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Archive for April, 2013

Tour Report #21:  Podcast with Michael Turner QC, Chairman of The Criminal Bar Association,  on the legal aid reforms

To set the context, I quote from an article in The Express:

High Street solicitors could be forced to close by Government legal aid changes
MORE than 1,500 High Street solicitors will be forced to close branches “within a year” if the Government’s controversial legal aid reform plans succeed.

The loss of High Street solicitors would also have a severe impact on barristers. Michael Turner QC, head of the Criminal Bar Association, warned: “Our barristers’ system will fail. Our brilliant judiciary comes from the Bar. Once you have Tesco and G4S providing advocates, you will get Tesco and G4S judges in 10 years’ time. Make no bones about it, we are facing absolute devastation to what is the finest legal system in the world.”

He rejected claims that Britain’s legal aid was the most expensive in Europe. “You have a different system there, with investigative magistrates who interview witnesses, and the big cost is the judicial spend.”…..

Access to justice in a civilised society is fundamental to the Rule of Law and the rights enshrined in our Human Rights laws to a fair trial.

The Independent covers the theme:

New legal aid reforms end ‘justice for all’, lawyers warn

England’s 800-year-old tradition of fair and open access to justice for all will be destroyed by sweeping Government plans to reform criminal legal aid, senior judges and magistrates warn today.

In an attempt to save £200 million by 2018, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling plans to stop paying solicitors for the work they do – and instead give them a fixed fee for each case they represent.

Lawyers will be incentivised to recommend guilty pleas to their clients, a coalition of judges, magistrates and civil liberties groups warns. Their fears are backed by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates miscarriages of justice on behalf of the Government.

Criminal suspects will lose their rights to choose or dismiss a solicitor, and the number of accredited legal aid firms will drop from 1,600 to less than 400 – raising the possibility that hundreds of small high street firms could be replaced by huge contractors like G4S.

“The Government is creating a system where potentially the same company could defend you, lock you up in prison and then rehabilitate you when you come out,” said one judicial source……”

 Under plans to save £200m solicitors will be paid fixed fees, with contracts going to firms like G4S

Interestingly, two well regarded judges have commented on the issue…

The current President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, is understood to have deep reservations about Mr Grayling’s plan. Sources suggest that he believes it undermines the right – first enshrined in the Magna Carta – that “to no man shall we deny justice”.

The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf told The Independent on Sunday that the proposals would lead to a “factory of mass-produced justice” and miscarriages of justice.

“It is the complete privatisation of justice.”

Michal Turner QC has robust views on the proposed reforms which will have a considerable impact on access to justice, the profession, the public and have a devastating effect on the very cornerstone of our democracy.

Listen to the podcast

iTunes version of the podcast

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Some useful links:

Michael Turner QC

Criminal Bar Association

The Independent: New legal aid reforms end ‘justice for all’, lawyers warn

David Allen Green, The New Statesman: How the Ministry of Justice’s proposal for the tendering of criminal legal aid is misconceived and illiberal

The Ministry of Justice consultation document: Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system

Barrister 999: Legal Aid – some thoughts

Crimeline: DO NOT expect others to do things for you. It is your justice system at risk. Do something – here are some ideas.

Criminal Bar Association: PRICE COMPETITIVE TENDERING. A SOLICITOR’S VIEW FROM THE HIGH STREET

Crimsolicitor: The right to choose…

(Sorry about the minor technical recording difficulty at the beginning of the podcast – thankfully we only lost the  introduction – and a very brief summary of the Ministry of Justice proposals which are linked above under the links section.  We also had the sound of crockery being laid out in an adjoining room – which accounts for a very brief pause in recording eight minutes in!

Michael Turner gave me a short history of the Garden Court Chambers building and an excellent tour.  Fascinating. 

Please spread the word about this podcast – #SaveUKJustice)

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Clinical Negligence & the Law
Switalskis

Usually, people think of medical professionals such as doctors and nurses as providers of only the best quality of care and bedside manner, but this is not always the case. In the majority of events, medical professionals do provide excellent service for their patients, but sometimes things can go wrong, as they can in any other aspect of life.

This is essentially the definition of clinical negligence. It occurs when you, as a patient, have been failed by your carers. Whether this is through a chance accident, a mistaken diagnosis or a general lack of care, if a medical professional has breached his or her duty of care, this is known as clinical negligence.

If you (or a close friend or relative) are the victim of clinical negligence, it’s only natural to feel angry and upset, and it can leave you wanting some sort of explanation, apology or even compensation.

Unfortunately, because it is hard to prove, and because the case will be taken against the medical service as a whole, any court cases regarding clinical negligence tend to be costly and drawn out, and a win is rare.

What Should I Do?
Firstly, you should take a step back from the situation and calm down. This can be difficult, but you need to remove any emotional impact from the case and look at it analytically. It can be tempting to get angry and demand compensation for any injury you’ve incurred, but it’s important to not let that cloud your mind – if it’s very minor or just hard to prove, you’re unlikely to receive anything.

If you feel as though an explanation is all you need, this is much more easily achieved. Simply contact the hospital or professional involved and ask for a face to face chat. Doctors don’t want to make mistakes; by their profession they are care givers. You will usually receive a full explanation for whatever happened, and often a sincere apology.

If you’re finding it difficult to get in touch with the people responsible, pick up the phone and talk to PALS – the Patient Advice and Liaison Service, they should be able to help.
If, however, you have set your mind on trying to win some compensation, read on.

Taking It to Court
Firstly, you might wish to talk to some professionals. Speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau, then contact a solicitor who specialises in medical negligence. Some of these are no-win no-fee, but the majority will at least offer a free consultation.

Some medical cases have taken up to ten years to even come to court, and even then are exceedingly difficult to win. You need to conclusively prove that the medical professional was at fault, as well as the fact that you have been damaged in some way by the outcome, whether physically or psychiatrically. The first can be difficult to prove, but if you’ve had your kidney removed when it should have been your appendix (for example) then it’s clearly a case of clinical negligence.

You should only pursue litigation if you have good reason to do so. If you have incurred great financial loss or lifestyle change, or if a young child has lost a parent, or if you end up needing expensive treatment for the duration of your lifetime; these are all good reasons.
Because court cases involving the medical profession are so costly – in terms of time, money and stress – you have to make sure it is definitely what you want to do before you set the ball in motion.

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On Monday, I am recording a podcast with Michael Turner QC on the legal aid reforms / QASA – with particular emphasis on criminal justice.

I have written by email a formal request to the Lord Chancellor, Mr Grayling, to ask if he would prepared to do a podcast on the matter as well.  I await a response.

In the meantime – may I draw your attention to two excellent pieces of writing on the subject – which are thoughtful, incisive and provide food for thought:

By David Allen Green, writing in The New Statesman: How the Ministry of Justice’s proposal for the tendering of criminal legal aid is misconceived and illiberal

The government has a contradictory approach to the legal profession.

On one hand, there appear no limits to its extravagance when the legal work is for particular issues hotly favoured by ministers. For example, the Home Secretary used taxpayers money to fund three QCs on successive hopeless appeals in the Qatada case. And the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, without any apparent public procurement exercise, hired City law firm Slaughter and May to provide advice on a business finance project  Remarkably, it appears the Treasury is even paying Slaughter and May for tax law advice on this particular project, even though there are over 120 tax lawyers already employed by HMRC.

In respect of the legal rights of the citizen, however, the government’s approach is very different. Not only is the government seeking to reduce the amount it spends on ensuring defendants in criminal matters have access to legal advice and representation, it is not even thinking its proposals through.

Take, for example, the Ministry of Justice’s current “consultation” on a scheme of “competitive tendering” for criminal legal aid.  To a large extent, the consultation is a sham, as ministers have already blithely decided that they are in favour of such a scheme in principle and, regardless of the consultation, that “competitive tendering” will be introduced within months. However, the government says that it wishes to consult on the proposed “model” for the scheme, which is just as well as the proposed model is about as misconceived as it could be.

AND… from a practising solicitor – Crimsolicitor – an excellent analysis: The price of everything, the value of nothing…

Let me make one thing very clear from the outset, I and my colleagues increasingly vocal opposition to the proposed reforms to criminal legal aid have nothing to do with the risk it poses to mine and their lifestyle, the loss of our jobs and incomes. We all appreciate that we do not hold any high position in society that means we are entitled to a job for life.

Our opposition is to the very real loss of access to justice, choice and fearless representation that will inevitably follow if these proposals are allowed to go ahead. The loss of protections afforded to the people that need it the most and because we see these proposals as a further step down the road to the end of a justice system that is rightly regarded as one of the best in the world. My concern is that these proposals will simply be nodded through without any real consideration of the long term effects and once in place will become almost irreversible.

Of greater concern is the lack of general awareness to the whole issue by the general public as to how it may affect them and the fact that they are being fed an argument that I initially thought was ill-conceived but now believe is intentionally misleading….

Please read the entire article

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STOP PRESS

See also Professor Richard Moorhead’s detailed post – drawing attention to Roger Smith’s article on the subject: Legal Aid Cuts: Some Thoughts

 

Ironic that Home Secretary, Theresa May, signs ‘fair trials’ treaty with Jordan to deal with Abu Qatada – yet UK Govt cutting back on legal aid so many in need will be unrepresented – is that ‘fair’

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The Electronic Portal Processes Effect on the Legal Sector
Denver

2012 has been a difficult year for the legal industry. Not only is the imminent implementation of major civil justice reforms on the horizon, but they have also had to spend much of the year trying to prepare for the proposed expansion of the road traffic accident portal scheme. Recently however, the Ministry of Justice released a statement that suggests it will re-evaluate and examine the RTA portal plans before April 13.

The statement, which was backed by lawyers associations, has been widely accepted as a positive move from the Ministry of Justice. Back in December, the government announced that it was going to look at the timing of the proposed portal expansion, primarily to include personal injury claims up to £25,000. This decision was prompted by a pre-action letter from the Association of Personal Injury pushing for a judicial review of the current system.

Re-evaluation
Karl Tonks, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil) believes that the government has made a lot of friends by acknowledging the fact the current system may need review. Furthermore, he also commented that the legal industry is looking forward to government’s results of the review, but also warned that key loopholes that currently plague the industry should not be ignored in order to keep to expansion deadlines.

From the outset, Apil have stated that they wholly accept the proposed changes to the RTA portal, not least because they will improve and speed up the civil justice system for all parties involved. Furthermore, the delay by the government when implementing current RTA portal plans reflects the need to evaluation.

Reasoned Approach

The chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society, Craig Budsworth, believes that re-evaluation of the timing of the implementation of the portal portrays a considered and reasoned approach by the government.

Not only will this give confidence to shareholders within the motor claims firms around the country, but it will also continue to reduce false claims and benefit real accident victims. From a personal injury solicitor in Liverpool to a family law lawyer in London, this re-evaluation is on course to flip current industry regulation on its head.

Although the review has gained applause from the motor claims industry, it is not expected to affect the level of recoverable costs within the current scheme, which ends on January 4th. Additionally, if implementation of the new scheme does go ahead in April, the RTA Portal Co concedes that some manual changes may be needed to maintain industry stability.
Responsible for the development and management of the portal, the RTA Portal Co has revealed that new software is already being developed based on the new proposed draft rules. This means that the portal will still be available for delivery in April if final versions are not significantly different.

Until the first amendment to the software is given the green light towards the end of 2013, the RTA Portal CO has acknowledged that manual processing may be needed to keep current systems in line with industry regulation. Such changes are likely to be minor however. In extreme circumstances, software users may have to input codes to the system, but only when it is not being automatically generated by the software itself.

This post was provided on behalf of Jigsaw Law solicitors near Chester and based in Ellesmere Port please follow them on Twitter here @Jigsaw_Law or visit their address location at: Jigsaw Law, Pioneer House, Pioneer Business Park, North Road, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire CH65

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Lancashire Suffers Record Compensation Payout
Helen Grieves,  Founder and Principal at Grieves Solicitors

 

Hopefully not many of us will ever have to suffer a life changing injury, but for those that do, it’s surprising how innocuous many of the causes are. We hear plenty of stories about extreme sports incidents, bad rugby tackles or falls when hiking or climbing, but very often the causes of serious injuries are nothing more than a slip or a trip: unfortunately it’s all it takes.

New evidence for this came to light last week as, under the Freedom of Information act Lancashire County Council revealed they’d been forced to pay a massive £1.3 million in compensation and legal costs because of the bad quality of the roads. Though some of the payouts were to drivers, a great majority were to people who had slipped or fallen walking along the pavement or trying to cross the road.

This increase in compensation claims for trips, slips and falls comes party from the extremely poor weather we’ve suffered over the last two winters. Bad roads have crumbled under persistent snow and ice and the cold doesn’t seem to show much sign of stopping yet.

Nevertheless, it does go to show that the courts take these claims immensely seriously. According to the Compensation Act of 2006, compensation for these sort of incidents isn’t solely based upon the circumstances of the incident itself, though that is factored in when it comes to judging who is liable, it’s often based on the consequences of the claim. Expensive hospital treatments, extended leave from work and potential damages to future quality of life all need to be factored in when assessing the compensation due from a claim of this sort and more often than not they can be extremely serious.

This level of claims is, of course, something that the council will need to look into with great seriousness over the coming months. It is a sad twist of fate that the cost of compensation to injuries could probably have covered at least a portion of the costs of repairs and there will no doubt be investigations into how accidents like this can be prevented in the future.

Trips or falls might seem innocuous at the time but the costs to you as an individual can be unprecedented. What is good is that in the UK we have a legal system which is extremely sympathetic towards that and that claims, however minor, are taken with seriousness and very often compensation is awarded based upon the likely costs that will be incurred.

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Helen Grieves is Founder and Principal at Grieves Solicitors, personal injury specialists, based in Huddersfield. Grieves Solicitors work with clients across the UK to claim the maximum amount of compensation possible for serious personal injury claims.

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This product…. I like.  Seems a pretty good idea?…

Tray Selector – save time, money and improve your green credentials

Even in today’s IT rich legal environment Law firms still require paper. Our stock in trade is words and more often than not these find their way onto hard copy. A modern legal office now stocks paper of various thickness, colours, textures and finishes as well as expensive letterhead which no self-respecting legal firm can do without despite its frightening cost.

This creates problems: how to manage your printer trays or different printers so that those expensive multi-coloured letterheads are used only for page 1, that only wills and deeds use the thick velum paper, or so that drafts and file and client copies are printed on the cheapest, thinnest paper?

If your office has a swear box, printer problems are probably its biggest friend. Printing to the wrong paper type or tray costs time, money and perhaps more importantly hair loss from those who can seldom afford it. Unless, that is, you have installed the software which is the subject of this review.

Tray Selector  is a tiny ‘add-in’ for Microsoft Word which does what it says on the tin. It selects the trays for each type of print job so that in a single click the output goes where you want. You can send a print job to a range of trays or if you prefer different jobs to different printers. Tray Selector is clever enough to handle it all.

The user can create user-defined printer profiles, up to a maximum of 12, of for the typical print jobs they perform each day. Once a profile is saved to a toolbar or ribbon bar button when it is clicked it sends the print job to the trays specified in that profile. Each button can be given a friendly name to remind the user what it does. It really is that simple!

Suppose when printing your letters page 1 goes to pre-printed letterhead, page 2 onwards on plain but quality paper and then 2 additional copies on draft paper. In Tray Selector you would create a button called “letters” setting it up this way in a matter of seconds. Once done you can just click it each time.

There are loads of bells and whistles so the add-in can prompt for page ranges each print, ask for number of copies, print additional copies, run macros each click to do things like check the letter has the correct date or add watermarks, handle duplex printing and mail merges etc. etc. Users buttons are stored safely per user and the product works fine with Terminal Server or Citrix.

Tray Selector comes in two varieties a .Net version for Word 2010/2013 which adds buttons in the ribbon bar and a standard version for earlier versions of Word. It is simple to install and comes with a free, fully functional, 30 day trial so there really is nothing to lose trying it out. New features are constantly added and released for free. A user license is a one off very reasonable cost of $29.99 (About £20) and includes a year of free email support and upgrades. There is no maintenance fee to pay and volume discounts available. Tray Selector is the sort of easy to use time, paper, toner and frustration saving product that every modern law firm should own. You can get more information from http://www.trayselector.com.

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Osborne Clarke

Larger version of the infographic

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