The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has teamed up with volunteering charity Raleigh International to develop a unique annual public service project in Borneo. Junior lawyers from the UK will work with a local community in the south-east Asian island of Borneo on infrastructure projects to build local amenities. They will also take part in a series of workshops with junior lawyers from the local law society in Sabah discussing the rule of law, legal ethics and the promotion of human rights. The project gives lawyers the opportunity to gain CPD points while developing their leadership and project management skills. A team of volunteers from the JLD’s executive and national committees will go on the first 16-day pilot expedition in October. JLD chairwoman Kat Gibson said: ‘The project will enable junior lawyers to participate in a never-seen before project, which will not only give them the opportunity to make a difference to a less fortunate local community in Borneo, but also enable them to reach out to junior lawyers in Borneo and spend time with them discussing the future of the legal profession and, most importantly, the crucial issue of the rule of law.’
Politicians may be known for many things, but honesty isn’t normally one of them. So Obiter was intrigued by the disarming veracity of panel members at pro bono group LawWorks’ Question Time-style panel debate on legal aid last week. With Robin Knowles QC, LawWorks trustee, filling the David Dimbleby role, questions from the audience were answered by legal aid minister Lord Bach; Conservative shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve; Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth; and Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson. Bach set the tone by responding to a question on the legal aid budget by admitting there would probably be cuts, saying: ‘There are moments when politicians have to tell the truth and this is one of them.’ While Obiter would naturally applaud his desire not to mislead on this occasion, the unavoidable implication of his remark is that there are other instances when politicians feel at liberty to be more ‘economical with the actualité’, as the late Alan Clark once said. Bach was not the only panellist who appeared to have been injected with truth serum. Explaining why it is hard to improve the legal aid system, Grieve piped up: ‘Because legal aid has been squeezed, fewer people benefit from it, so it has become less relevant to the public… It has little resonance over how people will vote and is the first thing that many people think we should cut.’ His message was clear – legal aid is not a vote winner, so it’s not really high on any party’s agenda. As the politicians fought it out for who could be the most ‘real’, the Law Society’s Hudson sat brandishing a huge pile of green Law Society literature. As he pointed out during the debate, he was in fact the only member of the panel with a manifesto.
Secretary of State for the Home Department v DB: CA (Civ Div) (Lords Justice Mummery, Thomas, Pitchford): 28 May 2010 Cathryn McGahey (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the appellant; O Ngwuocha (instructed by Carl Martin) for the respondent. The appellant secretary of state appealed against an order quashing the cancellation of the respondent’s visa. The respondent (D), a Ghanaian national, had been issued with a multiple entry visa to the UK which was valid from January 2008 until January 2010. It granted him entry clearance to the UK as a visitor for a period up to 180 days in any one stay, but excluded him from working. D arrived in the UK in January 2008 and overstayed by nine weeks. He returned to the UK in November 2008, where he was interviewed by an immigration officer and issued with a notice refusing him leave to enter. D challenged that decision and a chief immigration officer issued an amended form IS 82A which stated that D was refused leave to enter on the basis that there had been a change of circumstance in that D was seeking entry to look after his uncle’s children for which he would be paid. The notice cancelled D’s leave under paragraph 2(A)(8) of the Immigration Act 1971 and paragraph 321A(1) of the Immigration Rules (HC395) and refused him leave to enter under paragraph 320(5) of the Rules. D challenged the decision to cancel his visa on the ground of change of circumstances. The judge found that the notice was not effective to act as a cancellation of D’s visa. The judge quashed the cancellation of D’s visa but declined to quash the refusal of D’s leave to enter. The secretary of state submitted that (1) the judge mistakenly understood the effect of the notice as, on a true reading of the legislation and rules, it was not possible for the immigration officer lawfully to refuse entry without having first cancelled D’s visa; and (2) the judge imposed a test for ‘change of circumstances’, which had no legal justification, and the cancellation was properly imposed for change of circumstances. Therefore, refusal of leave to enter was justified under paragraph 320(5) of the rules. Held: (1) The Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000 provided, by article 6(2)(B), that entry clearance might be cancelled in the event that the visitor sought to enter the UK for a purpose other than the purpose specified in the visa and, by article 6(1), that should the officer cancel the leave to enter, his decision would have the result that the entry clearance would cease to have effect. The question for construction was whether, notwithstanding the absence of an express power to refuse leave in the order and schedule 2 to the 1971 act, paragraph 320(5) of the rules was intended to apply to those who had existing leave to enter for a purpose different from the purpose for which they had arrived in the UK. The draftsman cannot have intended paragraph 320(5) to have the same power as paragraph 2A(2A) of schedule 2 to the 1971 act. On arrival in the UK, D was seeking neither entry clearance nor leave to enter, he was relying on his existing entry clearance with its deemed leave to enter. The power of the immigration officer to examine him was confined, under paragraph 2A(2) and (2A), to the purpose of ascertaining whether there were grounds for cancellation of his leave to enter. It was only if D’s existing leave to enter was cancelled that he could properly be regarded as a person who was seeking leave to enter for a purpose other than that authorised by his visa. In D’s case, the power provided was not refusal but cancellation of the existing leave to enter under paragraph 2A(2A) and (8) of schedule 2. Only then did the power to refuse leave to enter under paragraph 320(5) come into play. It followed that the immigration officer’s refusal of leave to enter under paragraph 320(5) depended for its validity upon the lawfulness of the cancellation under paragraph 321A(1) of the rules. The judge’s decision was incorrect. The advice contained in the section of the current Border Force Operations Manual entitled Cancellation of entry clearance that has effect as leave to enter was wrong as it incorrectly treated refusal synonymously with cancellation. (2) The judge extracted a principle from the Home Office guidance that if the change of circumstance was comprised in an alteration of purpose of visits in the mind of the visitor, it would be a change which qualified under paragraph 321(A) only if the material persuaded the immigration officer that there was a permanent intention not to use the visit visa for proper visits but only for visits which were going to breach the terms of the visa. Such a principle could not be derived from the guidance. The decision that there had been such a change of circumstances that D’s leave should be cancelled under paragraph 321A(1) was not flawed on public law grounds. Appeal allowed. Change of circumstances – Entry clearances – Visas – Immigration Act 1971
Legislation intended to open up the family courts is a ‘lost opportunity’ that will fail to bring about the openness needed to improve confidence in family proceedings, a leading judge has said. Giving the 2010 Hershman-Levy memorial lecture last week, Lord Justice Munby called for ‘radical and comprehensive reform’ of the rules relating to transparency of the courts. Munby said the recently enacted Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 was not sufficiently comprehensive, because areas such as divorce and ancillary relief were ‘scarcely affected’. He said that while the act achieved a greater degree of consistency in terms of what matters could be reported, this was at the ‘heavy price’ of an increase in the areas covered by reporting restrictions for the first time. The Court of Appeal judge, who is chairman of the Law Commission but was speaking in a personal capacity, added that it was ‘far from obvious that the supposed relaxation of the reporting restrictions in children cases – surely the crux of the problem – will actually have the desired effects, if indeed any effect at all’. Munby said that the act was likely to reduce rather than increase the amount of information about children and other family proceedings that finds its way into the public domain, and this was ‘truly a missed opportunity’. He added that overly restrictive privacy rules made it too easy for the family justice system to be attacked, which had led to a lack of public confidence. Munby said there must be a ‘radical and comprehensive reform’ embracing all types of cases dealt with by the family courts. He said the existing ‘muddled’ system must be replaced with ‘principled’ and ‘consistent’ rules that are ‘cheaper to operate’, and these must be arrived at ‘by a transparent process involving appropriate public debate’. The judge said that steps must ‘urgently’ be taken to ensure that more judgments, including more routine cases, should be published in an appropriately anonymised form. Munby also added that there must be more provision of information for those affected by family court decisions. He said that as a minimum requirement, every substantive judgment in a care case dealing with either fact-finding or final disposal should be transcribed so that, for example, a child who has been adopted can later find out why a judge made the decision that their parents could not adequately look after them.
A Scottish university will next year launch what is believed to be the first online law undergraduate degree. The online LLB from the department of law at Robert Gordon University’s Aberdeen Business School will run from September 2011. The university already runs online law masters courses. Applications for the degree, which has been accredited by the Law Society of Scotland, are currently being accepted from graduates or those with ‘extensive relevant work experience’. The course can run for two, three or four years. Derek Auchie, online LLB course leader and senior lecturer in law at the university, said: ‘This is a very exciting development for the university, and we aim to make this a premium online course. The key is that students should regularly interact online and in addition submit coursework and take examinations in the same way as the regular attendance-based LLB programme. ‘A range of steps will be taken to simulate the classroom environment online. Another key aspect of the course is its flexibility: students will be able to download materials accompanied by audio, so that they can listen to the presentations anywhere and at any time. This kind of flexible learning arrangement is a key attraction of this course, especially for those in busy jobs who want to change careers without attending university on a regular basis in the evenings.’
Anthony Wooding, managing partner, Kerseys Solicitors, Ipswich I am instructed by a lady awaiting estate money due to her. She had rung her solicitor only to hear a recorded message saying that the firm had ‘closed until further notice’. The firm had in fact been the subject of an intervention by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I duly submitted a claim form to the SRA regarding a potential claim on the compensation fund. On 2 September I received an apologetic letter explaining that there had been an increase in applications and that it ‘was anticipated that the claim would be passed to a claims investigator within the next 12 weeks’. On 1 December I telephoned and was told that there had been a lot of interventions this year, with the implication that there were insufficient resources to deal with them. No claims investigator had been appointed and no indication was given as to when one might be. A major reason for the separation of powers was that there needed to be a body which would see the consumer’s interests as paramount. Moreover, accepting that there is a resource issue, it seems to me that how those resources should be allocated is not being looked at in proper perspective. The SRA still spends considerable resources looking at the processes of firms that are otherwise acknowledged to be well run. Surely the regulator should be allocating resources to deal with the compensation fund backlog as a priority? The consumer interest depends on it.
A former Manchester solicitor who acted as a drugs mule for her fugitive lover was struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) last week. Angela Brookwell, 29, who worked at Wigan firm Stephensons, was jailed for 33 months last year, after she admitted possession of a class A drug with intent to supply and harbouring an offender. Last week, the SDT ruled she was unfit to practise law and ordered her to be struck off the roll, and to pay £1,500 in costs. The tribunal heard Brookwell began a passionate affair with criminal Wayne Horrocks, whom she met when he was a client of her firm, after her marriage broke down. The SDT was told that when she was arrested, in 2009, police found heroin worth £1,000 in her handbag, and text messages on her phone that indicated she had delivered drugs for Horrocks and others. The tribunal also heard that, although Brookwell told police she did not know where Horrocks was, she had set him up in a flat. Brookwell is understood to be on parole, but did not attend the SDT hearing. A spokeswoman for Stephensons said: ‘Angela Brookwell was an employee of the firm for almost six years, and her employment ended in June 2009. Angela was a solicitor practising in family law, with a bright future. To see such a promising career cut short by her actions is disappointing and saddening for all concerned.’
Trying to extrapolate a liberal drug policy from David Cameron is like punching fog: a gargantuan effort for no reward whatsoever. There is more chance of the Prime Minister running naked through Downing Street with ‘big society’ tattooed on his chest than there is of him easing up on drug classification. A relaxed policy is an instant turn-off for his core electorate and unlikely to win him many votes from the left. Hence, it’s a no-go. Drugs law policy will always ultimately be decided by instinct. Suggest a relaxation of the rules and the media will simply wheel out a grieving parent of a teenager who has died after taking an ecstasy pill. Put forward a programme to offer heroin addicts a structured but expensive course of drug rehabilitation and the mob will have you out of power before you know it. Rationality will forever be trumped by emotions, no matter how illogical and counter-productive current laws seem. All of which suggests the latest effort to decriminalise drugs in the form of a letter to the PM may be yet more whistling in the wind. Signatories such as Sir Richard Branson and Dame Judi Dench appeal for a rehash (you have to love that punnery) of the current laws, arguing they do little to prevent thousands of people using drugs and being burdened with a criminal record when they are caught. ‘In the last year alone nearly 80,000 people in the UK were found guilty or cautioned for possession of an illegal drug – most were young, black or poor,’ says the letter. ‘This policy is costly for taxpayers and damaging for communities. ‘Criminalising people who use drugs leads them to greater social exclusion and isolation, making it much more difficult for them to gain employment and to play a productive role in society.’ This argument has been made many times before, not least by senior members of the legal profession, and more are included here, including several barristers and solicitors. They sit slightly incongruously alongside Guardian columnists and luvvie actors, and are a reminder that while legal practitioners are required to uphold the law, they might not always agree with it. They deserve credit for sticking their heads above the parapet, in spite of whether you agree with their views. They won’t win this argument, but they’ve helped to thrust this important issue back into the news agenda. One thing’s for sure, it won’t go away anytime soon.
The lord chief justice has today warned of the need to preserve the integrity of the trial and jury system in the face of risks posed by modern technology. In his foreword to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division’s annual review of the Legal Year, Lord Judge stressed: ‘Modern technology does not come without risks.’ He said: ‘I remain concerned at the ease with which a member of the jury can, by disobeying the judge’s instructions, discover material which purports to contain accurate information relevant to an individual case or an individual defendant. ‘I am also concerned that the use of technology enables those who are not members of the jury to communicate, in both directions.’ Judge warned: ‘In the context of current technology, we must be astute to preserve the integrity of jury trial and the jury system.’ Highlighting wider concerns about the integrity of the jury system, the annual report shows that in three separate appeals last year convictions were found to be unsafe in the light of jury irregularities – though none of those concerned use of technology. Retrials were ordered in two cases. In two other cases the court endorsed decisions made in the Crown courts that trials should proceed without a jury, either because of the danger of jury tampering or where this had occurred. The report revealed a 2% drop in the number of applications compared with 2009/10, to 6,972. The majority of the court’s work concerns appeals against sentences. In the last year it received 5,481 applications to appeal sentences, down from 5,653. In addition it received 1,491 applications to appeal convictions, roughly the same as 1,480 applications received in 2009/10. During the legal year, which ran from October 2010 to September 2011, the Court of Appeal heard 535 full conviction appeals, up from 488, and 2,004 full sentence appeals, down from 2,136. In addition it dealt with 1,251 applications for leave to appeal conviction and 4,039 applications for leave to appeal sentence. The annual report shows that on average over the last three years, 13% of conviction applications and 26% of sentence applications received were successful. On average appeals against conviction were dealt with in 9.3 months, while sentence appeals were disposed of in 4.6 months. The attorney general referred 101 potentially unduly lenient sentences to the court, which resulted in increased sentences in 82 cases. The annual report also noted that the Court of Appeal has continued to use technology to improve its efficiency and reduce costs, particularly through the use of video-link facilities. Last year, it held 99 video-linked hearings to locations including 35 prisons and six courts. This meant appellants and witnesses were able to give evidence without having to attend at the Royal Courts of Justice. In one case two vulnerable child witnesses were able to give evidence from their local magistrates’ court rather than having to travel to London.
Law firms could face unlimited discrimination claims from deaf and hard of hearing people if they continue failing to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, consumer watchdogs have warned. They claim that many deaf clients feel they have to ‘win a battle with their own advisers’ before they can succeed in a legal action, blaming firms’ ‘lack of preparation and consideration’ and failure to take into account their special needs. This slowness to engage with deaf clients prompted some 1,380 complaints and enquiries to the Royal Association for Deaf People (RAD) law centre between August 2007 and September 2011, with a further 429 received in the first seven months of 2011-2012. Most queries related to employment and welfare benefits, and to discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Britain has over 10 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Mounting concerns over discrimination have led to the announcement within the last month of two initiatives to improve ‘deaf awareness’. According to Legal Choices, Silent Process, published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Legal Services Consumer Panel and Action on Hearing Loss, deaf clients often find that legal materials are not adapted for their needs and there are barriers to communication, such as badly maintained loop systems and poorly lit rooms. Firms often fail to provide sign language interpreters when requested, and there is confusion over who should pay for them, the report says. The SRA says it will be issuing best-practice guidelines to address these issues, including online ‘deaf awareness’ training covering interpreting services, how the law applies, and different ways of communicating with deaf people. Case law and legal principles will be illustrated with videos, along with common points of law and its vocabulary. RAD law centre head Rob Wilks told the Gazette that RAD is also to launch an initiative to ‘educate the legal profession as to the needs of the deaf community’. He said: ‘In addition to CPD-accredited training and workshops, we will be establishing a charter to which law firms committed to providing a service to deaf people can aspire to sign up to. It is intended that this will become the definitive UK benchmark for law firms and other providers to deaf people.’