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Monday, 30 April 2012

Teenage Cancer - an unspoken subject?

In today’s Guardian, The Teenage Cancer Trust reports that young cancer sufferers tend to visit their doctor with symptoms at least four times before being referred for investigations.

The Trust’s research talks about a serious problem of delayed diagnosis in the 13 – 24 age groups.

It does not take any great medical knowledge to appreciate that delay in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is an extremely dangerous thing. The quicker the treatment the more likely the patient is to receive quick and effective treatment.

One report in the US Medical Journal – The Oncologist in 2007 refers to the poorer outcomes in cancer treatment of young people and mentions delay in diagnosis as a possible explanation –

So this isn’t just a UK problem.

I have been involved in many cases over the years where failure to diagnose has led to tragic but avoidable outcomes.

So what is the answer?

  1. Education of young people – a person who knows the risk is less likely to have their concerns dismissed. This is a subject where people are desperate for ‘good news’.
  2. Educate doctors – the Guardian report mentions 3 strike policy so that if a young person attends three times with the same symptoms they should be referred,
  3. Be aware of and support the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust - This can be achieved through the curriculum and by the great work of charities like The Teenage Cancer Trust -

Friday, 27 April 2012

Today England - tomorrow the World!!

A fascinating conference took place at Harvard Law School on 12th April on the subject of – The Global Legal Profession. The conference focussed on the need for a Global Legal Profession and how to train global lawyers.

Now part of me would love to be able call myself a Solicitor of THE WORLD, rather than the more humble Solicitor of England and Wales. But vanity apart, the idea is rather scary. I can see why multi-national companies who trade across borders might be attracted to the idea of a single legal system that they could rely on.

But for most the world this misses the point of what a legal system is all about. It is to ensure the smooth and safe running of a society. That must be affected by local cultural factors. What might be a major concern in one region will have a different emphasis somewhere else. So how could the laws on divorce in one country be brought into line with another where the philosophy is completely different?

It is true that many of the world’s biggest law firms operate across jurisdictions but they have to work within the laws of that country.

I think that that is where my biggest concern would lie. Globalisation, in reality, normally means exporting of the standards of the West and in particular those of the USA. It is interesting that this initiative is coming from the USA’s top Law School. I suspect that a global legal system and global lawyers would be heavily skewed in favour of western standards and culture. How would those promoting this idea react if there was a movement to create global laws that did not benefit the West?

Such a move would also make the law and lawyers even more removed from ordinary citizens. Jonathan Goldsmith, Secretary General of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe writes in the Law society’s Gazette – ‘…it is not the global citizen – the person on the street in India who needs a will,, or the abused wife in Brazil who needs a divorce let alone the man or woman on the Clapham Omnibus in the UK – who is talking about a global legal profession.’

The Law is there to protect the rights of all members of society. Any move to take issues to a global stage would undermine that aim and only benefit the wealthiest countries at the expense of local citizens everywhere.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Where there's a will!


Have you made a will?

This is a matter we all think about but put off to another day. Me included!

Now I’m not writing this to say you should. I assume that is obvious to most of us. But the real question is - who does it for you? Will writing is not an activity which is presently reserved to lawyers. This means that anyone can set themselves up in business writing wills even if they have no legal qualifications.

This can lead to major complications. In fact it is a minefield.

There are very strict rules concerning the proper execution of a will. The reason is obvious – by the time a will is found out to be ineffective it is too late to correct it. So errors such as having the incorrect number of witnesses, or having a beneficiary as a witness, can make the whole document worthless. This can have a devastating effect keeping many from inheriting what the deceased person intended.

So let’s say Mr. Blogs has fallen out with his close relatives and wants to leave all of his money to a neighbour who has looked after him for years. He makes a will that effect but it turns out that the will is not properly executed, or has been lost altogether because the will writer has disappeared. The neighbour may get nothing and the estranged family inherit everything.

In a recent report the Legal Services Board – the overall regulators for legal services have called for this work to be far more closely monitored. This is not before time. Making a will is the only opportunity a person has to say who will get what they leave behind. If shoddy work ruins that intention the ones at fault should be accountable.

Anybody can make a mistake. So just because a will writer is regulated, that does not make them perfect. But what regulation will provide is protection for the consumer. Law firms are subject to strict regulation. It is also compulsory for lawyers to have indemnity insurance. So if they do mess up a will they can be held to account. The problem with entirely unregulated will writers is that there may no comeback at all if something goes wrong.

So this is very good news for all consumers.

And I really must get round to making a will.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

More Good News for Asbestos Victims - for now...

I have written before about the horrors of asbestos exposure.

Workers in the UK, especially in the 60s and 70s were regularly and heavily exposed to this most lethal of substances. I have heard tales of pipe workers and laggers covered head to toe like snowmen. Others have talked of having asbestos ‘snowball’ fights during lunch breaks.

Many of these workers have gone on to suffer from terrible illnesses including lung cancer and especially mesothelioma which is almost always fatal and is only caused by asbestos exposure. The illnesses can take up to 40 years to develop. So many who worked with it, will become ill over the next few years.

The Government’s attacks on all compensation claimants have included those who will die or lose loved ones from mesothelioma. The whole point of the assault on claimants is to discourage so called spurious claims and the mythical compensation culture. This has been done by moves to force claimants to lose up to 25% of their damages to go towards legal costs no longer recoverable from the insurers.

But nobody on either side of that debate would dream of suggesting that mesothelioma claimants are not genuine victims. So they have had the strongest case for being an exception.

Exhaustive lobbying now seems to have at least a limited effect. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly has now confirmed that the implementation of this change, scheduled for April 2013, will be delayed for further consideration. Shadow Justice Minister Sadique Khan said - "Someone suffering this horrible disease is not making up their cancer to make a quick buck. They cannot possibly be part of the compensation culture."

What is alarming is that Mr. Djanogly is still committed to the change in principle and is consulting with ‘insurers and other stakeholders’. Well it is clear what the insurers’ view will be. They want to pay as little as possible. I hope that ‘other stakeholders’ will include those representing victims.

These proposals will not save the taxpayer a penny. In fact the taxpayer will lose out. If victims are deterred from claiming then the treasury will lose the chance to recover disability benefits from the insurance companies. It will also mean that those who require ongoing care will need to rely on the NHS rather than have this paid by the wrongdoer via their insurance.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Art for Justice

I was in Cuba on holiday a few years ago. I have to say that Havana is one of the most fascinating cities I have ever seen. It is as if it is stuck in a 1950s time warp. The cars and the architecture are from another age. That is the age before the Castro Government won power in 1959 and the US blockade began.

It was during this trip that I became aware of the injustice suffered by the Miami 5.

They are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González. Cuba had been subjected to a series of terrorists attacks from extremists based in Miami. It is suspected that they were behind several thousand killings including the blowing up of a Cuban Airplane in the 1970s.

The Miami 5 were sent to the USA by Cuba in an attempt to infiltrate and frustrate the plans of the terrorist group. They were subsequently arrested and accused of espionage against the USA. They were tried in Miami despite Defence pleas for a different venue. This was because of the anti Cuban lobby in Miami which effectively meant that a fair trial was not possible.

Despite the absence of any evidence that they had obtained any improper information they were convicted and given extremely severe prison sentences.

This is one of the great unsung injustices of recent years.

There is more about their story here –

In 2010, one of my Partners in EAD solicitors, Tom Doherty, visited CUBA and saw the work being done on their behalf.

This week sees the opening of an art exhibition in London to highlight the cause and to raise funds.

EAD solicitors is proud to be a co-sponsor of this event. If you are in the area please visit the exhibition. Please also find out about and support them.

Fighting against injustice wherever it is found.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Ending Legal aid for Children - a serious rant!

The coalition government has confirmed its determination to deprive children of the right to legal aid to pursue medical negligence claims.

When the bill was discussed in the House of Lords a number of amendments were put forward which include protecting legal aid in these cases, at least to cover the cost of getting medical reports. Ministers have now said that they intend to ignore the amendment and invoke one of the worst attacks on the legal rights of vulnerable children that I have ever come across.

A few years ago I acted for the family of a baby who had jaundice following birth. He was negligently discharged home without proper investigations and suffered from a serious condition related to the jaundice and which led to massive and permanent brain damage. He requires care for the rest of his life. Before an action could be mounted a series of investigations had to be carried out. We had to find out what had gone wrong. Who was at fault? Was the brain injury caused by the negligence or would it have happened anyway. These investigations ran to several thousand pounds. That expense was properly met by legal aid. The Trust eventually admitted liability and he received damages exceeding £2m.

Without the benefit of legal aid to cover the investigation that case would never have got off the ground. What parent could afford those expenses? Lawyers will always be willing to risk their own charges if they think a case has a reasonable chance. But it can cost a lot of money by way of medical reports before you get to that position.

How many seriously injured children will now be deprived of justice?

And how much money will be saved?

Do ministers hope to shave millions off the NHS budget by not having to meet claims where doctors have been negligent?

This is a truly shocking policy and the battle to oppose or reverse it will not be given up.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Dangers of Cosmetic Surgery

Recent years have seen a massive increase in the number of people having cosmetic surgery. TV programmes like Extreme Makeover with dramatic outcomes have clearly contributed to this trend.

But cosmetic surgery is no less risky than any other surgery.

I know that sounds obvious but it is tempting to think that it can be an answer to many problems with little danger. But any surgery involves cutting open the body and that carries big risks. These risks should always be fully explained to the patients.

This is demonstrated by the tragic case of Gary Cooper. He was a family man who was desperate to lose weight. He underwent gastric by-pass surgery in Manchester under the impression that it was a straightforward procedure and that he would be in and out in a matter of days. He had his operation and was indeed sent home. He quickly became very ill and died within days. He had suffered a leak at the site of the operation.

The NHS Trust admitted that the standard of care that he received was unacceptable.

His family was yesterday awarded a six figure sum in damages.

This seems to have been a combination of a failure to explain the risks and to then carry out proper checks before he was sent home.

Surgery can only take place with a patient’s consent. That consent can only be given if the patient knows what is involved including the risk of injury. In a case where the surgery is life saving then the patient will probably agree to face the risk. But the less essential the surgery the greater the need to ensure that patients know what can go wrong. Sadly that didn’t happen with Mr Cooper resulting in tragic consequences.

It should also not be forgotten that with the proposed cuts to Legal Aid, cases like this will be much harder to pursue.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Getting lawyers on the telly!

I have spoken before about the importance of open justice. Not only should justice be done, it should be seen to be done. This is why I am so strongly against any proposals for secret courts. So it is encouraging to see that cameras have finally beeb allowed in a UK court. Scottish TV station STV, yesterday, broadcast Lord Bracadale as he gave killer David Kilroy a life sentence for murder. The moment was televised as it was felt to be in the public interest.

This comes after other recent developments have seen the court permitting tweeting from court –

There is always a risk that televising court proceedings can turn them into a floor-show for defendants or even lawyers! And I have to admit that I followed the OJ Simpson and Louise Woodward Trials as if they were soap operas.

But this does not make it wrong. Indeed it emphasises that the public do want to see justice in action.

Our Courts are often seen as strange and distant places where a strange language is spoken and fancy dress is worn.

The opening of the courts to old and new media can only help dispel these wrong ideas. Similar false ideas find their way into our thinking by the way the legal process is sometimes dramatised on TV. So let’s have the real thing instead.

Of course, there will always be cases of particular sensitivity where a judge will feel that it is not appropriate. But that decision should be one for the judge. Otherwise the sooner we see justice being done, the better.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Norwegian Horror Story

I still remember that morning last July when I was on holiday and woke to the news of a terrible gun incident in Norway. It was one of those awful days when the news got gradually worse and worse and the death toll rose to a staggering 77.

It is hard to imaging anything worse than what the victims and families went through. But having to hear his disgusting justification must come close. Using his trial as a platform for his extremist views he told the court –

"The attacks on July 22 were a preventive strike. I acted in self-defence on behalf of my people, my city, my country; I therefore demand to be found innocent of the present charges."

Of course we all know that those young victims were no danger to him or anybody else and that this was the act of a chilling supremacist.

I have to say I am surprised that he has been given such a public opportunity to share these views. He admits that he killed all of the victims. He admits that he did it intentionally. He has been found not to be insane. In this country he would have no legal defence to murder on the basis of his rants. Seeking to justify actions by reference to a clearly warped standard comes nowhere near adding to up to a defence. That is certainly the case here and I cannot imagine Norway is any different. 

Now I am a lifelong defender of the right of free speech. But this isn’t an issue of free speech. That is not what the court is for. The purpose of a court hearing is to decide whether or not he is guilty of one of the worst crimes of murder that we have seen and to sentence him accordingly.

We all know what the outcome will be. He will be convicted and will receive a life sentence. There is no other issue to be decided by a court.

So it would have been better all round if he had not had the platform to have the whole world’s press reporting his views. And his victim’s families would have had the opportunity to begin to rebuild.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Home on the night bus

How would you feel if you discovered that your elderly relative had been sent home from hospital in the middle of the night and left to make their own way home? According to the Times Newspaper this is happening to an alarming number of patients. According to some reports the figures could be as high as 8,000 a week.

Now some patients can cope with this. Following the birth of both of my sons I was quite happy to make my own way home. But it wasn’t easy getting a taxi at 4.00am and I would certainly be worried if my 85 year old mother was left to go home on the night bus.

The figures will include elderly and vulnerable patients who will have little or no support to get them home and to help them when they get there.

This is not only scandalous, it is also potentially negligent. If a hospital sends home a clearly vulnerable patient without appropriate support, and the patient suffers harm, then there is a potential claim for damages for negligence.

The NHS has acknowledged that this practice is unacceptable. Medical director Sir Bruce Keogh has told the Guardian –

"As health professionals we all agree that patients should be treated with compassion, so it is simply not acceptable to send people home from hospital late at night when they may have no family members nearby to support them,"

This illustrates an important issue. If the injured patient sues for damages then there is a risk that they will somehow be made to feel responsible. That they are draining money from the NHS. That they are part of a compensation culture. The reality is that this is a simple case of neglect which can be easily remedied – don’t do it.

It has often been the case that it is only when legal claims are pursued that failings come to light and standards improve. But we should not have to wait until the damage is done.

Whilst there may well be legal claims most people would prefer not to be placed in that position in the first place.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Honest Lawyer

Hands up if you think the expression Honest Lawyer is a contradiction in terms!

It is fair to say that lawyers have never had the best press in the world. Many people wrongly quote Shakespeare in Henry VI -  "The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers,".

In fact the actual context relates to the role of lawyers in protecting the rule of law. But it probably reflects what many people think.

As in all areas of life there are good lawyers and bad. But in my 30 odd years as a solicitor, not only have I never been out to make a fortune at clients’ expense, I don’t know of any others either.

The problem is that whenever politicians or the media need someone to blame the lawyers fit the bill. So the mythical compensation culture is the fault of no win no fee lawyers. The drain on the NHS is blamed on clinical negligence lawyers. Lawyers are blamed for defending the rights of those accused of crimes and those seeking asylum. It seems that if there is any group in society that they want to attack the finger is pointed at the easier target – the lawyers. In the age of bankers’ bonuses and phone hacking this all seems a bit dated.

Most lawyers I know are just working long hours to achieve a good result for their clients. Sometimes that means speaking up for the unpopular but in a democracy they are entitled to a voice.

Now I am not calling for a – Be Kind to Lawyers Day

But there are many myths about lawyers and the law. To be honest they have not always done themselves favours in the past. But we live in a different age. So as I mentioned a few weeks ago – don’t be scared of seeing a lawyer. Ask questions. Be clear about what you want. And tell them if you are not happy.

Fighting for your rights – honest..

Friday, 13 April 2012

One Court for you. No Court for me.

Two things seem to be happening in our Justice system.

On the one hand it is becoming harder and harder for ordinary people to access it. This has happened in a few different ways. Over the last two years we have seen a series of court closures. So in Southport, a reasonably sized down of over 90,000 people there is no longer a County Court or a Magistrates Court. It is necessary to travel to Preston or Liverpool which involves a long journey especially on public transport.

That situation is even worse in rural areas including Wales and Cornwall.

On top of this there are proposals to severely restrict public access to court offices. Some will remain open for only a couple of hours a day.

Then there is the problem of cost. As we know Legal Aid is being removed from whole areas of law. This reduces the access to legal assistance and makes the whole system even more distant and alien.

Now we are, of course, in difficult times. But, as Heather Brooke pointed out in the Guardian this week, money is being found for development of the courts at the higher end.

So on the other hand, we have seen £300m spent on a new court complex for wealthy foreign businesses. 

Whilst there are advantages in encouraging rich companies to litigate in this country we do have to ask whether it is worth the cost.

Is it right that for most of the population there is an ever decreasing access to justice and the courts when at the same time millions are spent on a new court building  for the rich and powerful?

There was a time when justice was only available to the wealthy. There is a real risk of a perception that we are returning to those days.

We have a proud system of justice in this country. One which has been adopted across the world. But if ordinary people cannot see that this is available to them then it defeats the whole object.

We know that justice comes at a price. The question is what price? And who pays?

fighting for your rights

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bigamy 'Wives' Meet on Facebook

I have spoken before about the legal dangers of tweeting first and thinking later –

But we still need to get this important message. Whatever is posted on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else for that matter is read in the real world, by real people and can have real legal consequences. It never ceases to amaze me when people engage in very public arguments of Facebook. It is as though they want to make a point to a particular person but forget that their entire friend list is also in the audience!

I imagine that was the case when a Plaid Cymru councillor libelled an opponent on twitter and had to shell out over £50k in damages and costs last year, or when the young student mentioned in my pervious blog tweeted offensive comments and ended up behind bars.

It is as if there is a belief that Social Networking happens in a virtual world where no one gets upset or there is no comeback.

One person who should have taken more care is Mr. Alan O’Neil. He is facing bigamy charges in the USA. He was found out when his two wives discovered each other via the "People You May Know" feature on Facebook!

Now that is a very extreme combination of criminal behaviour, stupidity and bad luck.

But the message is still clear. Be aware that what you post can have serious consequences.

Which begs the question – is it worth it? Well I can’t talk with the amount of tweeting that I do! Social Networking is with us to stay and has changed the way we communicate. The important thing is to remember to take as much care with what we publicly post as we would if we shouted it out in a crowded bar. Or maybe take a deep breath and ask - 'Do I really want to repeat this in a witness box?'.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Health and Safety - mything the point!

A few months ago the Prime Minister declared his intention - 'kill off the health and safety culture for good'. The argument was that it was too easy to pursue claims for injuries at work and that Health and Safety Laws were out of control.

For those dealing with cases for those who were injured in the workplace, this was a long way from the reality. In fact most places of work have been considerably safer over the last 30 years or so since the Health and Safety Executive was established in the 1970s. We have seen the introduction of many regulations that have saved lives and reduced injuries at work. These include regulations relating to Asbestos and other hazardous substances, Noise exposure, working at height, working with keyboards – the list goes on.

This is something for which we should all be grateful and certainly not something to be killed off.

These attacks on Health and Safety are often fed by press reports about the effect that they supposedly have on ordinary activities.

It is encouraging therefore that the HSE have now published a top 10 Health and Safety Myths. We are assured that none of the following are true -  

The full article can be found at

We need to separate the reality from the myths which are spun by those who wish to de-regulate the workplace.

If employers disregard regulations enacted to protect workers then they and their insurers should pay the cost. We should celebrate the real Health and Safety culture which saves lives and not tolerate the use of cheap stories to undermine the grat changes that have happened over the last 30 years.

Working with you

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Real Cost of Medical Negligence

We are being constantly reminded about a so called compensation culture in the country and the cost of having to deal with claims. This relentless criticism of victims can create the misunderstanding that it is their fault. This is particularly the case in Medical Negligence where victims who claim are made to feel responsible for draining the resources of the NHS.

At the same time the government is squeezing victims further by severely restricting access to legal aid.

In all of this the point is rarely made that the best way to avoid Medical Claims is to avoid the blunders in the first place. This is highlighted by the report in today’s Guardian  that the NHS estimates that it will have to pay out £235.4m to 60 babies who suffered brain damage after negligent failure to diagnose and treat hypoglycaemia – low blood sugar. This is a preventable complication which should be identified provided straightforward testing is carried out.

According to one midwife in the Guardian report –

"Hypoglycaemia is something that in the majority of cases we should be detecting and preventing."

The compensation figures mentioned seem high but these children, who lives are devastated, will require 24 hr care for life.

These cases emphasise again the need for families to have access to expert legal advice with legal aid. Just the cost of investigating the case can run into thousands. These are cases which cry out for justice at the public expense especially when a lack of investment in midwives could be the cause.

Fighting for your rights

Monday, 9 April 2012

The mysterious case of the lost client

I once lost a client in court.

Now to lose a case is annoying and frustrating but an accepted professional hazard. To lose a client is a far more alarming thing.

Mrs. B had a rock solid case against the Local Council for housing disrepair. She had got to her later years without ever setting foot in a courtroom. So it was a new and unnerving experience. I duly met her at the door and escorted her to a conference room where she met her barrister who was wigged and robed and ready for action. He went over the fairly straightforward facts. He assured her that all would be well and excused himself to deal with another matter that was on ahead of us.

I went to make a phone call. When I returned she was gone. I waited long enough to explain a trip to the ladies but still no Mrs. B. I began to search with increasing anxiety, of the sort you feel when a child wanders off on a busy beach. But no sign. The case was called and delayed but she did not show. Thankfully, an understanding opponent agreed to an adjournment as something serious must have happened. This was before the days of mobile phones!

Later in the day I called round to her house and was met at the door by a very relaxed looking Mrs B. It turned out that she though that she had had her day in court. She thought that the nice man in the wig was the judge, that the conference room was the court and that it had all been over far more quickly than she had expected.

It is easy for lawyers to forget that we inhabit a world which is very alien to others. Why shouldn’t a man in a wig be a judge? We use language which might as well be from another planet. ‘We thank you for your letter of 7th instant and will consider the same.’ Instant what? Same as what?? No wonder a solicitor was once told by his client that all lawyers were like bananas – ‘Yellow, bent and hang round in bunches….’

Can I say that if you ever hear me using strange words that you have permission to grab me by the throat and tell me to speak normally! Lawyers are mostly ordinary men and women doing the best for their clients. If you ever feel that we are drifting into another dimension – just tell us.

And lawyers – make sure you always tell your clients what is happening. Mrs. B is still a recurring nightmare after 20 years..

We’ll never lose you!!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Game of Risk anyone?

Now not many of us will have come across The Information Tribunal. What is it? Well it is exactly what the name suggests. It is the forum for dealing with disputes arising out of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). So if a public body refuses a request for information, or to disclose a document, the matter can be taken to the Tribunal.

Most of us have come across the controversial NHS Bill, the comprehensive overhaul of the National Health Service that seems to be universally opposed by the medical profession. As part of those plans, a risk register was drafted. This document set out the dangers of the reforms and, not surprisingly, opponents of the bill want to see it. An opposition MP requested disclosure under FOI. The government, which is clearly less than enthusiastic about disclosing the risks, refused on the ground that the register was part of ‘policy and development’ and therefore exempt. They argue that disclosure might cause civil servants to less frank about pointing out possible pitfalls.

As citizens shouldn’t such risks be just what we want to know?

In a judgment published last week the Tribunal ordered disclosure on the ground that there was a very high public interest in knowing what the risks are.

This decision seems to confirm the whole point of FOI. If we are to be a truly open democracy then we should be entitled to see key documents especially those which demonstrates the risks of what our elected representatives are doing in our name.

The Department of Health do have a right to appeal but it is to be hoped that any higher tribunal takes a similarly sensible view.

Fighting for you rights

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Farewell beer tax!!

Something a bit lighter for the holiday.

Have you ever wondered what happens to old laws when they are not wanted any more? Are they buried miles below ground, are they sold off on eBay, are they displayed in museums?

In fact many just hang around on the statute book meaning that they remain law centuries later. Many of these are well reported such as it being illegal for anyone to die in the Houses of Parliament or for an MP to enter the House wearing a suit of armour.

It seems that is still technically against the law to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day or to fire a cannon near a dwelling house – does that mean it is legal somewhere else? Mind you we are not alone. The USA is a veritable treasure trove. In one town in Nevada it is illegal for a man with a moustache to kiss a woman and in another state is is illegal to pretend that your parents are rich!

Many of these old UK laws are finally to be laid to rest as over 800 are to be repealed including a beer tax! Apparently the oldest goes back to the 14th Century..

A spokesman from the Law Commission said –

"It saves time and costs for lawyers and others who need to know what the law actually is, and makes it easier for citizens to access justice."

Well lawyers don’t know every single law in existence, but it helps if some of the old ones are laid to rest.

Keeping up to date for you!!

Have a good holiday.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Secret Justice?

It seems that many of the cornerstones of our democracy are under threat.

Yesterday there was talk of government departments having access to our email accounts.

Today it is all about secret justice. In many ways this is even more alarming. These proposals would lead to a wave of secret courts i.e. those where we do not get to see or hear what is happening. Effectively the government would be able to dictate what evidence should be kept from us.

Open and independent justice has always been an important part of our legal system. A system of which we have been rightly proud and which has influenced systems across the world. Anybody coming before our courts has always been entitled to fairness,  justice and independent legal representation. How can evidence be challenged if the parties and legal representatives cannot see it?

Under these proposals evidence could be kept back even from somebody’s own chosen lawyer. The evidence would be considered by a select group known as Special Advocates who are themselves concerned that the proposals are unfair.

These extreme measures exist in terrorism related cases but the proposed changes would give ministers the right to use them in any case where they decide it is necessary. It should not be for the state to decide how justice is done and seen to be done.

The All Party Human Rights Committee has rightly expressed concerns, describing them as unnecessary and potentially damaging. Their Chair, Dr. Hywel Francis said - “Closed Material Procedures are inherently unfair and the Government has failed to show that extending their use might in some instances contribute to greater fairness.”

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has expressed concern – which is what we would expect from a Lib Dem Politician. But will they break rank?

This is something which should concern all of us and will need to be closely scrutinised.

Fighting for your rights

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Tweeting for spooks

It was just last week that I warned of the dangers of tweeting first and thinking later. Well the stakes might be even higher if the government has its way over extending internet surveillance.

Plans are afoot to introduce legislation with which will greatly increase the state’s powers to monitor our emails, tweets, Facebook postings, texts and pretty well anything we do online.

This is, of course, all under steps to protect us from terrorists. But it is not to be limited to suspects. It will be access to everything that we do. Under the present law a warrant is required to access the content of say emails. We are being assured that the new rules will only permit access to times, dates and addresses but it seems fanciful to suggest that this will not also involve the monitoring of content.

This is a huge invasion of our privacy and one does wonder what difference it will possibly make in enabling us to sleep safely in our beds. If the authorities suspect somebody then they can get a warrant. So why is this enhanced power to intrude needed? Despite re-assurances, do I trust a government to protect my data when ministers are seen placing confidential documents in a dustbin?

The plans could well fall foul of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 – the right to privacy. Now this can be overridden – ‘in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Now if you imagine how many emails are sent each day in the UK – millions? billions?  – then how much of what we do and say will have anything to do with national security? As the Guardian’s James Bell said yesterday it is like looking for a tiny needle in a much bigger haystack –

Politicians and the media dislike the Human Rights Act but the rights that it protects are yours and mine.

Fighting for your rights.

Legal Aid - expensive savings!

I posted last year on the false economy of the governments proposed cuts to Legal Aid. 

Since then, the bill has taken a hammering in the House of Lords with a record eleven defeats. Despite this the politicians remain determined to drive home the cuts. But there may be some concessions made and so it is still important to understand the issues – particularly where removal of legal aid will not produce savings and might even increase the cost to the taxpayer.

One example is in relation to Medical Negligence cases. Many victims need to resort to state benefits, especially those who are disabled or unable to work as a result of the negligence. Once a case is successfully pursued those benefits are repaid to the Treasury by the negligent party – for example the insurers of a GP who fails to diagnose a serious illness. The payments are made to the Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) which is part of the DWP. One outcome, presumably desired, of the removal of legal aid is that there will be a big reduction in claims. The knock on effect of this is that there will be a corresponding reduction in the amounts received by the CRU. So instead of the insurer meeting the cost of care, past and present, the burden will fall on the NHS. As far as I am aware no one has produced a report to say what the losses to the CRU will actually be.

Another increase in cost will be to the NHS itself and to the courts. Under the current system cases are screened by experienced lawyers. Only those which have merit are pursued. So the lawyers advising victims are able to filter out those cases which have no real prospect of winning. The NHS never, in fact, sees those cases. Once Legal Aid is removed, those who feel that there has been negligence will take their cases directly to the NHS and from there to the courts. Both bodies will face the burden of dealing with many more cases. It is estimated that a court hearing without lawyers takes about twice as long as one where they are involved.

Are we likely to see an increase in staff numbers or judges? It might be necessary, and if that happens where is the saving? Again, I have not seen any report of what the cost might be.

I hope that MPs will now begin to ask these questions.

In the meantime solicitors will continue to fight for the rights of victims however difficult that might become.