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Measures coming into force:

  • Mandatory life sentences for those who unlawfully kill an emergency worker in the course of their duty, known as Harper's Law.
  • Increasing the maximum penalties for child cruelty offences, including up to life imprisonment for those who cause or allow the death of a child or vulnerable adult in their household, known as Tony's Law.
  • Creation of new offences of breastfeeding voyeurism punishable with up to 2 years in custody.
  • Extending the prosecution time limit for domestic abuse-related common assault and battery charges from 6 months of the offence to 6 months of it being formally reported to the police, up to a maximum of 2 years.
  • Whole life orders will be the starting point for the premeditated murder of a child as well as enabling judges to hand out this maximum punishment to 18-20-year-olds in exceptional cases to reflect the gravity of a crime. For example, acts of terrorism which lead to mass loss of life.
  • New powers to halt the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public. . For children who commit murder, introducing new starting points for deciding the minimum amount of time in custody based on age and seriousness of offence, and reducing the opportunities for over 18s who committed murder as a child to have their minimum term reviewed.
  • Ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between 4 and 7 years in prison for serious violent and sexual offences such as rape. manslaughter and GBH with intent. Instead, they will have to spend two thirds of their time behind bars.
  • Ensuring the courts pass at least the minimum sentence for certain offences, including repeat knife possession and third strike burglary, unless there are exceptional circumstances,
  • Increasing the maximum penalty to life for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs.
  • Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
  • Tougher community sentences which double the amount of time offenders can be subject to curfew restrictions to 2 years

. • Extended positions of trusts' laws to protect teenagers from abuse by making it illegal for sports coaches and religious leaders to engage in sexual activity with 16 and 17-year-olds.

  • New rules to end the need for participants to travel unnecessarily to court by allowing criminal courts to maximise the use of video and audio technology as it develops.
  • For the first time enabling profoundly deaf people who need a BSL interpreter to sit on juries. Current laws ban the presence of a stranger being in the jury deliberation room - this will be scrapped and instead allow a British Sign Language interpreter into the room.
  • Removing the consideration of monetary value with respect to criminal damage to memorials and ensuring that even 'low value claims can be heard by the Crown Court, with the result that the full range of sentencing powers will be available - including the ten-year maximum
  • Doubling the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to 2 years

 

Thursday, 03 March 2022 14:31

Ukraine: the rule of law is not divisible

The suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe (CoE) provides an opportunity to reconsider and rectify the stance taken in the UK to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Friday 25 February 2022 saw the suspension of the Russian Federation from its rights of representation in the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE. This does not amount to an expulsion: the Russian Federation remains a member of the CoE, and a party to the CoE Conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Convention on Extradition. Whilst the suspension of Russia was intended to be condemnatory, it was welcomed by the former president, Dmitry Medvedev, as 'an opportunity to restore a number of important institutions to prevent especially serious crimes in the country' i.e. to bring back the death penalty.

The UK government has condemned the actions of Russia in the attack on Ukraine. While opposed to the Russian government in this respect, there are parallels between the anti-ECHR rhetoric of some of those in government in this country with the Russian stance. Both countries have railed against ECtHR judgments made against them (see for example the UK’s reaction to the judgment on prisoners’ voting rights, or Russia’s suggestion that the ECtHR ruling on Navalny was unlawful), and both have sought to undermine the legitimacy of the institution in various ways (see the government’s Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill of Rights or the 2020 Russian constitutional amendments establishing the priority of the Russian constitution over decisions of international courts). Furthermore, members of the cabinet (notably the home secretary Priti Patel) are on record as supporting the death penalty, although Protocol 13, Article 1 of the ECHR expressly abolishes it.

These attacks on the rule of law have been politically expedient in both Russia and the UK. The unfortunate consequence of the position the UK has adopted however, is that it has sown the seed of doubt in the legitimacy of international organisations, internationally agreed standards and the rule of law, in turn undermining its own statements condemning the Russian government for its violations of international law. Perhaps this is a moment for the UK government to consider whether turning away from the rule of law in this way is really worth some short lived political capital.

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/commentary-and-opinion/ukraine-the-rule-of-law-is-not-divisible/5111682.article

Saturday, 18 December 2021 12:19

Can the SRA be trusted with extra powers?

It is difficult to think of a time when trust in the Solicitors Regulation Authority among the profession has been so low.

Two cases in quick succession have highlighted alleged shortcomings in the regulator’s disciplinary process and unfairness built in to the system.

In Ellen, a solicitor was found to have done nothing to breach SRA rules and yet was forced to shoulder her own costs (albeit she hadinsurance). In Ahmud, the cleared defendant at least managed to secure payment from the regulator, but not before a costly argument over what should be paid following a prosecution riddled with mistakes.

Meanwhile a lack of transparency remains at the heart of the organisation (board meetings remain closed to the public and media) and little information is available about how costs are incurred. The SRA’s website states that the organisation’s aim is to give the public full confidence in the solicitors’ profession: presently there appears to be little confidence from the solicitors’ profession in the SRA.

And yet, the regulator is asking for permission to increase its fining powers from £2,000 to £25,000 as part of a consultation which ends in February.

The principle is sound: too many cases go unecessarily through the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. These are costly for all parties and increase the time that solicitor respondents have to wait to move on with their careers. The SDT, would benefit from having more time to deal properly with the rising number of complex cases, without being bogged down by fairly standard work.

But the costs issues in Ellen and Ahmud cast a shadow over what the SRA is trying to achieve. The principle of ‘loser pays’ doesn’t usually apply in these cases because the regulator is acting in the public interest, yet the solicitors’ profession is in an invidious position because no legal help is automatically available to those being prosecuted (as there is, for example, in the medical profession). Effectively there is a massive inequality of arms, and the only way to level the playing field is to take the kind of risk that Ellen did.

If the SRA has the power to fine solicitors up to £25,000, it holds all the cards. Respondents can either accept that they committed serious misconduct and pay the fine, or defend themselves and rack up more in costs than the sanction would have been. The SRA can basically toss a coin, offering ‘tails we win, heads you lose’. You can fight the case, but the regulator has access to expensive lawyers and expert advisers, while you can either defend yourself, pay a massive insurance premium or bankrupt yourself fighting the case.

Again, the issue is not necessarily with the increase in fining powers. Any other time, this would appear to be a sensible and proportionate change – and arguably long overdue.

The problem is we’re handing the power over to a body which – on recent evidence – is not best equipped to wield it.

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/commentary-and-opinion/can-the-sra-be-trusted-with-extra-powers/5110954.article

Monday, 25 October 2021 12:33

Probate experts warn against online wills

The growing popularity of online will writing could lead to a ‘surge’ in contested probate cases down the line, probate experts have warned.

Funeral Solution Expert, a research and consultancy firm, analysed 26 online will writers and found that consumers are often mistaken as to whether their affairs are 'simple' or 'complex', and that the companies themselves ‘offer very little liability for something going wrong’.

‘There is no doubt that an online will can be a good solution if affairs are genuinely simple and can save money versus a more traditional solicitor route,' said Simon Cox, co-founder of Funeral Expert Solution. ‘But our research shows that 65% of consumers who rate their own affairs as “simple” subsequently reveal through questioning that their affairs are in fact “complex”.’

He added that the sector is storing up an ‘ever-increasing bank of wills’ that will be contested once those who made them have died.

The concerns were echoed by Michael Culver, chairman of Solicitors for the Elderly, who said: ‘It’s shocking that whilst solicitor are required to have professional indemnity insurance covering claims potentially as high as £2m or £3m (and many firms go for optional additional cover that can take this as high as £10m per claim), other professionals offering wills limit their liability to the cost of the will.’

The pandemic is believed to have fuelled a rise in will making, with Farewill reporting a 267% increase in the number of wills written at home between 2019 and 2020.

Farewill’s head of legal, Lorraine Robinson, said the business had long recognised, and campaigned for closing gaps in the protection of customers of unregulated firms. However she questioned whether the risk is posed only by the unregulated sector. 'As a solicitor myself, unfortunately qualification as a solicitor is not a guarantee of an individual solicitor or a regulated firm’s depth of understanding of a specialist area of law. For that, as an industry, we often look instead to qualifications such as those offered by STEP, which are open to regulated and unregulated professionals alike.'

She added that many businesses in the unregulated sector are members of voluntary organisations which prescribe minimum levels of indemnity cover. 'To suggest all unregulated will writers are uninsured undermines the diligence and responsibility of many in the sector.'

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/probate-experts-warn-against-online-wills/5110251.article

 

 

Monday, 11 October 2021 12:52

Society ponders SDT support for lawyers

The Law Society is exploring ways to support lawyers appearing before the disciplinary tribunal, amid claims that young solicitors face an inequality of arms during proceedings.

A Society spokesperson said it is aware that members are concerned about of the cost of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and its impact on junior lawyers. ‘It’s true there is an inequality of arms between the individual solicitor and the prosecution in the tribunal, which is why the Law Society has consistently advocated that the higher (criminal) burden of proof applies at the SDT,’ they said.

‘We are looking at ways to offer more support to members appearing in the SDT, within the limits of what we are able to do under the regulatory regime.’

Earlier this month Paul Sharma, president of Westminster & Holborn Law Society, claimed that young solicitors are losing their careers in ‘disproportionate numbers’ for small mistakes, and are being pitted against the regulator’s ‘battalion of lawyers’. Sharma has launched a campaign to persuade Chancery Lane to pay for representation at the SDT. ‘Practical help will make a huge difference to the careers of junior solicitors. It’s high time for this one small step,’ he said.

It is far from clear, however, that the Society is legally allowed to fund representation for its members under the Legal Services Act 2007, which prescribes the functions and permitted spending of the professional body.

Paul Bennett, a professional regulation partner at Bennett Briegal, said that it is ‘wildly inaccurate’ to suggest young lawyers are being struck off in disproportionate numbers for minor mistakes. ‘The statistics do not back that up – and it creates a culture of fear among young lawyers which is unnecessary,’ he told the Gazette.

However, Bennett said current case law does not allow for the ‘appropriate application of personal mitigation and health mitigation’ in disciplinary proceedings. ‘Where the SRA can rightly be criticised is the fact that the Legal Services Act gives them the ability to bring forward fitness to practise proceedings and they have chosen not to do so. That’s an abdication of responsibility by the SRA,’ he said.

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/society-ponders-sdt-support-for-lawyers/5110111.article

 

Probate practitioners have called for legislative change to help families access the 'digital assets' of relatives who have died.

A study by STEP – a professional body for inheritance planning advisers – and Queen Mary University of London found that there is a lack of clarity around property rights relating to digital assets.

Digital assets are objects that have monetary or sentimental value and that exist only in electronic form, such as a digital photographs, social media accounts, internet domain names, and cryptocurrencies.

In a global survey of 500 professional inheritance advisers, nearly 60% of respondents had dealt with questions from clients about digital assets. Meanwhile, around a quarter said their clients had faced difficulties accessing the digital assets of a family member. 

The report concluded that law reform is needed to enable effective estate planning and administration. ‘This includes clear rules around property rights and rights of access by personal representatives,’ it said.

The authors also called for technology companies and cloud providers to work with lawyers to make the process less fraught. 

‘Digital assets, such as photographs posted on social media or data files stored in the cloud, are often managed or controlled by different third-party service providers, including technology companies and providers of cloud services. These companies are new intermediaries and are often key to managing digital assets. Our survey shows that cloud providers can present obstacles to both estate planning and administration,’ the report said.

The Law Commission of England and Wales is currently reviewing the law on digital assets. It has been asked by the government ‘to ensure that the law is capable of accommodating both cryptoassets and other digital assets in a way which allows the possibilities of this technology to flourish’. It’s call for evidence closed on 30 July.

Meanwhile, in January, the Law Society urged people to include digital assets in their wills, after research revealed that three quarters of people do not know what happens to their online presence after they die.

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/reform-law-on-digital-assets-probate-lawyers-urge/5109862.article

Macmillan Cancer Support are an amazing organisation who help people and families that have to deal with those living with cancer. Macmillan are renowned for offering support and guidance in difficult and often traumatising circumstances.

Parity Legal is a law firm that supports charities. Parity Legal are raising money to support people in need of support when living with cancer and have partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support by holding a coffee morning on Friday 24th September 2021 between 10am – 12pm.

This is a great cause and the biggest coffee morning in the world. This will be held at Parity Legal’s headquarters situated at Parity House, 19a Church Street, Oadby, Leicester, LE2 5DB.

The firm will have lots of tea, coffee and homemade cakes as well as cupcakes donated by Cakebox. There are amazing raffle prizes to be won including a limo ride, vouchers and a meal at one of Leicester’s sought after restaurants. See the attached flyer for more details!

The invitation is open to all so anyone is free to turn up and enjoy the morning with the firm.

There is a link to donate for Macmillan Cancer Support which can be done through the following link: https://thyg.uk/BUU005044741.

Parity Legal thanks Macmillan and everyone involved including the people organising the event and more so everyone that attends and donates to this wonderful cause.

An online service allowing conveyancers to make up to 10 changes to a title at a time went live today in HM Land Registry’s latest step towards becoming an all-digital organisation. The Digital Registration Service replaces the electronic document registration service (e-DRS) for registered portal users, the registry said. 

According to the announcement, the service makes it easier to submit applications and reduce errors by:

  • Automatically working out fees
  • Comparing information with the Land Register as it is entered to check for errors
  • Providing guidance and prompts on screen to remind users to add the required evidence
  • Automatically populating some fields based on data already entered, or from the Land Register
  • Prompting users if more information or supporting evidence is required to support an application
  • Allowing users to save a partially completed application, and return to it within 90 calendar days to submit

The service allows conveyancers to submit an e-AP1 for 90 register update transactions, including change of ownership. Up to 10 transactions can be entered against a single title in one application. 

In a futher development, Land Registry has revealed that it is inviting 'a small number' of conveyancing firms to test its next generation of electronic signatures, which will not require a witness. So-called qualified electronic signatures, first announced last year are verified by a 'qualified trust service provider' instead of a witness.

In a blog post, Michael Abraham, product owner at Land Registry, said such signatures will be legally valid: 'Section 91 of the Land Registration Act 2002 allows for a sophisticated electronic signature of this nature to be used in a document that operates as if it were a deed but, not being an actual deed, the document can be signed without the need for a witness.'

However, he stressed the need for caution in the technology’s adoption. 'As qualified electronic signatures are a relatively new technology, we want to ensure those in the property market can use it. We need to ensure that our standard supports interoperability between providers, so everyone can trust the security and usability of their signature, regardless of which platform they wish to use for signing.'

He added: 'We are keen to test the use of qualified electronic signatures with a small number of firms. From this we can learn more about the benefits they offer and any constraints we need to consider.'

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/land-registry-offers-error-free-application-service-and-witness-free-e-signatures/5109687.article

 

Monday, 16 August 2021 10:16

Would you let a robot lawyer defend you?

Could your next lawyer be a robot? It sounds far fetched, but artificial intelligence (AI) software systems - computer programs that can update and "think" by themselves - are increasingly being used by the legal community.

Joshua Browder describes his app DoNotPay as "the world's first robot lawyer".

It helps users draft legal letters. You tell its chatbot what your problem is, such as appealing against a parking fine, and it will suggest what it thinks is the best legal language to use.

"People can type in their side of an argument using their own words, and software with a machine learning model matches that with a legally correct way of saying it," he says.

The 24-year-old and his company are based in Silicon Valley in California, but the firm's origins go back to London in 2015, when Mr Browder was 18.

"As a late teenager in Hendon, north London, I was a horrible driver," he says. "I got a lot of expensive parking tickets - which, since I was still in secondary school, I couldn't afford."

Through lots of research and freedom of information requests Mr Browder says he found the best ways to contest the tickets. "If you know the right things to say, you can save a lot of time and money."

Rather than copy and paste the same document each time, he says it seemed "the perfect job for software". So he created the first version of DoNotPay in a few weeks in 2015, "really just to impress my family".

Since then the app has spread across the UK and US, and it can now help the user write letters dealing with a range of issues; insurance claims, applying for tourist visas, complaint letters to a business or local authority, getting your money back for a holiday you can no longer go on or cancelling gym membership. Mr Browder says the last two uses soared during the pandemic.

DoNotPay now claims to have 150,000 paying subscribers. And while it has its critics, with some saying its legal advice is not accurate enough, last year it won an award from the American Bar Association for increasing legal access.

Mr Browder claims an 80% overall success rate, down to 65% for parking tickets, because "'some people are guilty".

You might think human lawyers would fear AI encroaching on their turf. But some are pleased, as the software can be used to quickly trawl through and sort vast quantities of case documents.

One such lawyer is Sally Hobson, a barrister at London-based law firm The 36 Group, who works on criminal cases. She recently used AI in a complex murder trial. The case involved needing to quickly analyse more than 10,000 documents.

The software did the task four weeks faster than it would have taken humans, saving £50,000 in the process.

Lawyers using AI for assistance is "becoming the norm and no longer a thing that's nice to have", says Eleanor Weaver, chief executive of Luminance, which makes the software Ms Hobson uses.

More than 300 other law firms in 55 countries also use it, working in 80 languages

Historically you had a lot of [document checking] technologies that were no better than keyword searches, like hitting Control-F on your laptop," says Ms Weaver. By contrast, she says that today's sophisticated software can connect associated words and phrases.

AI is, however, not just helping lawyers sort through documentary evidence. It can also now help them prepare and structure their case, and search for any relevant legal precedents.

Laurence Lieberman, who heads London law firm Taylor Wessing's digitising disputes programme, uses such software, which has been developed by an Israeli firm called Litigate.

"You upload your case summary and your pleadings, and it will go in and work out who the key players are," he says. "And then the AI will link them together, and pull together a chronology of the key events and explanation of what happens on what dates."

Meanwhile, Bruce Braude, chief technology officer of Deloitte Legal, the legal arm of accountancy giant Deloitte, says that its TAX-I software system can analyse historical court data for similar tax appeal cases.

The firm claims it can correctly predict how appeals will be determined 70% of the time. "It provides a more quantifiable way of what is your likelihood of success, which you can use to determine if you should proceed," adds Mr Braude.

Yet while AI can help write legal letters, or assist human lawyers, will we ever see a time of robot solicitors and barristers, or even robot judges?

"I think, really in reality, we're nowhere near that," says Ms Weaver.

But others, like Prof Richard Susskind, who chairs the Lord Chief Justice of England's advisory group on AI, aren't so sure.

Prof Susskind says in the 1980s he was genuinely horrified by the idea of a computer judge, but that he isn't now.

He points out that even before coronavirus, "Brazil had a court backlog of more than 100 million court cases, and that there is no chance of human judges and lawyers disposing of a caseload of that size".

So if an AI system can very accurately (say with 95% probability) predict the outcome of court decisions, he says that maybe we might start thinking about treating these predictions as binding determinations, especially in countries that have impossibly large backlogs.

source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-58158820

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Conveyancers worked tirelessly against the clock to help home buyers and sellers complete their transactions ahead of the stamp duty holiday coming to an end.

The stamp duty holiday for properties in England ended as of 1 July but will be followed by a tapered rate until the end of September. In Wales the land transaction tax concession has come to a hard end.

The stamp duty holiday has resulted in a surge demand for conveyancing services that have highlighted fundamental problems within the sector as solicitors have worked late into the night to meet the deadline.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘A whole range of factors have come together to create the perfect storm – lockdown has persuaded many people it’s time for a larger home, those who had planned to move before the crisis may have had to defer, and now, with the end of the [stamp duty] holiday in England and the Land Transaction Tax holiday in Wales, people are not unreasonably wanting to be in their new home before it costs them more cash.

‘It’s very stressful for those wishing to move – and I know solicitors have been working 24/7 to meet their clients’ wishes. However, capacity is stretched across the board – from local authority searches via delays in mortgage offers through to unforeseen hiccups further along the chain. Unfortunately, many people risk seeing the deadline come and go without completing their purchase. However, it's important to remember that the end of the stamp duty holiday and the savings made decreases through to September for those buying properties in England.’

source: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/conveyancers-in-final-push-to-beat-stamp-duty-deadline/5109038.article

#solicitors #lawyers #consultantscolicitors #paritylegal #legalservices #law #workfromhome #worklifebalance

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