratagems for success: The usual guff about making lists, doing the least attractive task first, turning off mobiles etc etc etc.  This advice  is counter to our Blackops on twitter where we are  encouraging as many of our competitors as possible to waste industrial amounts of billable time by tweeting and faffing around on Linked In;  let alone our encouragement and promotion of RollonFriday.com – a wonderful resource, where young lawyers can really be distracted and, in some cases, even lose their sanity.   Ms Armstrong does, however, show qualities worthy of Muttley Dastardly LLP where she states “The outcome should be that junior solicitors will be happy, motivated and focused, the number of chargeable hours recorded will increase, and profits will rise.”

4. Retention of staff:  We have 12 associates in PQE4 coming up for review. Unfortunately, all of them are showing promise, all are performing to targets – our stratagem of having a P45 blown up to poster size, framed, and placed in the PQE4 Bunker, seems to have had a subliminal effect in these ‘difficult days’.  I plan, therefore, with your blessing, to cull this down to 8; to allow us to bring fresh and less expensive blood in by using a device (pictured above) which I recall using at school as a child.  To ensure fairness I shall make four such devices, to accommodate the names of the twelve associates, and I shall pick, at random, passages from Lord  Denning’s judgment in Hightrees, and when I get to the end of the passage – using one word for each hand manipulation of the aforementioned device –  for each of the four ‘devices’,  the name on the left quartile shall be the one chosen for dispersal to the legal diaspora. To ensure that this process is even more random, I shall close my eyes when I pick the device up to start the process of selection.

5.  May I remind Partners that we meet this Friday to consider our policy on No Win No fee in the light of the shocking news yesterday.  In case you missed it, here is an article in The Guardian which explains all: The cost of clamping down on ‘no win, no fee’ legal arrangements

Dr Erasmus Strangelove
Partner and Director of Education, Strategy and Psyops, Muttley Dastardly LLP

Strength & Profits

***

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The fall out from the demonstrations last Saturday continues. The Guardian reported on the extraordinary behaviour of the Police dealing with the UKUncut protesters at Fortnum & Mason.  It may well be that a charge of trespass will be upheld – Fortnum & Mason, it is reported, lost £80,000 in trade, but, so far, of the 149 charges brought against protesters, 139 charges  are from the Fortnum & Mason arrests and only 11 from those who committed assaults and acts of criminal damage outside and at other locations. MPs asked the Police for an explanation.

A lawyer at a leading civil liberties firm has expressed fears for the future of direct action protest after the mass arrest of UK Uncut activists during last Saturday’s anti-cuts demonstrations in London.

Matt Foot, a criminal defence solicitor at Birnberg Pierce, said the detention of 145 activists during an occupation of luxury food store Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly was “unprecedented”. He has questioned the police’s motivation.

The Guardian

It is clear from video footage that the police misled the Fortnum & Mason protesters by telling them they were free to leave and would not be ‘kettled’.  It may have been easier for the Police to arrest the protesters outside the ship, rather than inside, but I suspect this action will be a PR disaster for the police in terms of trust from those who protest peacefully?

Mr Raj Chada, a solicitor representing some of the protesters said: “The manner in which these arrests were carried out raises a number of serious questions. Is the act of conducting a peaceful sit-in protest now being treated as a criminal act? ….”

A fair point?

Independent press crucial to the administration of justice, says lord chief justice

Joshua Rozenberg, writing in The Guardian reports: An independent press is crucial to the administration of justice, the lord chief justice of England and Wales said during a lecture in Israel on Monday night. Lord Judge is known to be concerned at the risk of totalitarian governments being voted into power, a view reinforced by his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of Nazi Germany.

“In a democratic society,” he said in an aside, “who knows what the will of the electorate may produce at any election?”

He added: “The independence of the judiciary and the independence of the media are both fundamental to the continued exercise – and, indeed, to the survival – of the liberties which we sometimes take for granted.”

I cannot imagine that many would disagree with this view.  It was interesting to read in The Sun this morning the continuing campaign of bile against lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke,.  The Sun has decided (along with The Daily Mail) that the war on drugs has to be won and is vilifying Clarke and The Sentencing Council for the soft approach being taken on sentencing drug dealers with ‘modest’ amounts of drugs;  preferring to concentrate on the producers and big dealers.

This prompted Matthew Norman in The Independent to ask if the right wing tabloids are running the country and if ministers will run scared – as they have often done in the past of offending the interests and wishes of the right wing press.

The primary issue here is one of political courage, or rather, its absence under fire. Any politician who dares to stand against the tabloids quickly undares

AND.. I am delighted to give a plug to this conference at the request of fellow twitter user @SundeepBhatia2, who is a pleasure to tweet with.

Minority Lawyers Conference & Awards 2011 “Diversity – Embracing change”

Details of the conference

The cost of clamping down on ‘no win, no fee’ legal arrangements

Neil Rose writes in The Guardian: Reform of the litigation system could see claimants lose significant portions of their awards and solicitors reluctant to take on complex cases

Ken Clarke’s announcement on Tuesday that the government is to reform the costs of civil litigation has been portrayed as a crackdown on lawyers’ fees. That always makes a pleasing headline but the reality is that the justice secretary wants the public to do it for him.

The main problem identified by the government and Lord Justice Jackson – the appeal court judge whose report underlies these proposals – is that the current “no win, no fee” system of conditional fee agreements (CFAs) means the client has no interest in how much their lawyer charges, because they will never have to pay any of it.

By making the lawyer’s success fee payable by the client rather than the losing defendant, that will clearly change, and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) expects competition to drive down prices.
***
I thought it not inappropriate, given the above, to thank one of my sponsors – who helps pay for all the free materials for students,  provided on my online magazine Insite Law – Thanks to Accident Advice Helpline

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Like many, I am delighted that I live in a country which permits freedom of speech, protest and dissent. I don’t, like most, care for the mindless violence (or, indeed, any form of violence on the part of protestors or the state) as a means of persuasion to a view.

Today I had the misfortune to read on my twitter timeline some very curious views by @PennyRed – Laurie Penny – who writes for The New Statesman, a magazine I enjoy reading.

The tweets I read – most recent at top – from @PennyRed are here…


I was surprised to read the third tweet above on my timeline and sent a tweet addressed to @PennyRed (She does not follow me – but she would have seen my tweet in her *mentions*?)  Although, to be scrupulously fair…many celebrity tweeters don’t respond to questions put to them and only read their *mentions* for self aggrandisement and  twitteronanism (to see how well they are doing on twitter.)

I did think, however, that  a serious statement by Laurie Penny  and my not unreasonable question merited a reply. I didn’t get one. By the way… the ‘thought through political ‘violence’ was probably in relation to another deleted tweet from Laurie Penny about how the suffragettes used ‘violence’ to achieve their aims.   I can’t say… I have no idea what she meant by principled thought through political ‘violence’...which is why I asked her to answer what I  thought was a perfectly reasonable question.  As it happens, I am fairly sure she saw my series of tweets ( honest and reasonable belief!)…given her open replies on twitter – some of which have been deleted!.

This was my question:

Then this nonsense turned up on twitter….. (I replied):

And then this……

We are living in very difficult times.  A lot of people will lose their livelihoods. A lot of people will suffer.  I am not rehearsing here the faults of our politicians – and they are legion on this issue.  A lot of people protested peacefully on Saturday.  The so called ‘ordinary people’…whatever that means in SKYBBC speak.  They did not trash Trafalgar Square.  They did not occupy Fortnum & Mason and smear the front of the building with absurd slogans.  Many took their children with them. They wanted to protest peacefully.  Instead of being able to listen to reasoned protest by listening to radio or watching TV reports from the main peaceful protest, we were treated to endless coverage of mindless buffoons trashing parts of London.  The BBC and Sky really did not need to overdo that?

@PennyRed – Writes for a respected magazine – The New Statesman.  She  describes herself as a journalist. Objectivity and fairness are what we reasonably expect from journalists – a bit of bias and perspective is acceptable.  We understand this.  I do not expect to read nonsense about *Violence* on twitter from a ‘respected journalist’.  There are plenty of people on twitter talking wonderful bollocks if I want to read what they say.  The difference with @PennyRed?  She gets onto national TV.  She gets to write on a  leading political journal.

It is simply not good enough for @PennyRed to respond to many who were being criticial of her now deleted tweets (above) on twitter by saying that she was ‘confusing people’ and will get back to the issue when she has had more sleep.  I write in terse terms because I happen to believe that peaceful protest is a right and that violent protest is a crime.  I take that view because I want to live in a civilised country where reasoned debate is more powerful than hooded thugs and buffoons (some, it would appear.. middle class buffoons on a Gap Yah!)  trashing other people’s property as a means of ‘persuasion’.   The political process in our country may not be without faults.  But it is all we have for the moment….and the Rule of Law is even more important.  The violence on Saturday broke the ‘Rules of Law’.  Violence is against the law…and it should be… in all its forms… including ‘smashing a window’.

I leave readers with three tweets…to lighten the mood….


I hope that @PennyRed has a good sleep…  but… to be fair…she did have a chance to do this tweet which I have just seen on her timeline….

Hopefully…those who ‘protest’ in future… will stop flinging shit about on our buildings, monuments and streets.  That ain’t the way to protest in a mature democracy?

 

Oh… and I have always voted Labour…. so I may be a leftie…. although one can’t be sure about that with the Labour Party in recent years 🙂

 

***

Happy to give a link to this article by @PennyRed / Laurie Penny in the New Statesman….

 

What really happened in Trafalgar Square

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Any complaints?  Why the IPCC is failing us all
Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors, specializing in actions against the police compensation claims

The IPCC has recently published its police complaint statistics for 2009/2010.

Since the IPCC’s formation in 2004, every police force in the UK has recorded a rise in the number of complaints made against it. The largest increase was recorded in Northamptonshire, a staggering 425% rise in 6 years. The average increase was 113%. The IPCC’s interim Chair Len Jackson thinks that this universal increase in complaints is a credit to the IPCC themselves, saying that ‘improved confidence and access has encouraged those who previously were not inclined to complain that making a complaint is worthwhile.’ While this may be so, as an actions against the police solicitor, a more telling statistic is the fact that only 10% of these cases proved ‘misconduct’ on the part of the officers concerned.

So while (in Len Jackson’s opinion), it may have never been easier to make a complaint, it is extremely hard to prove misconduct against the police within the complaints process, as two recent cases prove.

The anti-war protester

Audrey White was a prominent anti-war protester, and a founding member of the Merseyside branch of the Stop the War Coalition. During a peaceful protest at the Labour Party Conference in 2008, Greater Manchester Police officers forcibly removed a Gordon Brown facemask she was wearing, injuring her in the process. Mrs. White’s complaint to GMP fell on deaf ears. The police denied it saying that their actions were ‘reasonable, necessary and proportionate’.

Two years and significant legal costs later they formally apologized and paid her significant compensation.

The concerned partner

51 year old Karim Allison tried to intervene when his partner was being booked for a minor traffic offence. The police officer involved took exception to Mr. Allison’s attempted involvement and produced evidence which was used to obtain a criminal prosecution against him. After a jury trial it was found that, on the balance of probabilities, Mr. Allison’s convictions were obtained using fabricated evidence.

Again, Mr. Allison’s complaints to Cleveland Police and appeal to the IPCC fell on deaf ears.

Three years later after the initial incident Mr. Allison obtained substantial compensation and the apology he ought to have received at the outset.

Spinning around

Prof. Aaron Levenstein once said, ‘statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.’

The IPCC’s press release reports that nearly 50% of complaints relate to incivility or neglecting duties. This neatly side-steps the fact that the majority of complaints relate to other, more important, things: assaults; malicious prosecution; discrimination; and harassment, telling examples of which are described in the above cases. It strikes me that the IPCC’s slant on the statistics produced benefit no one, especially themselves as an independent body. The police’s failure to apologise is usually vindicated by the IPCC (less than a third of all appeals to the IPCC are upheld). For the public, this leads to the perception that the police can aggressively deny complaints as more often than not they will be supported by their regulator.

Contrary to the IPCC’s press release spin, the above cases are not unusual in my experience. Granted I deal with a great many complaints and claims against the police. My services have never been more in demand. However, clients often come to me after the police have already rejected their complaints or unsuccessfully used the simplified local investigations process. By that point the police have usually already lost whatever goodwill they may have had.

The police, and the IPCC, should be more willing to accept responsibility for failures at the outset. As legal costs are not paid for dealing with complaints, I have no doubt that a great many people would happily accept a heartfelt apology early on, along with a promise to learn from mistakes.  This would save time, money and for the innocent victims of police misconduct, a great deal of unnecessary stress. In these straightened times, isn’t that what the IPCC and police should work to achieve?

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I see a lot of weird stuff on the net every day…..  (I am on twitter)  but this was excellent: “Walcome tae the Scottish Pairlament wabsite”
Being  A Scot – albeit one who has lived in London and other parts of England for thirty years – I rather liked this initiative from The Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Pairlament is here for tae represent aw Scotlan’s folk.

We want tae mak siccar that as mony folk as possible can finn oot aboot the Scottish Pairlament. Information anent whit we can dae tae help ye engaige wi the Pairlament gin ye arenae fluent in English can be haen at Langage assistance providit by the Scottish Pairlament (22.2KB pdf).

This pairt o the wabsite hauds information anent the Scottish Pairlament that we hae producit in Scots. Uise the link aneath tae find oot mair.

Wonderful. Hat Tip to @loveandgarbage for alerting me to this use of public money…and also for this!  Can you speak Scots?

A surreal day…

I watched the unfolding demonstration in London – and some of the footage when the BBC cut away (gleefully) to middle class protesters trying to trash the Ritz and then doing a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason on the basis that this organisation is ‘avoiding’ tax.  There is, of course, a difference between ‘evading’ tax (unlawful) and ‘avoiding’ tax (lawful).  It was also pointed out on twitter that the owners of Fortnum & Mason are well known for making charitable donations. I have no idea whether this is or is not the case – but it would be ironic if it was true.

Today was also Boat Race day. So… we had middle class anarchists trashing The Ritz and Fortnum & Mason while other middle class people amused pissed-up middle classes on the Thames by rowing boats… a  truly surreal afternoon.

And then…. I decided to ignore the calls on twitter to turn all my lights off for #Earthhour…

I’m afraid that I did not add to the incisiveness of the debate on twitter this afternoon on the demonstration and #Ukuncut  by tweeting….

A quick rendition of The Eton Boating song… a la 2011 CUTS and *Big Society* ?

Jolly protesting weather,
And a fay anarchist wheeze,
Blade on the feather,
Paint all over the trees,
Trash trash together,
With your iPads between your knees,
Trash trash together,
With your iPads between your knees.



The tabloids will, of course, be full of coverage about anarchists on the morrow. This pic from The Daily Mail will give you a foretaste… as will this…



Pink Floyd star’s son Charlie Gilmour sports clean-cut look as he faces judge over royal attack

The Daily Mail reports: Fresh faced, with a short, neat haircut and a collared shirt, the Charlie Gilmour who appeared in court today bore little resemblance to the long-haired, combat boot-wearing protester who took part in a student fees riot in central London. 

I do wonder if judges and juries are even vaguely impressed when defendants turn up in court all scrubbed up and wearing ties. Perhaps they get a certain pleasure at the schadenfreude and hypocrisy?
Meanwhile… The Daily Mail front cover for tomorrow (right). Pity the sensible, peaceful, protest didn’t get more coverage today in the meedja.

And so… on to other things…

RollonFriday.com continues at the cutting edge of amusing journalism by revealing.. gleefully…

Exclusive: College of Law screws up exam results. Again

The College of Law has allayed fears that it could be losing its competitive edge this week, by proving that it remains untouchable when it comes to cocking up exam results.

Read…..

 

An interesting article by Jon Robins in The Guardian….

Website that has become the scourge of all lawyers, good and bad

Rick Kordowski remains unapologetic over the website he set up after his experience with lawyers

Worth reading….

Katy Dowell reports in The Lawyer: Over a year into his tenure as Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger is proving to be a popular choice.

Famed for his straight talking and practical thinking, here is a judge who wants the judiciary to become more familiar to the public it serves.

This is becoming a common theme at the top of the judiciary. Supreme Court president Lord Phillips is becoming something of  a television personality given his smiling appearances on several recent court documentaries.

I can certainly recommend an excellent documentary from the BBC on the workings of The Supreme Court. Catch it on iPlayer while you can!

AND…finally… I watched the BBC News coverage on the Trafalgar Square element of the protest late tonight…. dreadful.  Why no/few live pictures?

Well.. there we are.  Have a good weekend.

Best, as always

Charon

 

 

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May I recommend this excellent (and fascinating programme) from the BBC.  Available, for the moment, on iPlayer.

The Highest Court in the Land – Justice Makers

You don’t need to be a lawyer to find this interesting.  I enjoyed it.

A very interesting illustration of the principle in my tweet, below, came in the bank overdraft case where the Supreme Court ruled, according to the law governing the Office of Fair Trading, that  the OFT could not look into the fairness of bank overdraft charges.  Lord Phillips expressed a personal view that it would probably have been a good thing for the OFT to do, but the law precluded this.  Lord Phillips did not have freedom to decide that way.

Non-lawyers may not always appreciate, or choose to appreciate, the subtlety of the role of judges (or the restrictions on their freedom to dispense ‘justice’) ……. as was exemplified in the programme when a well known finance and money campaigner (who ought to have known better?) said to the TV cameras that  ‘The big institutions of the Law had backed up the big institutions of the  banking world”. Judges can’t always deliver fairness….because of  precedent and the way our laws are drafted by MPs.  MPs, however, can ensure that our laws are fair?

Ah… the joys of the ‘saying’  that we get the governments we deserve.

***

Without being simplistic… I am, for one,  delighted that the TV cameras have captured the views of our Supreme Court Justices on this wonderful film which reveals what we all know… our own imperfections and fallibility.

The narrator concludes: “Those who make the law…should be answerable to the law”.  Yes.  I agree. Who would not?

Perhaps… Tony Blair and Charlie Falconer, ridiculed for designing the Supreme Court on the back of a fag packet,  got this one right: The Separation of Powers and The Independence of the Judiciary ?

***

Law Book News:

 

I have decided to start doing regular features on new law books: Here are the new books from Oxford University Press for February 2011

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