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New legal aid system called into question

A new digital legal aid system, set to be rolled out nationally in October, has been branded 'unfit for it's required purpose in it's current state' by the chair of family group Resolution at their recent annual conference.

The system was piloted in the north-east of England two years ago and is now set to become a compulsory step in the application process for civil legal aid in a matter of months.

Resolution chair Jo Edwards has been damning in her view of the new system. Stating it had been riddled with problems since it's introduction, she described the 'ill-fated project' as 'nothing short of a national scandal'.

Edwards said users would be unable to keep a record of their submissions with the current system and that it was so slow, it could take up to three times as long to navigate through than the current paper process.

The Legal Aid Agency introduced the new system as a digital means through which civil legal aid applications could be submitted.

A spokesperson for the agency said: 'We deliberately introduced a long lead-in before the system becomes mandatory to give firms time to prepare and train staff. We have worked closely with providers and have enhanced the system following feedback.'

The spokesperson added that continuous enhancements would also be made following the system's initial introduction.

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Users could not keep a record of what they had submitted and that the system was so slow it could take three times as long as the paper process.
Court of Appeal rejects challenge to criminal legal aid cuts

A coalition of criminal solicitors has lost an attempt to stop cut in legal aid contracts from 1,600 to 527.

A judicial review initiated by the Law Society, Criminal Laws Solicitors’ Association and London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) against the Ministry of Justice was rejected by the Appeal Court.

Solicitors' arguments

The solicitors’ bodies fighting the measures argued that the system is already overstretched and would deny many people access to legal representation.

Jonathan Black, the LCCSA’s president, said:

“We are staring into an abyss of rough justice. Unrepresented defendants will clog up our criminal courts and thousands of legal aid solicitors will lose their jobs, leaving legal advice deserts in parts of the country.”

The LCCSA also predicted that two thirds of criminal legal aid firms will be forced out of business. In addition to reducing the number of contracts, the Ministry of Justice plan to cut fees by 8.75 per cent. A fee reduction of the same level was made in March 2014.

Ministry of Justice view

The Ministry argues that there are too many firms operating in the market for criminal defence. Spreading the work around a smaller number of firms would allow them to make economies of scale and operate more cheaply.

The government has taken a number of steps to cut the legal aid bill since coming into power.

Next steps

The group of criminal solicitors plan to continue the fight by taking the case to the Supreme Court. However, a request for an injunction to be made suspending the process until the final outcome was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, formerly a lawyer himself, has previously claimed that Labour will shelve the plans for cuts if they are elected. However a recent contradiction of this statement has left his stance unclear, following claims that this may not be possible.

Solicitors have argued that the government should hold off putting the proposed cuts into action until, and if, they are re-elected. In the words of Robin Murray, vice-chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association

“It is undemocratic and unreasonable to expect firms to prepare for a highly complex bidding process for a scheme that might not happen.”

However, the Ministry of Justice seem intent on pushing on regardless. A spokesman said:

“We welcome today’s judgment and intend to continue with the tender for new criminal legal aid contracts …Our legal aid reforms are designed to ensure the system is fair for those who need it, the lawyers who provide services as part of it and importantly the taxpayers who ultimately pay for it.

We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and even after reform it will remain very generous – costing around £1.5bn a year”

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Parliamentary report on City Link collapse criticises insolvency system

A joint parliamentary report conducted in the wake of the insolvency of parcel delivery firm City Link has criticised current insolvency law for being weighted against workers.

The company, which had been experiencing losses for several years, called in the administrators on 24th December last year. The 2,727 employees and approximately 1,000 contractors found out about the loss of their livelihoods on Christmas day.

Key points

The report broadly criticised the current system for protecting the interests of investors and company directors to the detriment of workers, contractors and suppliers.

It said that in general there were insufficient measures to ensure good communication between directors and workers. In addition, it recommended extra protections for self-employed workers.

Communication with staff

Insolvency law requires companies going into administration to consult with staff before making redundancies. The report claims that the fine for firms who do not do this is so low that the rule is regularly ignored.

The report was highly critical of City Link for continuing to trade as normal in the days leading up to the administration, rather than telling staff. Ian Davidson MP, chair of the Scottish Affairs committee said:

“the system provides perverse incentives to withhold information or to skip proper consultation processes in contravention of the law and at a high cost to workers struggling to cope with the loss of their livelihoods”

Recommendations include the development of best practice guidance for information sharing with staff when an administration becomes a possibility, to prevent misunderstandings and rumours.

The committee also wants the government to take measures to make sure staff affected receive good advice and support in the event of an administration, and for the requirements for consultations on redundancies to be clarified.

Better Investment, the owners of City Link, reacted to criticism by stating that they continued to trade up to Christmas Eve to prevent hundreds of thousands of deliveries not being made. This could have resulted in compensation claims to the value of millions of pounds, which would have further damaged the interests of creditors of the company.

Protection for self-employed workers

The report says that the current law does not reflect the modern workplace where the distinction between employees and contractors has been blurred.

In the case of City Link, some of the worst affected were self-employed van drivers, many of whom were owed large amounts and ended up getting very little of what they were owed.

The committee wants the government to change the order of preference in the Insolvency Act 1986 so that all of a company’s workers, regardless of their employment status, receive preferential treatment for payment in the event of insolvency.

The report claims that the current system is not only unfair but also creates incentives for firms to use a bogus self employment status where workers have the responsibilities of an employee without similar protections.

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Using a solicitor to open a restaurant

start writing . . .

If you are opening a restaurant it is crucial to ensure you are legally complaint. You must take into account various regulations and licensing laws, and be ready for occasional inspections. Instructing a solicitor can help you avoid the legal pitfalls and ensure you can get on with running your business.

Regulations

Working with food can be hazardous and consequently the law requires you to follow a considerable number of regulations including:

  • The Food Premises (Registration) Regulations 1991
  • The Licensing Act 2003
  • The Food Safety Act 1990
  • The General Food Law Regulations (EC) 178/2002
  • The General Food Regulations 2004 (as amended)

You are responsible for complying with all this legislation. Remember that ignorance of the law is no defence. If that seems daunting, you can see why instructing a solicitor is a good idea!

Licensing

You do not need an overall licence to open a restaurant in your area, but you must inform your Local Authority that you intend to open this type of business. If you fail to do so, could be fined. Different regulations apply if you want to serve food off the premises and of course if you sell alcohol.

A solicitor with experience of licensing and food law in the restaurant business can be an invaluable asset to have available. If you are unsure about any aspect of the law that relates to your restaurant business a solicitor can help clarify the law for you.

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Proposal made for alternative to client accounts

The SRA have put forward a proposal which will see law firms do away with using traditional client accounts and make a switch to the use of third-party accounts instead.

The thought behind the proposal is the elimination of risk involved in the potential misuse of client's funds which the regulator has stated is a 'consistent danger to consumers'.

The maintenance of client accounts is also a significant drain on the resources of many law firms, especially firms smaller in stature.

Two options have been proposed in the preliminary publication put forward by the SRA. The first is an arrangement where it would be approving all third-party managed accounts before they came into operation and the second is an arrangement where the SRA would take a hands-off approach whilst ensuring that safeguards were in place. The second option is preferred by the regulator and is expected to be preferred by the sector in general.

A Law Society spokesman added further to the publication saying: 'We are interested in proposals that reduce burdens on solicitors.'

‘It is not clear to us that these arrangements will necessarily improve consumer protection or reduce risk, but we will be studying the proposals closely.’

While being an interesting proposal, it remains to be seen how receptive some of the bigger players in the sector will be to such an idea.

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‘It is not clear to us that these arrangements will necessarily improve consumer protection or reduce risk, but we will be studying the proposals closely.’
Copyright Infringement: A Blurred Line?

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have been ordered to pay $7.2 million dollars compensation to Marvin Gaye’s estate after their hit “Blurred Lines” was found to infringe the copyright of Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”.

Inspiration or Appropriation?

The catchy pop tune Blurred Lines was one of the biggest successes of 2013, leading the US Billboard top 100 for 12 weeks, the video was viewed almost 400 million times.

Members of Marvin Gaye’s family publicly denounced Blurred Lines for ripping off Gaye’s 1977 song. In response, Williams and Thicke pre-emptively took the Gaye estate to court, seeking a declaration that the song did not infringe copyright.

Most casual listeners to the songs would notice a distinct similarity between them. Indeed, Williams and Thicke make it clear that this was intentional, and that their song is meant to reference Gaye’s.

However, it was argued that the likeness between the songs is a matter of artistic inspiration, rather than a theft of Gaye’s ideas amounting to a copyright infringement.

Copyright law

It is important to note under US copyright law what was protected was Gaye’s musical composition, rather than the resulting song that was produced in the studio. This is because the law prevents sampling of sound recording (which did not happen in this case) rather than “sound-a-likes”.

Therefore, rather than simply listening to the two songs the jury was required to consider whether the sheet music was similar. Both sides called expert witnesses who put forward their conflicting findings on matters often revolving around as little as a handful of notes from the songs.

Eventually it seems that the jury were convinced by the witnesses for Gaye’s estate. However, it has been suggested that they could have been influenced by other factors like the overall feel of the songs and the similarities in their styles, even though these were not technically relevant.

A good decision?

It is easy to have sympathy for Gaye’s family. Blurred lines is clearly heavily inspired by Got to Give it Up, so surely his estate is deserving of a portion of the large amount of money earned from the song.

On the other hand, no musician or songwriter exists in a vacuum. All have been influenced by others. Artists being inspired by other’s sounds and incorporating them into their songs is what has allowed the evolution of different musical genres and the huge variety of music we benefit from now.

Copyright law exists mainly to stimulate creativity, but applying it too strictly could have the opposite effect by cramping musicians’ ability to follow their artistic inspiration.

Future implications?

This case does not set a precedent in legal terms. The jury simply applied the law to the facts of the case according to their judgement.

While in this case the result seems to come down heavily in favour of copyright owners, future juries could take a more relaxed view. So while in the short term songwriters might be a little more cautious about borrowing from other songs, in the long run it is likely to be business as usual.

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Google begins implementation of the ‘right to be forgotten’ on its search engine

Google has launched a web-form allowing EU citizens to request that their details be removed from search results. This is pursuant to the ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling by the European Court of Justice on 13th May 2014.

The ECJ has decided that search engines are classified as ‘data controllers’ under EU data protection law. This means that they have to comply with the requirement to remove data that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.

Google’s attempts to implement a judgement many considered unenforceable will attract considerable interest.

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The ramifications of the Government’s criminal legal aid cuts exposed by Cameron’s brother

A serious fraud trial has today (01 May 2014) been halted due to the judge deciding that there was no prospect of a fair trial.

The reasoning is that the defendants will not be adequately represented because no barristers agreed to take on the case.

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Early conciliation for employment disputes is being made a legal requirement on 6 May 2014, but what exactly is it?

There have been a lot of changes made to employment law recently, mainly with the aim of improving efficiency, reducing the number of spurious cases and ultimately saving the government money.

The latest is the introduction of Early Conciliation, a new requirement that must take place before any claim is made to the employment tribunal.

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Prince Charles’ letters: a political and legal drama

The recent (March 2014) saga of Prince Charles’ letters to the UK Government is intriguing from a political perspective, and throws up issues going to the heart of UK constitutional law.

Why is it so important to know what Prince Charles has been writing?

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Could no-win, no-fee agreements be on their way out?

Concerns are mounting over no-win, no-fee agreements after a Legal Ombudsman’s report in late January 2014 highlighted abusive practices by some solicitors.

In 2013 lawyers were ordered to pay nearly £1 million in compensation to clients after agreements went wrong.

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Are whistleblowers protected enough?

Whistleblowing is a situation in which someone reports wrongdoing at their workplace. This could relate to things like law-breaking, environmental damage, health and safety concerns, or dishonesty.

It is widely recognised to be in the public interest for workers to be able to make disclosures of this nature. However, recent reports suggest that not enough is being done to protect and encourage whistleblowers, especially in the teaching profession.

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Are Free Schools regulated sufficiently?

A recent development

The Information Tribunal has rejected an attempt by the Department for Education (DfE) to withhold information, concerning the identity of groups who have proposed to open so-called ‘free schools’ in England, as reported by BBC News.

The Information, including the names, location and religious affiliation of such groups, was requested in an attempt to highlight an alleged lack of transparency inherent in the system of proposing and setting up a free school.

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What is the status of sharia law in the UK?

A recent news story about the exercise of criminal law in Saudi Arabia has generated widespread consternation in the UK. This reaction may, in part, reflect unease about the influence of Muslim rulings in this country, given the recent debate on the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill in the House of Lords, led by Baroness Cox.

The incident was reported by the Daily Mail and concerns the beheading by sword of a Sri Lankan national, Rizana Nafeek, despite claims that she was only 17 years old in 2005 when the alleged crime was committed. Nafeek was executed this Wednesday for causing the death of a four-month-old baby in her care, while working as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia.

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Government to re-visit perennial problem of care costs for the elderly?

Norman Lamb, the Coalition Health Minister, has called for the issue of how to fund care for the elderly to be addressed urgently by the Government. In an interview with the Daily Mail this week, Lamb said that legislation must be brought in to address the principal of capping care costs.

The cap was a key recommendation of the Government-appointed Dilnot Commission, charged with making recommendations on how long-term care for the elderly should be funded in the future. The report, published in July this year, advised that the cap, after which the state would fund care, should be set at between £25,000 and £50,000, with £35,000 as the most reasonable figure.

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Editorial Image

In this section you will find opinionated pieces about topical issues. They are usually based around a news item, with opinions aimed at promoting discussion.

The views in these posts are those of the individual author, and not necessarily of Contact Law.

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