Taking up where Nye Moloney left off, I have found the County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC) to be lacking. I am uncertain as to how the interaction between the centre and the Northampton Bulk Issue Centre pans out in practice. On 30 August, I was instructed by a client who was being pressed by a sheriff’s officer in respect of a judgment debt that had been wrongly entered against him. I sent an application to the Northampton Bulk Issue Centre where the judgment was issued for it to be set aside and for the matter to be transferred to my client’s local court for a hearing. That letter was marked ‘very urgent’. After chasing up the matter with telephone calls and emails, it was not until 17 September that I received an email from Northampton suggesting that I should contact the CCMCC in Salford, notwithstanding that the judgment had been made in Northampton. On the same day that I resubmitted the papers to Salford, I received an order from Northampton stating that the application had finally been transferred to the defendant’s local court. There is still no sign of a hearing and the sheriff continued to press my client. Fortunately, I was able to agree with sensible solicitors instructed by the claimant that the judgment had been wrongly entered, and a consent order setting aside judgment has now been filed and the claimant has called off the sheriff. I feel certain that all of this could have been resolved in days gone by with a telephone call to the local court office. My fear is that those days are never to return and that, rather than saving money, the system has become less efficient and more expensive. Peter Hatvany, Parker Bullen, Salisbury, Wiltshire
Judge (pictured) made the announcement in a four-page letter to Labour MP Keith Vaz, following proposals made by the Home Affairs Committee chaired by Vaz, into child sexual exploitation and concerns over how judges deal with child sex abuse cases.Judge said that treatment of vulnerable witnesses has been ‘the focus of a considerable amount of innovation’ over a significant number of years.As a result, he insisted that the arrangements operate ‘extremely well’ in the ‘vast majority of cases’, though he stressed that courts should not be complacent, and accepted that there have been ‘valid criticisms’ of the process in a ‘very few’ cases.All judges who try defendants accused of serious sexual offences already go through an approval and authorisation process, vetted by senior judges, and receive ‘comprehensive’ training, including dealing with child and vulnerable witnesses, and training on the use of intermediaries.Judge said: ‘I am confident that this training is well constructed and that it covers all of the main areas.’But, in light of the ‘rare instances’ relating to multi-defendant trials in which the process may have ‘operated imperfectly’, Judge said he had reviewed the position following the letter from Vaz.However, Judge rejected the committee’s recommendation for specialist courts to be introduced, suggesting that restricting the venues at which cases are heard would only increase waiting times and expense. Rules governing how serious sex cases and proceedings involving vulnerable witnesses are heard will be tightened up following an announcement by the lord chief justice Lord Judge today.A list of approved and specially trained judges will be drawn up to hear all serious sex cases that are likely to last more than 10 days, or involve one or more ‘significantly vulnerable’ witness.Those judges selected will undergo bespoke training from the Judicial College on how best to conduct these cases, and how to deal with difficulties posed by multi-defendant trials, to control multiple cross-examination and give better protection to witnesses.
The Ministry of Justice is nearly a year behind the prime minister’s transparency commitments for all departments to publish details of items of spending above £25,000.Whitehall is required by central government to publish monthly datasets on spend, as part of the Cabinet Office’s transparency policy.In 2010, David Cameron called for departments to take ‘immediate action to meet the timetable for data transparency’. But more than three years later the MoJ has fallen behind the transparency targets, having last published data on spend in October 2012.In contrast, the majority of large central government departments have published data up to June 2013, including the Home Office, the Department for Work & Pensions, HMRC, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health.A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘Work to update our transparency data is ongoing and we will publish our figures in due course.’
Six former partners at international firms have today announced the creation of a new global practice dedicated to arbitration.Three Crowns will have offices in London, Washington and Paris and will focus on international commercial clients.The firm is led by former Freshfields arbitration lawyers Jan Paulsson, Constantine Partasides (pictured) and Georgios Petrochilos, former Jones Day partner Luke Sobota, former Covington & Burling co-chair Gaetan Verhoosel and former Sherman & Sterling partner Todd Wetmore.The new firm promises partner ‘hands-on involvement’ throughout the arbitration process, as well as ‘lean staffing and flexibility in pricing’.Barristers, academic consultants, and ad hoc professionals will be called upon as needed for the needs of each specific case.Paulsson said: ‘International disputes call for specialist, focused advice and advocacy. We are confident clients will be attracted to this model, which ensures they will have direct access to a senior team. ‘Our new business structure avoids issues inherent to larger firms and brings highly experienced, well-respected names to the specialised field of international arbitration.’Arbitration is increasingly being seen as a worthwhile form of dispute resolution as the nature of commercial transactions and investment become more international.Proponents of arbitration say businesses prefer it to court litigation because of its finality, enforceability and procedural flexibility.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara has assured MPs that the government’s heroism bill will not give immunity from civil liability for those causing injury through negligence.Vara came under repeated attack from both Conservative and Labour MPs yesterday during the third reading of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Public Bill in the commons.The legislation seeks to change the court’s attitude to deciding liability for lifesavers, voluntary groups and responsible business owners. It amends the wording of current laws so the court ‘must’ – rather than ‘may’ – have regard to whether the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred when the person was acting ‘for the benefit of society’.Vara was urged to define what is meant by the phrase ‘a generally responsible approach’ in deciding liability.He said: ‘The bill will help all those hard-working individuals, organisations and small businesses who do the right thing and adopt a responsible approach towards the safety of others in the course of an activity by ensuring that that is taken into account by the court in the event of a claim.‘It will help to discourage speculative and opportunistic claims, and give confidence to responsible employers—and others—to resist them.’Vara acknowledged that the legislation has been criticised by the legal profession but added that ‘this is not a bill aimed at pleasing lawyers’.The minister stressed that judges will still have discretion to decide the merits of cases and said it was wrong to give hypothetical examples of how the bill would work in practice.He did, however, outline a case in which the Cheshire fire service had been subject to legal action by someone who tripped over a hose – albeit Vara did not know if the case was successful.‘I do not know the outcome, but the fact that those people took legal action in the first place is the issue,’ he added.Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the bill will ‘change little’ and was the wrong priority for the Ministry of Justice.‘He got his favourable media hit, and the rest is irrelevant,’ said Khan. ‘This treats the House with utter disrespect. Precious legislative time that could have gone on meaningful measures to change people’s lives for the better has been wasted.’The bill came under particularly unfavourable scrutiny from former solicitor general Sir Edward Garnier QC (pictured), a Conservative MP.He added: ‘Between now and the bill’s arrival in the other place, I urge ministers and the very bright lawyers and policy assistants at the MoJ to have another think about it. At the moment, it is a silly bill.’
The Legal Aid Agency has dropped its investigation into Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers, the agency confirmed last week.A spokesman said there were ‘no legal grounds’ to take action against the firm in relation to the use of legal aid in the al-Sweady inquiry into allegations of ill-treatment by British soldiers.However, the LAA said it has ‘referred some concerns’ to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Principal Phil Shiner (pictured) told the Gazette there was ‘no question’ of concerns about him or his firm.
MPs today accused the legal consumer watchdog of ‘helping the destruction of access to justice’ during a heated exchange in parliament.Leaders of the Legal Services Consumer Panel appeared before the justice committee of the House of Commons this morning to give evidence on the fallout of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).The organisation has welcomed the emergence of professional McKenzie friends as an alternative to public funding, and even provided office space for a new representative body to meet.Yesterday it produced a report predicting the advent of ‘self-lawyering’.Labour MP and committee member Andy McDonald, himself a solicitor, questioned how litigants are protected by a sector that remains unregulated.‘Lawyers have gone through training and shelled out for professional indemnity insurance and are experts,’ he said. ‘Yet somebody can toddle along, say they are a McKenzie friend and start undermining and undercutting solicitors.’His committee colleague Jeremy Corbyn, also a Labour MP, told the witnesses: ‘You are helping the destruction of universal access to justice and destroying careers.’Elisabeth Davies, the consumer panel’s chair, said the group was trying to look at solutions to fill the gap caused by the removal of legal aid for large parts of civil justice.‘We don’t know [non-traditional legal services] are second-rate quality. We want the absolute balance between consumer justice and protection.’She added it was ‘inevitable’ that alternative providers would come forward after LASPO and said just 21% of people who seek advice now get it from a regulated lawyer.The committee heard claims that some professional McKenzie friends can earn up to £50,000 a year advising litigants in family matters.But panel adviser Steve Brooker told the committee that most earn much less and further regulation could increase costs to points where we ‘drive them away’.In the same session, David Holland, chief executive of the Institute of Paralegals, said the blame for the emergence of unregulated advisers should be with solicitors and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.‘McKenzie friends didn’t cause [solicitors] to be unaffordable to clients or put in place a regulatory burden [solicitors] are suffering from,’ he said.
An application for relief from sanctions has been rejected in the High Court after an error was made in typing an email address.In Cockell (trading as Cockell Building Services) v Holton counter-claimant Martin Holton had been given almost two months to make an amended counterclaim following a long-running dispute over building work costs with Cockell Building Services.Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart threatened to strike out the counterclaim, valued at around £1.6m, unless Holton, represented by Midlands firm Blythe Liggins, served the proposed pleading by 20 March.At 3.46pm on 20 March, the solicitors sent an amended defence and counterclaim to the claimant’s solicitors, as well as an email to court with the same attachments.However, the email address was mistyped and the message was returned marked undeliverable. This happened on a Friday and so the documents were not filed with the court until early the following week once the problem had come to light.Edwards-Stuart said as a result of the error in typing an email address, the counterclaim was automatically struck out.Considering an application for relief from sanctions, the judge, sitting in the Technology and Construction Court, said this mistake alone would be unlikely to have caused a strike out. But the error was the ‘culmination’ of a course of conduct that amounted to a continuing breach of an order made in December.Holton’s position was that the degree of non-compliance was trivial, particularly as the amended pleading had been served with the claimant on time.Edwards-Stuart said the non-compliance passed the Denton test of being both serious and significant.On the reasons behind the delay, Holton said he failed to provide his solicitors with the necessary information until 18 March after a misunderstanding between his insurers and the loss adjusters. Neither he nor his solicitors took any steps to chase up the missing information.‘This was a case where, for whatever reason, the provision of the necessary information for the re-pleading of the counterclaim was left until the 11th hour,’ said the judge. ‘Those who leave necessary steps until just before the deadline must take the risk of a last-minute slip up.’Edwards-Stuart did give the defendant permission to amend his defence, but anything new in the counterclaim will not be allowed. The matter will go to trial in July.
Accountants will soon be competing directly with solicitor firms ‘on every high street in the country’, according to a leading financial adviser to the legal sector.Ian Muirhead, chairman of Solicitors Independent Financial Advice, said he expects 750 accountancy firms – three times more than first envisaged – to move into probate work after securing an alternative business structure licence.The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales has accredited 113 entities as an ABS since last October, having been accepted as an approved regulator almost a year ago. A further 34 applications are being processed.Speaking at a Westminster Legal Policy Forum, Muirhead said too many solicitor firms are ‘in denial’ about the threat from the accountancy profession.‘Success will go to those who can manage businesses and I query whether that’s going to be the solicitors or whether solicitors are going to be the back-room boys,’ he said.Muirhead argued that law firms’ response so far has been focused on consolidation, mergers and acquisitions – but this risks playing into rivals’ hands.‘[The response is] safety in numbers, more of the same, not thinking outside the legal silo, and therefore missing the opportunity of which many new ABSs are availing themselves, of providing a more diversified and holistic client service,’ he added.Muirhead said law firms should invest in maintaining contact and good relations with existing contacts, rather than spend money on getting new clients in.They should also look to work with providers of complementary services such as accountancy, surveying and estate agents to ensure they can offer those clients a wider range.The ICAEW spent more than two years trying to become an approved regulator and last year estimated 250 firms would apply for an ABS.Executive director Vernon Soare said the development would ‘open up the marketplace’ for the consumer and make the sector more competitive.
Magic circle firm Linklaters has told the Gazette that agile working is available to staff if they want it, as firms continue to come up with ways of offering job flexibility.International firm Herbert Smith Freehills yesterday became the latest UK firm to announce an initiative aimed at giving staff more control over when, how and where they work.Earlier this summer, the Gazette reported that DAC Beachcroft had created a work environment at its Leeds office where no-one was allocated a desk, while London firm Wedlake Bell also stated its commitment to moving away from what it called the ‘cellular office environment’.A spokesperson for Linklaters said the firm is committed to a flexible approach to deciding where and when people work, subject to the needs of clients and colleagues, but stressed that a ‘one-size fits all’ policy does not work.‘The only thing a policy can do is draw a line that makes it clear that because people have a variety of needs, the ethos around flexibility is one that the business supports,’ she said.The firm has around 7% of staff working flexibly, with a formal element of this arrangement built into their contracts.In London the firm has tested a formal agile working arrangement to break down preconceptions allowing anyone who wished to do so to work one day a week from home.‘Some did, some didn’t, but the option was open to all, talked about and championed. Since this pilot we have had other groups adopt this approach,’ the firm said. ‘We don’t look at progress in this area through the number of formal employee flexible arrangements that we put in place.’Herbert Smith Freehills says it will implement agile working across all London practice groups following the success of its ‘early adopter’ initiative started earlier this year.This seeks to incorporate contractual flexible working arrangements within the firm, as well as less formal agile working to give people more control over when, how and where they work on an ad hoc basis.Almost nine out of 10 staff surveyed said the ability to work from home was somewhat or very important, and three-quarters said agile working enhanced productivity.Ian Cox, managing partner for the UK and US, said: ‘By rolling agile working out to all the London fee-earning groups and giving people more control over when, where and how they work, we hope to encourage more openness to different ways of working and to create a more diverse range of role models who work flexibly in the business.’