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Archive for June, 2013

UK Legal system takes a turn for the worse
John Spencer

The justice system was in need of reform but the changes now enforced are a massive disappointment, to say the least.  In early May, I spoke at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum regarding LASPO and today, my views remain the same.

Not only did April see the UK legal system unimproved by dramatic legislative reforms, it saw the public’s access to justice further suppressed.

During the planning phase, LASPO was promised to guarantee access to justice.  Now, it is becoming apparent that such promises were just noise and that injured people will actually find it even more challenging to get independent legal guidance – simply because solicitors cannot afford to take on certain cases.

The proposal to extend the small claims limit to £5,000 for personal injury claims will see more whiplash cases flushed into an arena where victims will have little chance of getting justice. During my speech in Westminster, I mentioned that the typical whiplash claimant will be faced with three options:

  • Fight the case alone, without any legal assistance, against the defending insurer and its lawyer
  • Personally pay for solicitor fees
  • Drop the claim and give up on acquiring justice for their injuries

Comprehensive input from legal and medical professionals is often a strict requisite for successful PI claims. Without this, a huge chunk of power shifts to the defending insurer in the small claims court and this alone is a direct negative consequence of LASPO.

On top of that, the injured person is forced to cope with the stress of court proceedings. In an attempt to get justice for their injuries, they could be exposed to intimidation and, sometimes, made to feel like a fraudster.

A Dreadful Possibility

The small claims court floodgates could open even wider, as reports suggest Chris Grayling might just extend the limit by a further £10,000. If such an extension is implemented it can only be bad news for injured people, as severe case types (including those involving certain levels of brain damage) could also be steered into the ‘small’ claims court.

Again, to recycle an example from my talk in early May; £14k was paid out in compensation to a toddler who sustained multiple bite wounds all over her body and face. The little girl was left permanently scarred and needed a substantial amount of reconstructive surgery.

If the small claims limit was pushed to £15k at the time of this case, the girl’s family would have been faced with the dreadful three options listed above. So, truthfully, has LASPO improved the innocent’s access to justice or edged it far out of affordable reach?

 

About The Author

John Spencer is Director of Spencers Solicitors in Derbyshire whose practice deals with all types of accident claims and personal injury cases. John is a former Chairman of MASS and an Executive Committee member and fellow of APIL.

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information by Beecham Peacock, Solicitors

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Mutually beneficial relationships between law firms and charities
Irwin Mitchell, Solicitors

Law firms provide a valuable resource to any community through legal counsel, but companies like Irwin Mitchell also strive to go beyond that. This multi-location firm has demonstrated through several charitable initiatives how other legal teams can integrate community causes into their overall mission. By taking into account the scope, potential benefits and diverse strategies for supporting communities in which they establish their offices, Irwin Mitchell and other firms are rewriting the rulebook for giving back.

Why create charities?

The first answer that may come to mind is publicity, but this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the benefits of integrating business with charitable causes. Law firms that make a sincere investment in the community often find that integrating and collaborating with community charities means that they get to reap the benefits along with the rest of the community. They often start by identifying a need that has gone relatively unaddressed in a community — such as challenges in urban development, insufficient educational funding or populations at risk — and then work to find a way to integrate the cause into their brands. And since their patrons make up the community that they serve — and are often affected by issues like these — many businesses that take the time to give to charities find that they perform better overall.

How can law firms integrate and collaborate with charities?

There are several ways to work with not-for-profit organisations. The most recognisable team effort may be sponsorship of an event to raise money, awareness or both. Especially if your law firm has a strong community presence, this method can effectively boost recognition for the charity of your choice.  You could also donate directly; because many charities lack the financial resources that they need to cover overhead costs, cash is always appreciated.

Irwin Mitchell has also shown recently how meaningful it can be for a law firm to donate something even more precious than money — time. In April of this year, a group of lawyers from the firm decided to make waves by participating in a shark dive that raised more than £2,200 for KIDS, an organisation that aids children and young adults with disabilities. By facing sand tiger sharks that measured ten feet in length, the group was able to bring attention to the cause of KIDS while putting faces on both their law office reputation and the charitable organisation. The event was an example of a creative and completely unique way to bring funds to a good cause.

Whether employees volunteer their time independently or join together to think of a way to integrate their brand with a charity, law firms that invest in the communities where they set up office find that their actions are not only morally commendable but also pragmatic. A strong community gives back to the businesses that support it, making a mutual relationship better for both in the long run.

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Hat Tip for pic  @Benjaminfgray

New face of British justice: Eddie Stobart lorry boss who judge called incompetent

  • Haulage firm to bid for millions in legal aid work after Ministry of Justice revolution
  • Judge condemned Eddie Stobart law chief for being ‘cavalier and slapdash’
  • Middle England is hardest hit as families with £37k disposable income barred from aid

A haulage firm boss described as ‘slapdash’ and ‘incompetent’ by a High Court judge intends to become the new face of legal criminal defence work in the UK.

An interesting article from The Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday – worth reading.

AND… this editorial from The Observer…

Cutting legal aid is the surest way to threaten justice

Lawyers are vehemently opposed to the new system and they are right to be concerned

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Cartoon by Charles Pugsley Fincher J.D. a Texas lawyer and artist

Dear Reader,

My Vapidity Beyond The Call Of Duty award for last week must go to the Westminster, Oxford and Bullingdon Club educated Mr Harry Mount – who even has a whole Wikipedia entry to himself.

I marvelled as I read the nonsense he wrote about the legal aid reforms in his seminal article in The Spectator: Take it from a former barrister: Chris Grayling is right to reform legal aid“There’s only one problem with Chris Grayling’s legal reforms – they don’t go far enough”

It is fair to say that Mr Mount’s absurd article drew the attention of the lawyers on twitter and elsewhere – derision and ridicule in the main. There is, after all, absolutely no point in getting angry with buffoonery. I particularly enjoyed Simon Myerson QC’s elegant evisceration of the article in the comments section – a must read.

Mr Mount did a pupillage but did not proceed to tenancy. He also writes for The Daily Mail, I understand. Research did not appear to be Mr Mount’s strongpoint in the article according to experienced practitioners who commented on the article.

I did enjoy this:  Justice ‘Overrated’, claims Justice Secretary

THIS IS EXCELLENT satire on legal aid reforms (BBC Radio 4 )… John Finnemore (Hat Tip to @taxbod) listen from 11 minutes in…

And on a more serious note, before I go on to lose the plot completely… a bit of serious law content on the Legal Aid Reforms

Obiter J: Some responses to MoJ consultation on Transforming legal aid

theintrigant: Fourth Letter to the Lord Chancellor

That is probably enough serious stuff for the present…onwards and upwards…or downwards, depending on your viewpoint of such matters…

Most UK and US lawyers are fairly measured in their approach to putting themselves forward by way of advertising or using social media as a platform for their views and writings.

NOT so this US lawyer: ADAM REPOSA: Lawyer, Patriot, Champion – You really don’t want to get in his way.  A truly astonishing advertisement – available on YouTube.  Do have a look if you haven’t seen it already.  You will laugh, I am sure. You may bang your head on the table afterwards, though.

It isn’t just the experienced lawyers who want in on the ‘unusual way to practice’. Legal Cheek covered the case of a Freshfields trainee:

THE FRESHFIELDS TRAINEE SELLING INSIDER TRAINING CONTRACT INTERVIEW TIPS FOR £150 A POP

A spokesperson for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer told Legal Cheek: “We are taking the matter very seriously and have started an investigation.”

Some weeks ago I did a podcast with ex-Tory MP and barrister Jerry Hayes – who was most eloquent and amusing about Grayling’s legal aid reforms.  I am pleased to draw your attention to a post he wrote in Legal Cheek:  ‘I HEARD A VOICE WHISPER: “WHAT A GHASTLY PORTRAIT OF INSUFFERABLE ARROGANCE” – AND I REALISED HE MEANT ME’

The law just keeps on giving…

RollonFriday reports: “The University (née College) of Law has banned students from using electronic cigarettes in exam rooms after several were spotted puffing away during assessments. Authorities sent the following strongly-worded email to the GDL intake after University spies reported that several nicotine addicts were smoking e-cigs under exam conditions” Read….

RollonFriday notes: A Cambridge University law exam has caused a furore in the national press because of its explicit content.

I can’t really see what the fuss is about.  Criminal lawyers have to deal with some very unpleasant issues – the exam question is fairly mild in terms of examples of criminal behaviour?  But…hey… it gave RoF a chance to do some ‘Breaking News’ and mock the tabloids – rightly.

Apropos of absolutely nothing… I used to set Contract and Sale of Goods law examinations – marking some, it has to be said, imagining myself with a square of black silk (A Black Cap) on top of my head.   I may have had a different life had I been an academic in the field of criminal law or, for that matter, chosen to be a criminal mastermind like Professor Moriarty

It isn’t all bad news for the legal profession.  At least one Tory MP is concerned about assisting the legal profession…

This tweet prompted Mark Lewis, a very experienced media lawyer, to suggest…

Isn’t a threat to sue for libel before anything is published rather menacing? @NadineDorriesMP@mjhsinclair#freespeech#chillingeffect

I had a heavy (and strange) week last week… but I did manage to comment acerbically on the Grayling legal aid reforms…

Right… orf for a walk.  No doubt, while I am away, Nicholas Witchell will be standing around outside a London hospital – pointlessly – waiting for some Duke of Edinburgh action so that BBC News can cover it ad nauseam.  No doubt, also – my emails will be read by GCHQ…aided and abetted by the United States drone hovering over the River Medway as I write..

I shall return on the morrow with more ‘tales’…

Have a good evening..

Best, as always

Charon

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3 Things To Remember When Preparing For Divorce
Thomas Chaytor Solicitors 

A divorce is never an easy process to go through. With emotions high, finances at stake and, if children are involved, their custody up in the air, it is understandable that finding agreeable ground is not always an easy process.

If you have or are contemplating filing for a divorce from you partner, it is always good to know what to expect throughout the procedure and what things you may be able to prepare for. Whilst there is no guarantee of a smooth and problem-free process, it is important to understand the consequences and consider every possibility before acquiring a divorce.

Divorce Preparation 

Whilst there is no such thing as a ‘simple divorce’, acquiring the services of a qualified and reputable solicitors will ensure that your divorce is carried out fairly and in consensus with all parties involved. Ensure you acquire the services of an established divorce specialist solicitor, as their experience and expertise will help to guide and advise you throughout the process.

What many people are unsure of is what a divorce will actually involve. Amid tales of costly, argumentative and outrageous disagreements, the process itself is far less intimidating and constructive results can be achieved responsively.

What many people want is a quick and resolved resolution, which is why; here is a basic guide on what you can do to help prepare for the divorce process.

#1 – Gather Financial Info

If you are able to organise your finances before the divorce is underway, you can begin to gain control over the financial expectancy of the divorce. Obtaining a divorce is not cheap and the longer the procedure goes on, the more solicitor costs can begin to add up.

Outline any debts you owe and make sure you have invoices and receipts of purchases and bills as well any account information. It may be worth closing or freezing any joint accounts, in order to prevent your spouse from using the account as well as running up charges that you may be held responsible for. This will protect both parties involved.

#2 – Don’t Move Out

This may go through your thoughts and unless there is a form of abuse, by moving out you could inadvertently affect the outcome of your divorce.

By moving out, you could affect the interest that you have in property. It is important to remain strong and should you have no alternative but to move out, continue to pay a portion of your mortgage payment and document your contributions. This can affect a decision on property distribution as well as child custody.

#3 – Children Are Always The First Priority

It is important to remember this at every stage of your divorce. Remain on your best behaviour as a divorce can often mean being put under a microscope. Ensure you do nothing to affect the outcome and don’t provide your spouse with ammunition.

A divorce can be a stressful process for all involved, and none so more so than for the children involved. Consider their needs at all times and ensure that their requirements are met. Don’t stop being a parent!

Preparation is key

Whilst there are no shortcuts when it comes to a divorce, remembering the above will only help you prepare for your divorce and always acquire the experience and expertise of a reputable divorce solicitor firm.

Phil Warrington writes on what to expect from the divorce procedure as well as things to remember when preparing for a divorce; with thanks to Thomas Chaytor Solicitors, reputable and established solicitors who specialise in family law, child law and divorce proceedings.

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The #SAVEUKJUSTICE demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice yesterday was well attended.  Coverage of the event has been extensive and well dealt with in the law blogs

A few observations….

The unified stance taken by the Bar and Law Society has been a remarkable feature of the campaign.  Leading lights from the legal profession have given time and thought to putting the message across through blogs and on twitter. Many bloggers have written on the subject.  Patrick Torsney has a comprehensive listing of blogs written by lawyers and others from the legal blogging community. 

Unfortunately, the extensive use of the #SAVEUKJUSTICE hashtag on Twitter served to irritate some, including lawyers, and the PR was almost certainly not sufficiently directed to the issue of fairness – at times, the message seemed to focus on how little the lawyers were being paid which is not a message likely to receive sympathy from some members of the public.

The petition, as of today, stands at a remarkable 79,000. But there are many thousands more lawyers – so it should have been relatively straightforward to get the 100,000 signatures needed to persuade Parliament to debate The Lord Chancellor’s plans? On the assumption that many thousands of signatories to the petition would have come from non-lawyer members of the public through publicity being generated by lawyers on Twitter – and, importantly, Stephen Fry, Bianca Jagger and other ‘celebrities’ who punted the petition actively, pleasingly – it must follow that a good 40,000+ lawyers did not sign the petition.

I have spoken to  quite a few commercial and City lawyers recently.   Some said, predictably, that they were not really aware of the issues and did not use twitter. A couple took a more hostile line and felt that the message of the criminal lawyers was wrong and too oriented to their own jobs and not the interests of the public.  Others have said – and I agree with this latter stance – the message could have been addressed more to the needs of the people and the importance of preserving the Rule of Law rather than ‘profession oriented’.  The message was not clear enough, they argued:  There was a ‘whiff of’ loss of law jobs with the reduction from 1600 to 400 firms which may have  given the impression that this reduction was more important than justice itself.

Certainly, I saw quite a few tweets along the lines of ‘Lawyers have been keeping access to justice exclusive with high fees for years’ 

I am not a practitioner.  I am a mildy reclusive observer.  But I do believe that the criminal barristers and solicitors are right.  The Rule of Law will be compromised by Grayling’s reforms and I do believe that these criminal lawyers, the majority of whom do not get that well paid – less than £50k a year I have seen quoted – are regarding the profession as vocational rather than commercial.

The City and large commercial law firms turn over billions.  Their lawyers are well paid – very well paid.  A newly qualified lawyer at a ‘Magic Circle’ firm starts at £63,000+. So what?  They run commercial businesses.  Their clients are men and women of commerce, large corporations, banks, in a global legal market.  A cynic might observe – and I am a cynic at times – that commercial and City lawyers are more interested in the ‘Certainty of Law’ rather than the Rule of Law.  I once heard a senior commercial lawyer say that “Contract law is not about ‘Justice’.  We want certainty so that we can advise clients to avoid  well established  legal pitfalls and operate at the lawful edge of the legal envelope.”

I also heard  words to the effect “Any bloody idiot can tell a client what they cannot do . We don’t want bloody idiots.  We want good lawyers who can tell the client what they can do within the law as it is set down by Parliament. “

The City / Commercial firm practice is a different world – but it is not a world paid for by taxpayers. Of course, the City and commercial firms benefit from the reputation of our legal system and ‘Rule of Law’.  As a friend of mine @taxbod observed bluntly on twitter only t’other night  – “But yet, any of those civil/commercial flog the British justice system when whoring to Russian chavs etc.” Sometimes… blunt… is good.

Legal Aid is paid for by tax payers, most legal aid lawyers are not well paid.  A legal system where people are not given a fair hearing – because they cannot afford lawyers, civil and criminal – is not a fair legal system

That being said – congratulations to all – lawyers and non-lawyers alike – for a good campaign.  The Ministry of Justice seems to have won the mainstream media PR war with their coverage in The Daily Mail yesterday:

£15m for just one firm on legal aid gravy train Scale of taxpayers’ bill revealed as Coalition vows to save £200m

  •  Ministry of Justice released a breakdown of payments to lawyers

  • Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says system is ‘not sustainable’

  • Demonstrators waved placards reading ‘justice is not for sale’

But the campaign is not over.  Surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility to get over 100,000 signatures?  Even if lawyers have to get on the phone to non-criminal law lawyers?

And lawyer or non-lawyer, if you would like to sign the petition – you may do so here

And… you can keep up to date with developments by following @TheCriminalBar on twitter

A selection of links:

The Criminal Bar Association:  Do read the Monday Message 03.06.13 – some real gems in there.

Obiter J : Some responses to MoJ consultation on Transforming legal aid

Legal Cheek: LAWYERS PROVE THEY CAN PULL OFF A DEMO – AS BRITAIN DISCUSSES #PUBLICW*NKINGONYOUTUBE
The Legal Cheek post includes some marvellous pictures and recordings of speeches by Carl Gardner, author of the Head of Legal Blog.

Head of Legal:  Geoffrey Robertson QC: there is a hidden agenda

Head of Legal:  Michael Fordham QC: the avocado of justice

Michael Fordham QC was I think the star of today’s “Saving Justice” demo outside the Ministry of Justice. His speech was both angry and funny – he called the Ministry of Justice “wankers”. And his avocado of justice, odd as it sounds, went down a storm with his audience.

The Bar Council: Bar Council responds to Legal Aid consultation

Circuit Judges: Critique of the proposals from the Judiciary

 The Law Society: Law Society responds to legal aid consultation

Storify of the SaveUKJustice demonstration 4th June 2013

And…as Legal Cheek noted:  AS MOJ CONSULTATION ON LEGAL AID CLOSES, THE UK CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS PLACED ON EBAY

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