City firm SJ Berwin, in conjunction with law school BPP, will introduce a new business programme for future trainees from September 2009. On qualification, trainees will receive an MA in law and business. Top university law faculties have begun talks with City law firms asking for fresh injections of cash to plug funding gaps, the Gazette has learned. It is understood that law faculties are making special requests for donations beyond firms’ usual contributions. Professor David Ibbetson, chair of Cambridge University’s faculty of law, said the ‘fundamental problem’ for many law faculties is a ‘financial squeeze’. He said he needs to expand the faculty’s postgraduate corporate and commercial law programme because of ‘unmet demand’, and to find extra funding for the faculty’s European law programme. Maureen O’Neill, director of development at Oxford University’s faculty of law, said the faculty has had to increase the share of its income from City firms from 8% of its total budget to 12% over the past five years. She said the faculty is ‘always seeking to increase that margin’, although it is not involved in emergency discussions with firms at present. Professor Timothy Endicott, dean of Oxford University’s faculty of law, said: ‘The government has always been our largest supporter, but it’s been 20 years since they assessed funding.’ Cambridge’s Ibbetson praised the faculty’s existing City benefactors, and said that law firms have taken educational funding ‘very seriously’ over the last few years.
Solicitors and other professionals have been implicated in £41m of mortgage fraud which plunged the mutual Chelsea Building Society deep into the red in the first half, it emerged today. In its interim accounts Chelsea said that the mortgage fraud, perpetrated between 2006 and 2008, involved ‘the artificial inflation of property values by third-party professionals’ involved in buy-to-let mortgage transactions. The £41m impairment charge pushed the mutual into a first-half loss of £26m. Stuart Bernau, chairman and interim chief executive at Chelsea, said: ‘Some [buy-to-let mortgages], linking with valuers and in some cases solicitors, have produced inflated valuations for properties when they applied for mortgages. This is definitely criminal activity.’ ‘No doubt further fraud provisions will emerge through other institutions’ accounts,’ he added. Chelsea said that it is ‘actively looking to recoup as much of the fraudulent money as possible’ from third parties.
Any readers who missed out on last month’s competition to win a copy of the first series of Law & Order: UK, you can now stop sobbing uncontrollably at your desk. Obiter is delighted to announce a fresh competition to win series two, giving you a second bite of the legal drama cherry. For the uninitiated, Law & Order: UK is the British version of the hugely successful US show, which is the longest-running prime time drama on TV across the pond. It’s got defence lawyers, it’s got prosecutors, it’s got cops, and it’s even got that guy from Battlestar Galactica, who turns out to be English. It also has some very trendy camera work which we are legally obliged to point out could cause nausea for those with a weak constitution. Once again, Santa Obiter – nobody told us it is actually February – has got five fabulous copies to give away. To win, all you have to do is make us chuckle with a funny reply to the following question: If there was a show called Lawyers who do Silly Things, I could be the main character because… Thinking caps on, please, and feel free to nominate a co-star. Answers to email@example.com by Thursday 25 February.
I occasionally hear lawyers bemoan the dumbing down of professional services, particularly where commoditisation is concerned. This has, in some quarters, become the equivalent of the well-worn knee-jerk term ‘political correctness gone mad’, a riposte to a changing world where old values are challenged and sometimes turned upside down. In like-minded company these phrases are met with sage head-nodding and much tut-tutting. Now, I do not suggest that such reactions are always inappropriate, but I do object to the use of such labels without thought or perhaps by way of protectionism. No one likes to think that the work they have undertaken, or the way that it is performed, can now be done just as well, if not better, by a computer, but to deny this where it is patently true is not clever. Failure to recognise the benefits of technology in the delivery of quality services by hanging on to bespoke working practices where they are not warranted will have uncomfortable consequences. Either clients will not pay for handcrafted work that they know only too well could have been commoditised, or the lawyer will have to restrict the charge for such work to the price it commands on a commoditised basis. A residential conveyancing solicitor told me not long ago that he abhorred the use of case management systems in conveyancing and that his clients could spot a system-produced letter a mile off. His clients wanted only bespoke communications and they appreciated that he was providing such a service. This service was being delivered at a price more appropriate to a technology-backed service, so I asked him what level of profit he was achieving. A pause for thought was followed by the answer: ‘Probably none.’ A well-designed case management system should not produce impersonal and unspecific correspondence and documents, but that is beside the point. I suggest that eschewing the benefits of technology in favour of a craftsman approach where it is not warranted (and the emphasis is important) amounts to ‘dumbing up’ and perhaps that has become the new “dumbing down”.
The government could be forced into ‘a humiliating U-turn’ over plans to cut the legal aid budget, following an EU pledge to set mandatory levels of civil and criminal legal aid for member states from 2013, it was suggested last week. Europe’s commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Viviane Reding (pictured), last week reaffirmed the EU’s intention to broaden the scope of legal aid across all member states. She told a meeting of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe in Brussels that access to justice was a ‘fundamental right’ and that, in line with article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, all governments must make legal aid funding available to litigants and defendants in civil and criminal cases who otherwise could not afford representation. Cultures and economies differ between member states, she added, but she expected to introduce measures setting the standard for universal legal aid in 2013. ‘Governments won’t like it, but they will get used to it,’ Reding said. The Law Society’s head of legal aid policy Richard Miller said the move could threaten the government’s plans for legal aid cuts. He said: ‘The UK government’s proposed cuts to legal aid will put us out of step with the rest of Europe, which is embarking on a programme of broadening access to publicly funded representation, not shrinking it. There is a real danger that the proposed cuts will make us dip below the minimum standards imposed by the EU. We will have to make a humiliating U-turn and drag ourselves back up to an acceptable level.’ Telmo Baltazar, a member of Reding’s cabinet, told delegates that the cost of legal aid had to be set against the cost to governments of miscarriages of justice. He said: ‘More than anything, we need an efficient system of law efficiently administered.’ University of Cologne senior lecturer Matthias Kilian warned that governments should not see legal expenses insurance as a viable substitute for legal aid. ‘It is the first to go when money gets short,’ he said. ‘People put health and their families before abstract notions such as access to justice.’ Meanwhile, a member of the French delegation voiced concerns over the levels of remuneration received by legal aid lawyers across the Channel. He said: ‘French lawyers are willing to die for utopia, but the French government wants us to starve slowly on nine euros an hour.’
Matthew Stanbury (instructed by Grayson Willis Bennett (Sheffield)) for the appellant; Simon Murray (instructed by Treasury Solicitor) for the respondents; no appearance or representation for the interested party. Penology and criminology – Absconding – Category D prisoners – Classification The appellant Nigerian national (O) appealed against a decision ( EWHC 2658 (Admin)) dismissing his claim for judicial review of his prisoner categorisation. O had been convicted of three offences of obtaining property by deception, and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He was liable to automatic deportation, but had not yet been served with notice of intention to deport. He had been assessed as presenting a low risk of reoffending. The second defendant deputy prison governor (M) decided that O should remain as a category C prisoner rather than be classified as a category D prisoner because his deportation status meant that there was a potential for absconding. Paragraph 14.4 of the Prison Service Order (PSO) 4630 stated, in relation to the classification of foreign nationals as category D prisoners, that ‘each case must be individually considered on its merits but the need to protect the public and ensure the intention to deport [was] not frustrated [was] paramount. ‘Category D will only be appropriate where it [was] clear that the risk [was] very low’. A judge held that paragraph 14 did no more than emphasise that the risk of absconding was a consideration relevant to every categorisation decision but that it had a heightened importance when the prisoner was liable to deportation, and that in such cases the risk had to be examined with particular care. O contended that the word ‘paramount’ in paragraph 14.4 withdrew any discretion or individual consideration of whether an individual prisoner subject to deportation should be categorised a category D prisoner because his immigration status effectively superseded any other consideration. Held: The use of the word ‘paramount’ in its context did not remove individual consideration of the classification of prisoners such as O. Immigration status was obviously relevant to the risk that the prisoner posed and by the very fact of their immigration status prisoners such as O were of a different class to other prisoners, and that additional point had to be taken into consideration in an assessment of the appropriateness of their being categorised as category D prisoners. It was clear from the opening words of paragraph 14.4 that the classification in each case had to be individually considered on it merits so that the immigration status of a prisoner could not in itself be determinative of the matter. The fact that prisoners who might be subject to deportation might be refused category D status but yet be granted bail on release from prison did not mean that the classification policy was irrational because it was not a matter for the Prison Service what the secretary of state decided to do after a prisoner was released. Appeal dismissed. R (on the application of Gregory Omoregbee) (Claimant) v (1) Secretary of State for Justice (2) Governor of Hewell Prison (Defendants) and UK Border Agency (Interested Party): CA (Civ Div) (Sir Anthony May (president QB), Lord Justice Sullivan, Mr Justice Gross): 13 April 2011
Firms with Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) and Lexcel accreditation will be able to take advantage of reduced professional indemnity insurance premiums, following a deal agreed between the Law Society and broker Hera Indemnity. Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: ‘There has been anecdotal evidence that Lexcel can reduce PII premiums for firms, and even though it is in its infancy some insurers are already discounting premiums for CQS firms. ‘It therefore makes sense that the Law Society capitalises on this trend on behalf of its members and provides a facility which explicitly acknowledges the advantages CQS and Lexcel provides to firms from a PII perspective.’ He said client care is at the heart of both CQS and Lexcel, and that as well as having the potential to reduce PII premiums, the schemes reduced risks and indicated high standards in law firms. Senior consultant at Hera Indemnity, Nick Pointon, said: ‘We are delighted to have been selected to run the Lexcel and CQS facility and expect premiums to be extremely competitive for scheme members.’ CQS and Lexcel firms will not need to fill out further forms to obtain a quotation but can call the hotline on 0207 959 2449 or email a scanned version of a proposal form that they have already completed to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Law Society vice-president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff was named best woman solicitor in a legal aid practice at the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) third annual awards ceremony held in London last week. She is pictured (centre) with AWS chairwoman Joy Van Cooten (right) and award judge Tilly Rubens (left), a partner at London firm Alan Edwards & Co. Juliya Arbisman, litigation and arbitration associate at Clifford Chance, won the pro bono award, while Hema Anand, partner at London firm Colman Coyle, won the property award. Employment partner at London firm Archon Law, Corinne Aldridge, accepted the small practice award, with Manchester personal injury sole practitioner Naomi Wilson of NW Law coming highly commended in the same category. National firm DLA Piper business affairs partner Allison Page won the award for retaining and developing legal talent.
The police are abusing bail rules, the chairman of the Law Society’s criminal law committee has alleged. Richard Atkinson has called for evidence from solicitors of what he believes to be a worsening phenomenon. He said: ‘Practitioners have very real concerns that huge numbers of people are being kept on bail for an inordinate amount of time without there appearing to be any basis for this.’ Chancery Lane is asking criminal practitioners to gather evidence of cases where clients suspected of committing offences have been placed on pre-charge bail for longer than six months. Solicitors are asked to provide clients’ custody record numbers, with their consent, which will be given to the Home Office to inform its review of pre-charge bail. The review follows emergency legislation, the Police (Detention and Bail) Act 2011, which was passed in July as a result of the Divisional Court’s decision in the case of Paul Hookway. That judgment said the police could not bail someone beyond the maximum 96-hour period that they are allowed to hold someone in custody without charge. The 2011 act was passed to make clear that the previously accepted interpretation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – that the detention time limit is suspended when a suspect is released on pre-charge bail – is correct. During the passage of the act, the Law Society wrote to the home secretary Theresa May raising concerns about the overuse of police bail. Atkinson said: ‘It is felt that the police sometimes use their power of arrest and pre-charge bail when it is unnecessary, and the fact that they can re-bail people means they do not carry out their investigations expeditiously. ‘As police have the power to impose bail conditions, they can restrict the liberty of people who have not been charged with any offence for unnecessary and protracted periods of time.’ A spokeswoman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said forensic processes and technology developed over the last 25 years have made the investigation process more complex, and officers needed time to deal with matters ‘appropriately and thoroughly’. Solicitors should email information to the Society’s criminal law policy advisor Janet Arkinstall.
The High Court has thrown out a defamation claim by the founder of the Solicitors from Hell website against Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson. Rick Kordowski began legal proceedings after a blog from Professor John Flood had alleged that Hudson claimed Kordowski was a ‘criminal’. The exchange had been made after Prof Flood, from the University of Westminster, and Hudson had finished appearing on a Radio 4 discussion programme about the website, which publishes claims about solicitors’ alleged wrongdoing. Flood had suggested to Hudson that the Law Society’s attempt to sue SfH could be seen as ‘muzzling free speech’, a suggestion the chief executive denied. Hudson said the Society’s legal action focused on Kordowski’s methods of collecting payment to remove comments from the website. In a High Court judgment today, Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed Kordowski’s application and ruled that the libel action against Hudson be struck out. The judge said there was ‘no evidence of any real or substantial harm to Mr Kordowski’ and that proceedings amounted to an abuse of the process of the court. It also pointed out that Kordowski had repeated the allegation against himself on the SfH website in September. The judgment added: ‘It is an unusual feature of this case that Mr Kordowski is not concerned to prevent republication, but has himself participated in republication of the words he complains of. ‘That suggests that he does not share the objective that defamation claimants usually have, namely to prevent republication of the words complained of.’ A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘Mr Kordowski, the owner of the Solicitors from Hell website, had brought a claim for slander against the Law Society’s chief executive. An application was made for the claim to be struck out. The court granted the application, on the basis the proceedings were an abuse of process. ‘Mr Kordowski was ordered to pay £14,000 in costs and his application for permission to appeal was refused.’